49ers

Why Kyle Shanahan 'freaked out' on Robert Saleh with 49ers game in hand

Why Kyle Shanahan 'freaked out' on Robert Saleh with 49ers game in hand

MIAMI, Fla. — With a few minutes left on the game clock in the NFC Divisional Playoff, the 49ers were up 27-10 over the Minnesota Vikings. Hosting the NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium was a lock. 

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh wanted to lighten the load of his starting linemen and get the backups some reps. It was the first playoff game for the 49ers since 2013, but Saleh was feeling confident that the game was in the bag. Little did he know, Kyle Shanahan did not approve.  

“I freaked out at Saleh when he tried to take the starters out in Green Bay, or was it Minnesota?” Shanahan said Tuesday. “Yeah, it was Minnesota when we were up like three scores with two minutes to go and I freaked out. 

“And then I did the math and I thought it was alright, but you get some scars from that stuff.”

Shanahan still feels the effects of the Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl LI when he was the offensive coordinator for the club. Blowing the infamous 28-3 lead left a traumatic mark on the 49ers coach that likely will never disappear. 

“Everybody asks what I learned from that Super Bowl and everything,” Shanahan said. “I wish I could say there was some easy answer that would have fixed us not blowing that lead but you know, I go back and am hard on myself about everything. 

“I know the plays I wish I would have called differently, especially the second-and-11 pass once we got down there that led to a sack, so I wish I called a run there, but that was about it.” 

Shanahan will never take the foot off the gas again, especially when facing top quarterback, like Patriots Tom Brady. Shanahan felt similar pangs of stress in the NFC Championship Game with a 14-point lead on the Green Bay Packers knowing all too well what Aaron Rodgers is capable of.  

[RELATED: Shanahan convinced Sherman to sign with 49ers over Lions]

The situation will be no different on Super Bowl Sunday against the speed of the Kansas City Chiefs' offense and the incredible talents of Patrick Mahomes, who quickly racked up 41 unanswered points on the Houston Texans in the divisional round after falling behind 24-0. Shanahan will want to keep the 49ers' starters on the field no matter what the scoreboard reads. 

“You realize when playing against good teams and good quarterbacks that you can never relax.”

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, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Friday, 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.

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks hypes Conference USA prospects to 49ers, other NFL clubs

Merton Hanks is not shy about reaching out to his former NFL team to provide tips on college prospects he knows well.

Hanks, who played eight seasons with the 49ers (1991-98) and won a Super Bowl, is the Senior Associate Commissioner of Conference USA, which consists of 14 football-playing universities.

“We want to make sure and give our young men every opportunity to be viewed by NFL clubs,” Hanks said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “So I tend to call my peer group around the NFL to make sure they’re paying attention to our players.

“Oh, I bug everybody, (including) the 49ers with John Lynch and Martin Mayhew, that whole staff. They do a great job of sourcing talent from Division III all the way up to the (power five). They go to where the good players are, and we have some good players in the conference.”

The 49ers have six players from Conference USA on their roster, including such draft picks as safety Tarvarius Moore (Southern Mississippi), and receivers Trent Taylor (Louisiana Tech) and Richie James (Middle Tennessee State).

The 49ers signed quarterback Nick Mullens (Southern Mississippi) as an undrafted rookie in 2017, and he started eight games for the club in 2018.

One of the top prospects from Conference USA this year is Florida Atlantic tight end Harrison Bryant, who undoubtedly is on the 49ers’ radar.

The 49ers will be looking to add a tight end in the draft to pair with George Kittle. Bryant was the 2019 Mackey Award winner as the top tight end in college football.

“He reminds me of Brent Jones,” Hanks said, “a good pass-catching tight end and a willing blocker.”

Hanks also mentioned defensive back Amik Robertson of Louisiana Tech. Hanks envisions Robertson overcoming his less-than-ideal size (5-foot-8, 187 pounds) to carve out a 10-year NFL career with a playing style that reminds some of Tyrann Mathieu.

With the restrictions on private workouts and pro days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hanks said he believes the college athletes from Conference USA or from any college program who were not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine are at an inherent disadvantage this year.

“Those players are in a bit of a tough spot, in the sense that teams won’t be able to circle back and get on campus and really take a look at them,” Hanks said.

[RELATED49ers Mailbag: Could Frank Gore or Delanie Walker return to franchise?]

One Conference USA prospect who might not suffer from not being invited to the combine is Middle Tennessee defensive end Tyshun Render.

New England coach Bill Belichick went to campus in late-February to pace Render through a workout while most of his NFL peers were in Indianapolis for the combine.

“Conference USA has been fortunate,” Hanks said. “We’re a football-playing conference in every sense. We put a lot of resources toward football and NFL clubs understand that they can come get good players.”

49ERS FROM CONFERENCE USA
LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
WR Richie James, Middle Tennessee State
S Tarvarius Moore, Southern Mississippi
QB Nick Mullens, Southern Mississippi
WR Trent Taylor, Louisiana Tech
RB Jeff Wilson Jr., North Texas

Assessing which of Jerry Rice's three major records could be broken

riceap.jpg
AP

Assessing which of Jerry Rice's three major records could be broken

When Jerry Rice retired before the 2005 season, he was the unquestioned greatest receiver in NFL history. Many even viewed him as the greatest player of all time. 

He certainly still holds that title for receivers and is in the debate among all players. The question now is, will anyone break Rice's three major receiving records? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio and  NBC Sports' Peter King recently asked that exact question, so it's time for us to do the same.

The former 49ers star -- yes, he also played for the Raiders -- finished his career with the most receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895) and receiving touchdowns (197) in NFL history. If you include his rushing touchdowns, Rice actually had 207 total TDs. 

Let's start with career receptions, which has a real chance of being broken. It all depends on how long Larry Fitzgerald continues to play. 

Fitzgerald is No. 2 on the all-time list with 1,378, putting him 171 receptions behind Rice. The 36-year-old signed a one-year contract in January to come back for his 17th season with the Arizona Cardinals. He had 75 receptions last season in quarterback Kyler Murray's rookie year last season. 

Fitzgerald might actually be in line for a bigger season this year -- if the NFL even has a season. Murray will be in his second season under coach Kliff Kingsbury's offense and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins could free up Fitzgerald.

If Fitzgerald continues to sign one-year deals with Arizona, there's a real chance he could surpass Rice's record. But that's a big if. Rice should hold onto the record for years to come if Fitzgerald only has another year or two in his tank.

Listen and subscribe to the 49ers Insider Podcast:

To no surprise, Fitzgerald is second in career receiving yards but is 5,812 yards behind Rice. Yeah, that's not going to happen. 

Julio Jones, 31, already has 12,125 receiving yards and has averaged 1,347 through his first nine years. Hopkins, 27, has 8,602 yards through seven seasons and has averaged 1,229 receiving yards per year.

For comparison, Rice averaged 1,090 receiving yards but that was over 20 years. If anyone has a chance, however small it might be, it's Julio. Good luck on maintaining that pace for another 10 years.

[RELATED: Vernon Davis explains his emotions after 'The Catch III']

And finally, there are the touchdowns. That record isn't going anywhere. Jones has 57 career receiving TDs and Hopkins has 54. Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans have 48. From 1986 to '96, Rice averaged 13.7 receiving touchdowns. He scored nine at 39 years old with the Raiders. 

Rice simply was a machine. A 17-game schedule could help players like Fitzgerald, Jones and Hopkins get within range of Rice, but don't expect the greatest receiver of all time see his records fall.