Week 16: Top 5 storylines in 49ers-Lions matchup


Week 16: Top 5 storylines in 49ers-Lions matchup

DETROIT -- A couple weeks ago, this game looked a lot more promising for the 49ers than it does right now.

While the game matches a pair of teams that have known for the second half of the season that there would be no playoff chances, 49ers and Detroit Lions are going in different directions. The 49ers (4-10) continue to struggle with poor play and injuries, while the Lions (5-9) are playing well as they near the finish line. Here are five storylines for Sunday’s game at Ford Field:

1. O-line looks to the future
One of the major issues for the 49ers as they move into next season is the offensive line. Guard Alex Boone might have played his final game. The 49ers on Saturday placed him on injured reserve with to a knee injury. Marcus Martin is out with a concussion. Rookie Trent Brown could have a future at right tackle, and he is expected to see a lot of playing time in Sunday’s game. How he reacts to blitzes early in the game could determine if the 49ers stick with him for the entire game. Andrew Tiller showed promise at right guard, and he could see more action on the left side. If Brown and Tiller show some good things, the 49ers might feel better about the line going into the offseason.

2. Tomsula’s statement
Coach Jim Tomsula is probably a popular man in the locker room for delaying the team’s trip to Detroit for a day to enable his players to spend much of Christmas with their families. Will they repay him with a strong effort? As of right now, it appears likely Tomsula will get a second season as 49ers head coach after signing a four-year contract in January. But if the team completely falls apart, it might force CEO Jed York to reconsider his plan.

3. Gabbert looks to bounce back
Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been OK since taking over for Colin Kaepernick in the middle of the season. But at some point for Gabbert – and for offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, too – the 49ers need to prove they can score more than 20 points in 60 minutes of football. The 49ers have not topped 20 points in regulation since their Week 6 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. (They scored 26 in an overtime victory against Chicago three weeks ago.) The 49ers rank last in the NFL in scoring. San Francisco and Dallas are the only teams that have not scored 30 points in a game this season. The Lions’ defense ranks 28th in the NFL, allowing 25.9 points per game.

4. Johnson-Johnson challenge
Dontae Johnson did not know he would play most of last week’s game against Cincinnati, but he took over at right cornerback in place of Kenneth Acker early in the game and held up well. At 6 foot 3, Johnson appears to provide the best physical matchup against 6-5 wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has posted six consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Lions. “You get to showcase what you’re doing and see how you measure up against to the best,” Dontae Johnson said. “He’s freak-of-nature big, strong, fast and has great hands. He’s everything you want in a prototypical wide receiver.” Johnson has been held to just one reception in both of the past two games. With a scheduled $24 million cap hit for next season, Johnson is certainly not guaranteed to be back with Detroit. This could be his final home game. You can bet quarterback Matthew Stafford will want to get the ball in his hands early and often.

5. Hayne back in uniform
Jarryd Hayne spent nearly two months on the 49ers’ practice squad to concentrate on learning the sport of American football. He is back on the active roster, and is likely to see some action on Sunday. He could see some action at running back. Hayne could see some action on punt returns. While he does not figure to have a huge role, the presence of the former rugby league star figures to promise this game will receive more attention in Australia than in the United States.

49ers legend Steve Young presents Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner


49ers legend Steve Young presents Gatorade Player of the Year Award winner

Sophie Jones runs the soccer field, both literally and figuratively. 

She tallied 18 goals, 16 assists and 1.55 points per game for the Knights of Menlo School in Atherton, Calif. Those stats helped lift her team to a 20-win season, which turned into a Central Coast Section Division 1 tournament title.

With those achievements, Jones walked away with the Gatorade National Girls Soccer Player of the Year honor Wednesday. 

A friend presented the senior with the trophy -- but not just any friend: 49ers Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young.

"It's such an honor, and I can't believe they chose me," Jones said in Gatorade's promotional presentation video.

Jones also maintains solid numbers off the field, with a 3.65 GPA that helps her be recruited by some of the nation's top athletic programs. According to Gatorade, she plans to attend Duke later this year.

A "stellar human being with a fierce inner strength," as her teachers describe her, Jones also volunteers for a U-14 youth soccer team and the Boys and Girls Club, and has worked at the Special Olympics Buddy Program. That shows in her playing abilities on the field as well, with her coach saying he's never witnessed such a selfless player.

"Sophie worked tirelessly to elevate her game year after year, becoming high-impact talent," said Chad Konecky, Gatorade Player of the Year director. "She wins balls, finishes, defends, disrupts and creates in transition, and arguably reads the game as well as any U-20 player in the world."

Young complimented Jones, calling the achievement an exciting one -- and one that very few have ever done. 

Congrats, Sophie!

49ers' Mitch Wishnowsky has deep repertoire of punts from Aussie rules days


49ers' Mitch Wishnowsky has deep repertoire of punts from Aussie rules days

Mitch Wishnowsky admits he could have been more consistent during the 49ers’ recently concluded offseason program.

The rookie punter, at his best, was very good and gave his teammates and coaches a reason to believe a fourth-round draft pick spent on a punter was a worthy investment.

The 49ers selected the native of Australia with the No. 110 overall selection. General manager John Lynch opted to fill the spot vacated when Bradley Pinion signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, rather than select a defensive back or an offensive lineman.

Wishnowsky has an assortment of different punts, which he picked up playing a sport in which punters are not considered specialists. Everyone must learn to punt, oftentimes while on the move, in the game Wishnowsky played back home.

“A lot of the punts you sort of learn growing up playing Australian rules football,” Wishnowsky said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “There’s tradeoffs with every punt.”

Wishnowsky explained his different styles:

“The stock-standard end-over-end punt is a lot more accurate but you can’t get quite as much height or distance on it.

“The spiral, obviously, is the biggest ball. It goes the highest and the furthest.

“The helicopter punt is great, very hard to catch. You can’t kick it quite as far as the spiral. But if you slightly mishit it, it’s going the opposite direction that you want it to.”

Wishnowsky moved to California to punt on the Santa Barbara City College football team in 2014. He transferred to the University of Utah, where he won the 2016 Ray Guy Award and was the only three-time finalist in the history of the award.

The only downside of his final college season was three blocked punts, something he worked to eliminate during his offseason with the 49ers.

“I’ve got to get the ball off in 1.3 seconds, which is what I’ve been doing pretty consistently,” Wishnowsky said. “And the snap is a .7. So if the whole operation is 2 seconds or below, you should be good. Then, also launch point. You want to pretty much as it hits your foot (you’re) directly behind the snapper, so you’re not at risk of getting it blocked.”

[RELATED: Why No. 2 QB job between Beathard and Mullens is toss-up entering camp]

Wishnowsky also will be the 49ers’ holder and, likely, handle kickoff duties. He said he has yet to speak with veteran kicker Robbie Gould, who remains unsigned as the team’s franchise player. Gould has demanded a trade. The 49ers said they will not trade him.

In the meantime, Jonathan Brown, who spent the three previous offseasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and has not appeared in an NFL regular-season game, was the only kicker in Santa Clara.

“The last two years, I’ve been with Matt (Gay), who was drafted to Tampa Bay (in the fifth round),” Wishnowsky said. “I’ve been around great kickers, and Jon is up there. He’s phenomenal the way he contacts the ball. Jon is a very impressive kicker.”