Joe Staley identifies reason for 49ers' rapid rise in 2019 NFL season

Joe Staley identifies reason for 49ers' rapid rise in 2019 NFL season

SANTA CLARA – Joe Staley has been with the 49ers for 13 seasons now. The star left tackle arrived when they stunk, was integral to their ascent under Jim Harbaugh and was there for the crash and burn after he left.

Staley has played for six different head coaches during his time here and kicked around the idea of retirement after Kyle Shanahan took control of another inevitable roster rebuild. Now he'd like to stick around a while longer. 

Staley weathered some really bad times. He battled while the roster got re-stocked and Jimmy Garoppolo recovered from a season-ending ACL injury last season. And now, as if in a flash, Staley’s set to play in his fourth NFC title game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers here at Levi’s Stadium.

Though going from 4-12 last year to the NFC’s top seed in a calendar year has been a whirlwind, the Central Michigan product easily can identify the reason for the rapid rise.

Getting Garoppolo back obviously has helped, but there’s more to it than that.

“It’s the vision of Kyle and John and what they’ve done with the roster since they got here,” Staley said before Wednesday’s practice. “They’ve had patience and seen it all the way through with guys they’ve brought in through free agency and the draft. It has been about everybody executing their vision. There’s a lot of hard work, and we’re excited to be at this point right now.”

Talent and good coaching are essential to any winning formula, but this 49ers team has something extra that some great teams don’t have.

“It’s kind of cliché to talk about in the NFL, but this is a family. It’s a special group,” Staley said. “This is my 13th NFL team here and every year is different. This is really special, with the camaraderie in the locker room and guys really showing up to play every single week and looking to get better every single day.”

The group dealt with some adversity during a 4-12 campaign without Garoppolo, where they lost far more games than their talent suggests they should have. That provided the No. 2 overall pick they were too good to possess, providing a golden opportunity to add Nick Bosa to an already intimidating defensive front.

“It definitely helped. Everything happens for a reason,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You need some difference-makers, and Bosa has definitely been a difference-maker. We’re glad we have him, but I don’t wish 4-12 on anybody. But, after going through it, we definitely like what it brought us.”

Bosa sort of fell into their lap. Many other key moves did not. The 49ers had to go out and get Garoppolo for a second-round pick – that’s a steal now – and then pay him. They stocked the depth chart, and when they needed a talent infusion, they went out and got Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round draft  pick from Denver for a third-round pick and a fourth-rounder.

Shanahan credits general manager John Lynch for all that.

“John and his staff have been unbelievable,” Shanahan said. “When we came here, we knew we had to go get some. There were a lot here to start with that have worked out very well, but we also knew we had a lot of hard work in front of us. John and his staff have presented all this stuff and got us a ton of guys, and it's been great because even the big key ones that everyone knows about have made a difference. Also, we've had a lot of injuries this year too where a lot of guys have had to step up, and our depth has really been challenged this year and I think it's a credit to our personnel staff.”

[RELATED: Dee Ford participates in 49ers walk-through, but held out of practice]

As Staley pointed out, this special locker room bond is atypical even among good teams where winning is common.

Shanahan made a point to emphasize that in a recent speech to the team as the 49ers move deeper into the playoffs.

“He pretty much gave a speech to the team about the fact that, sometimes in this league, you come to work and you clock in, you clock out,” Sanders said. “And truthfully, I enjoy being around these guys. The speech that Kyle gave was that there's so much love between this team and how much we care about each other.

“I feel like when you have that kind of chemistry, and it's all throughout this team and all throughout this organization, I feel like when you have that, the sky is the limit. It's not a coincidence that we’re in this position. We worked our butt off on the field and off the field and I feel like we are deserving of this moment and we got to take advantage of it.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 5:30 p.m.

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

49ers mailbag: Could co-coordinators ease Kyle Shanahan's workload?

It has been two weeks since the 49ers’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. That’s more than enough time to turn the page and look ahead.

So that’s what we’re doing -- with the help from some of our Twitter friends. Here is the first offseason edition of the 49ers Mailbag.

Kyle Shanahan is one of the best play-callers in the NFL. I don’t think there’s even a question about that. Is there? So I can’t envision any scenario in which Shanahan stops doing the thing he does best.

Shanahan certainly believes McDaniel and LaFleur are ready to call plays. McDaniel and LaFleur are, in essence, co-offensive coordinators. They are responsible for putting together the first components of the weekly game plan.

Through the first three seasons together with the 49ers, they have found a pretty good rhythm together and Shanahan finds himself placing more trust in them. What they’re doing is working.

If the 49ers have the $19 million-plus in cap room to devote to a franchise tag for Arik Armstead, then I think they could work out a long-term deal that would work for both sides.

As for the question about a tag-and-trade, I’m sure you’re thinking about how the Kansas City Chiefs tagged Dee Ford a year ago and, then, traded him to the 49ers. In that instance, the Chiefs had Frank Clark on the line, so that made sense.

In this case, I don’t think there’s anyone who plays Armstead’s position they would prefer over him. Armstead is exactly what the 49ers need: A defensive end on base downs who moves inside next to DeForest Buckner to rush the passer in nickel situations.

There is no need for the 49ers to do anything with Thomas, except work with him to continue to improve and become more valuable as a rotational player on the defensive line. The 49ers certainly will not pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season. But with Thomas’ rookie contract guaranteed, there is no cap advantage in parting ways with him this year.

Regardless, Thomas should have a significant role next season. But if for whatever reason Armstead is not back, Thomas has a strong chance to be a starter.

The possibility of recouping a draft pick is part of the reason the 49ers felt compelled to make the trade in the first place. In my opinion, they would have preferred Mohamed Sanu, who was under contract through the 2020 season. But the Patriots offered the Atlanta Falcons a second-round draft pick, and the 49ers did not have a second-round pick after dealing it to Kansas City for Dee Ford.

Instead, the 49ers acquired Sanders and a fifth-round pick from Denver in return for third- and fourth-round draft picks. The 49ers do not figure to be active with veteran acquisitions on the free-agent market this offseason, so it is likely the 49ers have more losses than gains. If Sanders is a loss, the 49ers would stand a good chance of picking up a compensatory pick for the 2021 draft.

Get stronger. Work. Work. Work.

Pettis had a good offseason program a year ago, but he was not the same player when he came back for training camp. Other receivers on the team came back stronger at the opening of camp. Pettis did not. That is why Pettis struggled and fell out of favor to the point he rarely played in the second half of the season.

Pettis needs to take it up another few notches to get stronger and avoid the nagging injuries that also set him back last season. Pettis has more ability than almost anyone on the team to run some of Shanahan’s favorite routes. He will have an opportunity to prove himself in the offseason and training camp this year.

If Jalen Hurd and Pettis are both healthy, I think the answer is Hurd. The reason is because of his size and his unique skill set.

I envision Hurd being a big part of the 49ers’ two-minute offense because of his versatility. The 49ers can line him up anywhere in the formation, including running back. That puts the onus on the defense to figure out how they want to treat him. Is he a runner, wide receiver or tight end? Then, based on the defensive personnel, the 49ers can exploit those weaknesses.

[RELATED: Juice sick of Jimmy G, Shanahan criticism after Super Bowl]

The draft takes place more than a month after free agency. So the answer to this question could change, based on what the 49ers’ roster looks like at the time of the draft. But, right now, if the 49ers hold onto the No. 31 overall pick, the team can choose among the best available wide receiver, cornerback or defensive lineman.

There are two ways to look at this. But if there’s a team willing to move up to No. 31 overall, then that is the default move. It would make a lot of sense to sit out the first round of the draft to come away with multiple picks on Day 2.

But if there is someone at No. 31 with whom the organization has fallen in love, then they should take that player. The advantage of holding onto the first-round draft pick is that the 49ers would control the contract rights to the player for five years, instead of four.

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

49ers' Kyle Juszczyk sick of Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan criticism

Losing the Super Bowl was tough on the 49ers, to say the least. It was especially tough for the team's fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, who hated hearing the criticism of Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan, his quarterback and coach.

"Those are two guys that have absolutely nothing to prove to the rest of the guys in the locker room," Juice said Friday on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football." "You look at Jimmy, for people that are stats guys, 4,000 yards passing, better than a two-to-one, touchdown-interception ratio, 70 percent completion."

He added with that alone, you're looking at a "phenomenal quarterback."

"For whatever reason, Jimmy just gets this extra criticism, this extra heat, but I think at one point in the game he was like 19-for-22," Jusczyk said. 

"That's football, though -- you just change one or two plays in the game, and the whole dialogue changes, the whole narrative."

Juice mentioned the moment that could have put Jimmy G in the same category as Tom Brady as a Super Bowl MVP. The moment that could have led to the 49ers popping champagne in San Francisco amongst the faithful.

That could have been a game-changer.

The play in question caused wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to storm out of the media room following the Super Bowl LIV loss to the Chiefs. Garoppolo's overthrow in the fourth quarter changed everything.

[RELATED: What Juice regrets most from 49ers' Super Bowl collapse]

And they know it. Jimmy knows it. Sanders knows it. Shanahan knows it. 

"It's a shame that one or two plays can really change everyone's outlook on someone," Juszczyk said.