Ray-Ray Armstrong earned another chance with 49ers

Ray-Ray Armstrong earned another chance with 49ers

SANTA CLARA – Inside linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong was rewarded with another opportunity with the 49ers for the promise he showed in a short period of time this season.

Armstrong appeared in the first two games of the season and had moved past Gerald Hodges and Michael Wilhoite to get the most playing time, along with fellow starter NaVorro Bowman.

“I do think that was the way it was going,” 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said when asked if Armstrong would have been an every-down player. “For him, I do see him as that type of player. He’s got a skillset that’s very different than anything we have in that room, as far as his ability to blitz and play man coverage, which is what we want to be defensively.

“I don’t it was a secret I was pretty high on him. I think when you look at what we want to be defensively, and what we are, he’s a really good fit.”

But Armstrong’s season was cut short in Week 2 when he sustained a season-ending torn pectoral. Two weeks later, Bowman sustained a torn Achilles.

Injuries forced Hodges and Nick Bellore to be the team’s primary starts at inside linebacker this season. Hodges was deactivated for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons for a violation of team rules. And Bellore sustained a season-ending elbow injury on the third play from scrimmage.

O’Neil said the injuries at inside linebacker have prompted the team’s defense to completely overhaul its scheme.

“We’ve pretty much changed our whole identity in the run game from probably the first quarter of the season to what we are now,” O’Neil said. “We’ve gone from more of a two-(gap) team, where your linebackers play off the front-three guys, to more of a single-gap team because we’re tried to fit it on what we have and what our guys do best.”

The 49ers signed Armstrong this week to a two-year contract extension through the 2018 season. O’Neil said he believes Armstrong was getting to the point that he could have been an effective linebacker this season for all downs, including defending the run.

“That was one of the things if you asked any of the personnel guys and any of the coaches, that was our biggest question mark,” O’Neil said. “And I thought he answered that throughout the preseason. He really showed up in the cross-over practices against Denver and Houston, where we got a lot of downhill stuff.”

The 49ers have already surrendered a franchise-worst 2,468 rushing yards on the season with two games to play. Eleven running backs in 14 games have scorched the 49ers for more than 100 yards rushing.

“The inside linebacker position is the bridge from the D-line to the secondary,” O’Neil said. “They’re so actively involved in everything that takes place in the run game and so actively involved in everything that takes place in the pass game. Those are the guys who run everything. It starts with those guys because they’re the ones commanding the huddle and delivering the play call.

“That’s the one position that’s hard to just plug and play. You can hide guys on other parts of the defense, but inside ‘backer is tough.”

2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. changes picks for 49ers, Raiders


2019 NFL mock draft: Mel Kiper Jr. changes picks for 49ers, Raiders

Mel Kiper Jr. is officially on the Kyler Murray train.

The ESPN analyst projected that the Arizona Cardinals would select the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback No. 1 overall in his latest mock draft. That created an immediate domino effect for the 49ers and Raiders, as Kiper Jr. now has both teams taking different players than his last mock draft. 

Fans of either Bay Area team will be pretty happy with the results, though. Both franchises would have a decent claim to saying they drafted the best defensive player available, while the Silver and Black was able to shore up positions of need on both sides of the ball.

Without further adieu, here's how how Kiper Jr. thinks the first round will shake out for the 49ers and Raiders. 

49ers, No.2: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State

What Kiper's saying: "The 49ers could be the big winners if Murray goes No. 1 because it means the top pass-rusher -- and my top-ranked prospect -- is still on the board here."

Analysis: The 49ers are set to meet with Bosa at their Santa Clara facility, and NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco noted Monday that it stands to reason Bosa will end up atop their draft board. If Murray goes to their NFC West rivals in the desert, San Francisco seemingly wouldn't mind playing him twice a year for the foreseeable future if Bosa leads a revamped pass rush that will try to take him down. 

Raiders, No. 4: Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama

What Kiper's saying: "Jon Gruden & Co. are the other big winners if Murray goes with the first pick. Instead of the top three defensive players coming off the board, at least one of them would be available at No. 4 in this scenario." 

Analysis: If the Cardinals take Murray, they'll most likely miss out on Bosa and Kentucky defensive end Josh Allen. It would sting to not be able to select one of the two best edge rushers, but the 2019 draft is rich with defensive talent and Quinnen Williams is far from a consolation prize. Williams' rise has been rapid, but the Alabama product's all-around ability was evident in his breakout season. The Raiders need building blocks all over the defense, and Williams fits the bill. 

Raiders, No. 24: Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama

What Kiper's saying: "Could the best running back in the draft fall to them here? It's possible. Jacobs has limited tread on his tires -- just 300 career touches for the Crimson Tide -- and is a receiving threat out of the backfield."

Analysis: Mike Mayock's trip to the National Championship at Levi's Stadium could pay big dividends if Kiper's mock plays out. He would have gotten an in-person glimpse at his first two first-round picks, including the Raiders' running back of the future who can also fill an immediate need. As Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner noted, a whopping 41 percent of Jacobs' carries went for a first down or a touchdown in 2018. Meanwhile, the Raiders gianed the seventh-fewest first downs on rushing plays (86) last year. 

[RELATED: Mark Davis thrilled Coliseum lease approved for 2019]

Raiders, No. 27: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple

What Kiper's saying: "I really liked what I saw on tape from Ya-Sin in his lone season at Temple, when he broke up 12 passes and had two interceptions. He's an easy mover with outstanding athletic traits."

Analysis: Ya-Sin, who played for Temple as a graduate transfer in 2018, did not feature in either of Kiper's previous mock drafts. After being Kiper's seventh-ranked corner on Feb. 6, Ya-Sin is now the second corner off the board in his latest mock draft. That doesn't necessarily mean the Raiders are reaching, though, as Ya-Sin thrived in his only season with the Owls. Pro Football Focus graded him out as the American Athletic Conference's best corner, and he was first-team All-AAC. If he can make a similar jump to the pros, the Raiders might have a steal on their hands.

Jimmy Garoppolo should be cleared for training camp, Kyle Shanahan says


Jimmy Garoppolo should be cleared for training camp, Kyle Shanahan says

PHOENIX -- Jimmy Garoppolo is on schedule with his ACL rehabilitation and should be cleared for full participation at the start of training camp, according to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers QB has been on the practice field working out with the training staff and looks to be ready for the offseason program. Shanahan is able to watch his quarterback’s throwing sessions from his office window in Santa Clara.

“It’s very controlled movements and stuff,” Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. “When he does all that it does look very good, which means he’s getting closer. And that’s why hopefully it will be full-go for training camp and I think we will get a lot of work with him in OTAs also.”

Garoppolo is expected to be limited to participation in 7-on-7 drills during OTAs to reduce the risk of injury. He is on schedule to be on the field for 11-on-11s during training camp, which opens in late-July.

49ers CEO Jed York is understandably excited after watching Garoppolo on the practice field. He also indicated that his quarterback had added a little weight to his frame since he had seen him last.

Shanahan said a little bulking up is a natural phenomenon during the offseason, especially for players who have injuries that prevent them from running.

“I’ve always been good with Jimmy’s size,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s always been thicker than people realize. To me, it’s all about just how can you take a hit. It’s not like lifting weights and doing that stuff makes you throw farther, it actually can be the opposite.

“Quarterbacks, you want them to be a size where they can take the hits, and after that you want them to be as athletic as possible.”

Shanahan’s expectations for Garoppolo are realistic, but he admits that it’s difficult to not get a little excited after watching him throw with the training staff.

“It’s a tease for us because we look out our windows and he’s doing drops and throwing great to the equipment managers and trainers,” Shanahan said. “So I’m sure Jed’s up there thinking he can play, and I do too at times, but no one is running at him trying to tackle him and stuff.”

Players are not allowed to engage in football activity with each other at the team facility before the start of the offseason program on April 15. However, Garoppolo is allowed to rehab and work out with the team's newly-revamped player health and performance staff.

[RELATED: Jed York says he punched a wall after Garoppolo tore his ACL]

While Shanahan is ready to start working with Garoppolo, he knows that patience is key. He said it will be a process for Garoppolo to shake off the rust and get into a rhythm after sitting out nearly the entire season. Having Garoppolo get all the reps possible during OTAs and training camp will be extremely valuable to the 49ers' success heading into 2019.

So Shanahan -- and 49ers fans alike -- remain patient but optimistic.