49ers

49ers re-sign defensive back Antone Exum, add depth to their secondary

49ers re-sign defensive back Antone Exum, add depth to their secondary

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The 49ers re-signed defensive back Antone Exum to a one-year contract on Wednesday, as the club begins preparations to face the New Orleans Saints with some question marks in their secondary.

Starting strong safety Jaquiski Tartt is uncertain for Sunday’s game due to broken ribs that he sustained in the 49ers’ 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.

Also, cornerback Richard Sherman is hobbled with a knee sprain, and his status for the game Sunday is unclear, too.

Exum fills the roster spot that was vacated when the 49ers waived kicker Chase McLaughlin on Tuesday.

Marcell Harris would start in place of Tartt, if he is unable to go. And if Sherman is unavailable, the 49ers will start Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley at the cornerback positions.

Exum began the season on the 49ers’ 53-man roster and appeared in the first three games of the season. He was released on Oct. 2 when Harris was promoted from the team’s practice squad.

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Exum, 28, appeared in 20 games for the 49ers over the past three seasons with eight starts. He appeared in 26 games in 2014 and ’15 with the Minnesota Vikings.

The 49ers also opened the practice window for defensive lineman Kentavius Street on Tuesday. 

How Alex Smith helped Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes develop in rookie season

How Alex Smith helped Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes develop in rookie season

MIAMI, Fla. -- Patrick Mahomes has it all. The Chiefs star can flick the ball 70 yards without issue. He's thrown passes left-handed, with his eyes closed and with both feet hovering off the ground. 

In only three seasons in the NFL, and two as the Chiefs' starting quarterback, Mahomes has shown the propensity to do the amazing. He transformed himself from risky NFL draft pick to superstar seemingly on the flight from Lubbock, Texas to Kansas City, and now he has the Chiefs on the precipice of a Super Bowl title if they can conquer the 49ers and the NFL's best defense Sunday in Super Bowl LIV. 

For all his otherworldly talent, Mahomes didn't become last year's league MVP and the new face of the NFL on his own. He rode the bench in his first season, holding the clipboard for someone who once was the future of the franchise he faces Sunday: Alex Smith. 

After playing seven seasons with the 49ers, Smith was traded to the Chiefs in 2013. He had four productive seasons in KC, including a career year in 2017 where he threw for 4,042 yards, 26 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also spent that season mentoring the man who eventually would take his job and the league by storm. 

"He was extremely important," Mahomes said of Smith's impact on his development, "The way he went about his business and being a pro's pro, a great quarterback and also a great human being. He taught me a ton of just the process and how to blueprint your week and how to game plan. And then, how to read coverages by the little things. Maybe how the defensive line lines up and I think it helped me out a lot in the early part of my career, even still to this day of being able to get those invaluable lessons from him."

From the moment Mahomes started his first game in Week 17 of his rookie season, it was clear he was the Chiefs' future. 

Life as the up-and-coming quarterback isn't always easy in the NFL. Brett Favre famously wanted nothing to do with mentoring Aaron Rodgers. While Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo are friends, there were whispers that Brady's fear of losing his job to Jimmy G was one of the reasons the New England Patriots traded the young quarterback to the 49ers. 

Mahomes was lucky to have a guy like Smith to see the writing on the wall and still take him under his wing, giving him crucial advice to weather any adversity that came his way. 

"Alex Smith was phenomenal," Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said Tuesday. "He wasn't asked to do this, but he let Patrick into his world. Patrick handled it the right way. He was humbled around Alex. He didn't try to overstep his bounds with Alex when he competed. With that, Alex let him kind of tag along on the field and off the field, showed him how to be a pro. How to study, your diet, your workout plan, family, how you work your family into the National Football League to be a great player in the National Football League. I joke about it, but it's true. Patrick couldn't pay Alex enough for what he gave him with the experience."

Mahomes took over last season as the Chiefs' starting quarterback and Smith was traded to Washington where he later suffered a gruesome leg injury that has kept him sidelined since. 

During his first year at the helm of the Chiefs' offense, Mahomes took the league by storm, throwing for 50 touchdowns and 5,097 yards. He joined Peyton Manning and Brady as the only three quarterbacks in NFL history to throw 50 touchdowns passes in a single season. His improvisation allowed him to paint with all the grace and beauty of Leonardo Da Vinci. 

Instead of the Mona Lisa, Mahomes was crafting masterpieces rarely seen before in the NFL. 

[RELATED: Sherman identifies what makes 49ers' defense so tough to beat]

His talent popped immediately. His bazooka for a right arm has made jaw-dropping throw after throw as he's ascended to the top of the NFL quarterback hierarchy. He excels under pressure whether that's a defensive end bearing down on him or the Chiefs falling into a deep hole as they did in their AFC divisional-round win over the Houston Texans. 

Down 24-0 in the blink of an eye, Mahomes, icy cool, could be seen rallying his teammates on the sideline. He spoke. They listened intently and believed in their leader's words. Then, the flood gates opened as the Chiefs outscored the Texans 51-7 for the rest of the game, putting an aura of invincibility around someone destined to be an all-time great.

It's rare for young quarterbacks, no matter how talented, to command the attention of their team. Normally that takes time, a learning process filled with bruises and failures. But Mahomes was given a gift not afforded to most about-to-blossom stars: A veteran to show them how to succeed in the NFL before graciously handing them the keys. 

Mahomes came to the NFL with all the tools to ascend to the pantheon of NFL greats. Alex Smith's lessons gave him the road map to accelerate his rise. 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

Why 49ers' George Kittle says Kobe Bryant is reason he plays sports

Why 49ers' George Kittle says Kobe Bryant is reason he plays sports

Kobe Bryant's sudden, tragic death Sunday from a helicopter crash rocked the NBA world. The Lakers legend's impact was felt much further than basketball courts, though. 

From athletes around multiple other sports, fans and everyday people like you and I, Kobe's death at 41 years old, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others aboard the helicopter, simply was gut-wrenching. Star 49ers tight end George Kittle is no exception. 

Kittle, 26, grew up in Iowa as a huge Kobe fan. Like so many of us, Kittle would lace up his Kobes and mimic the former MVP. 

"Kobe was, other than my parents, he was the reason why I played sports," Kittle said Sunday at Super Bowl Opening Night. "Just his mindset, the Mamba mentality. I wore the number 24 in high school my freshman, sophomore year because of him. I wore Kobe Bryant basketball shoes because of Kobe Bryant. Every time I laced up my basketball shoes, I felt like I had Kobe Bryant with me. I had a little part of him -- I had his jumper, his fadeaway.

"The amount of hours I spent practicing that fadeaway from the corner ... and I never made it. But I tried and I thought I was Kobe. He's an icon, he was a hero of mine." 

[RELATED: Why motion offense will be crucial to 49ers, Chiefs]

Kobe is regarded as one of the best at his position ever, an honor Kittle now finds himself holding among tight ends in the NFL. He has overcome injuries like Bryant did, and his competitiveness is seen every game like the Black Mamba himself.

There is no doubt Kittle will look to unlock his inner Mamba mentality Sunday in Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 p.m. Tuesday and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.