49ers

49ers' talented group of pass rushers impresses Steelers' Mike Tomlin

49ers' talented group of pass rushers impresses Steelers' Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has led his team to the playoffs in seven of his previous 12 seasons.

If he can somehow make it eight in 13 years, it likely will rank as his finest coaching achievement -- even for a man who has a Super Bowl ring.

“I do enjoy the challenges and the adversity that the game presents,” Tomlin said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “So from that standpoint, it does create a sense of urgency that’s a good fuel.”

The Steelers are 0-2, and they lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to season-ending elbow surgery. Second-year pro Mason Rudolph takes over as the Steelers’ starting quarterback, and he will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the 2-0 49ers at Levi’s Stadium.

“From mental preparation standpoint, I think one of the reasons we have a great deal of comfort and he has a great deal of comfort is because he’s always approached each day as if he’s the starter and has brought that level of urgency to his preparation,” Tomlin said of Rudolph. “That’s just mental preparation, the process that he goes through on Monday and Tuesday in terms of laying the foundation.”

Rudolph and the Steelers have plenty to study this week as they prepare to face an invigorated 49ers defense that appears vastly improved from the unit that last season generated only seven takeaways, including two interceptions, in 16 games. Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon returned interceptions for touchdowns in the opening-week win over Tampa Bay.

“First of all, they’re creating a great deal of negativity on defense,” Tomlin said. “They’re getting turnovers and scoring points. Boy, that makes you a tough outfit to beat.”

The 49ers have already registered four interceptions. Robert Saleh's defense also has forced four fumbles, recovering one of them. In addition, the 49ers have rotated nine defensive linemen and generated seven quarterback sacks through two games.

“I just like they way they use a large number of people,” Tomlin said. “They got a great rotation and everybody’s productive and fresh and playing hard. That’s one of the key attributes of what they do systematically defensive. It’s no different than when we played Seattle a week ago, and they run a bunch of defensive linemen at you.

“The 4-3 teams that generate rush with those guys primarily have to play a lot of people, and they need all those guys to be productive in order to play great, and obviously they’re playing great at this point.”

[RELATED: Why didn't the Steelers look into signing Colin Kaepernick?]

Six different 49ers defensive linemen have combined for the seven sacks, led by Arik Armstead with two in two games. Nick Bosa has one sack and has produced 10 quarterback pressures, which ranks tops among all NFL rookies, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s been in some good situations,” Tomlin said. “They’ve been in some good situations being up in their football games and his talents are able to show. I got a lot of respect for him as a rusher, and I have a lot of respect for them as rushers. Not only the talented individuals within the group, but how they work collectively together, Dee Ford, and everyone else.”

Former 49ers assistant analyzes how Emmanuel Sanders will enable Kyle Shanahan to open playbook

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USATSI

Former 49ers assistant analyzes how Emmanuel Sanders will enable Kyle Shanahan to open playbook

The addition of veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will provide 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan with infinite options, according to a member of last season’s coaching staff.

“It’s going to allow for Kyle Shanahan to open up the playbook a little more,” said Nick Ferguson, a former NFL safety and an assistant on the 49ers staff last season.

Ferguson, who works in Denver as a host on 104.3 The Fan, spoke on the 49ers Insider Podcast about the impact of the 49ers’ trade on Tuesday to acquire Sanders, a 10-year NFL veteran.

“He can take the top off defenses,” Ferguson said. “Also, his route-running, crisp route-running. If you want to put him outside the numbers, he can do that. If you want to put him in the slot, he can do that, as well. If you want to run gimmick plays, jet sweeps, kind of like what Andy Reid does with Tyreek (Hill), he can definitely do that.

“So he gives them another element to their offense that they haven’t had.”

Sanders, 32, is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion, comes to the 49ers along with a fifth-round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for the 49ers’ third- and fourth-round selections in the 2020 draft. Sanders is signed only through this current season.

Sanders provides an immediate upgrade at wide receiver for the 49ers. Tight end George Kittle is far-and-away Jimmy Garoppolo’s most reliable target in the passing game.

Rookie Deebo Samuel, who missed Sunday’s game at Washington with a groin strain, leads the 49ers wideouts with 15 catches for 168 yards. Marquise Goodwin has 11 catches for 181 yards, while Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis have nine catches apiece for 139 and 83 yards, respectively. Richie James has five receptions for 108 yards.

“No disrespect to guys they have on the team, like Pettis, Bourne, Richie James, no disrespect, but now you have a savvy veteran coming in and you can say he’s 32, coming off some injuries,” Ferguson said. “All I know is he’s a gamer and the problem here in Denver was they were not getting him the ball. I don’t understand how do you not feature a guy like Emmanuel Sanders in your offense?”

Sanders sustained a torn left Achilles last December. He also had offseason surgery on his right ankle. While he made a strong return from those surgeries, he was not satisfied with his role in Rich Scangarello’s offense. Scangarello, the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach the past two seasons, is the Denver offensive coordinator under first-year head coach Vic Fangio.

Sanders caught 30 of the 44 passes thrown his way for 367 yards and two touchdowns for the Broncos (2-5). He joins an undefeated 49ers team that ranks No. 2 in the NFL in rushing. Ferguson said he believes Sanders’ presence will benefit Garoppolo, Kittle and the team’s ground attack.

“It’s going to open up things for Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman in the run game because with Emmanuel Sanders, his route-running, and his ability to catch the deep ball, it’s just going to open run lanes and passing lanes,” Ferguson said.

What 2020 NFL Draft picks 49ers have following Emmanuel Sanders trade

What 2020 NFL Draft picks 49ers have following Emmanuel Sanders trade

The 49ers’ trade Tuesday to acquire wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos means, as of now, the 49ers can sleep in on the second day of the NFL draft.

The 49ers still own their first-round draft selection in 2020. But the club traded away their second-round pick to acquire edge rusher Dee Ford from Kansas City. And the 49ers gave up picks in the third and fourth rounds to get Sanders, who is under contract only through the end of the season.

The first round of the NFL draft will be held Thursday, April 23. The following day, the NFL will conduct the second and third rounds. The final day of the draft, April 25, will consist of the fourth through seventh rounds.

The 49ers have six scheduled draft picks, including two apiece in the fifth and seventh rounds.

[RELATED: How Sanders trade helps 49ers battered receiving corps]

The 49ers are also not expected to be awarded any compensatory draft picks because this year they had more net gains in free agency, led by the signings of linebacker Kwon Alexander and running back Tevin Coleman.

The acquisition of Sanders could set up the 49ers to re-coup one of the draft picks sent to Denver. If Sanders plays well for the remainder of the season and signs a lucrative contract elsewhere, it could lead to the 49ers getting a 2021 mid-rounds compensatory pick.

And if the 49ers, as expected, finish among the top teams in the league this season, the selections sent to the Broncos will be in the late portions of the third and fourth rounds.

49ERS 2020 DRAFT PICKS
1. First round: Own pick
2. Fifth round: Denver pick from WR Emmanuel Sanders trade
3. Fifth round: Own pick
4. Sixth round: Own pick
5. Seventh round: Own pick
6. Seventh round: Detroit  pick for LB Eli Harold, 2018

Original picks traded:
Second-round pick traded to Kansas City for LB Dee Ford

Third- and fourth-round picks traded to Denver for Sanders