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Balanced 49ers offense aims to lead Super Bowl win

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Balanced 49ers offense aims to lead Super Bowl win

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Colin Kaepernick is a mystery man under center, a strong-armed passer one moment and a 25-year-old kid who can run right out of the pocket for a huge gain the next.

Baltimore must brace for the unexpected on every snap in Sunday's Super Bowl.

There's flashy Michael Crabtree on the edges and Vernon Davis down the middle, Frank Gore and LaMichael James clogging things up in the running game.

The creative, switch-it-up San Francisco offense sure keeps opposing defenses guessing. The 49ers hope to do it again at the Superdome, when the Ravens will face an array of looks from Jim Harbaugh's team.

``With Kaepernick, it's like pick your poison,'' Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice said. ``Are you going to try to shut down that pistol and not let him get outside, where you've got Frank Gore and LaMichael James going downhill? Then, Crabtree and Vernon Davis on the outside. I think the secondary of Baltimore, right there in the middle, is where they're going to get exposed. ... If you double team Crabtree, it's going to be Vernon Davis. If you get Crabtree one on one - for some reason he's playing with a swagger right now that's unbelievable.''

Kaepernick has shown two drastically different styles in two postseason games. What he'll show the Ravens is anybody's guess.

In a 45-31 rout of the Packers in the divisional round, Kaepernick ran for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for 263 yards with two TD passes to Michael Crabtree.

A week later at Atlanta, everything looked different in a 28-24 win that sent San Francisco to its first Super Bowl in 18 years.

Kaepernick only ran the ball twice, instead handing off to his go-to guy, Gore, and the Niners rallied from a 17-0 deficit for the biggest comeback in an NFC championship game.

``He's very good, he's very accurate,'' Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of Kaepernick. ``They've done a great job with putting him into a system and building a system to make him successful, but to be able to throw the ball deep you have to have guys that can run deep. Crabtree and Vernon Davis and Randy Moss can run deep.''

And Gore can grind out yards.

Gore, coming off his franchise-record sixth 1,000-yard rushing season, ran for second-half touchdowns of 5 and 9 yards in the comeback in his first career postseason performance with two TDs against the Falcons. He has three touchdowns and 209 yards rushing during this postseason run.

A balanced offense, indeed.

``There's a lot,'' Crabtree said. ``I could go on talking about the talent that we have around here. On the tight ends, running backs, you have to remember we have three people injured that played a major part in our offense. But I would say that with all of these weapons, I don't think that you can go wrong.''

After a quiet year in which he faced double-teams and constant attention by defenses, Davis broke out at Atlanta with five catches for 106 yards with a 4-yard TD grab.

``He does it all. He's a beast,'' Ravens safety Ed Reed said. ``He's one of those guys that you all say has it. He catches touchdowns, he's blocking. I'm surprised they haven't ran him yet, handing him the ball, but he's somebody you really have to know where he is at all times and be mindful of what he's doing, because they give him the ball, for one. You have to give him the ball. Why wouldn't you? But whoever is covering him, whether it's me, (safety) Bernard (Pollard), or anybody on our team covering him, you have to be really mindful of where he's at.''

Crabtree had six catches against the Falcons and Randy Moss - who this week proclaimed himself ``the greatest receiver ever to play this game'' only to have Hall of Famer Jerry Rice beg to differ - made three.

San Francisco's offensive line will have to do a better job than in a 16-6 loss at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night 2011, when the unit allowed the Ravens to match a franchise record with nine sacks.

``We've seen enough film to kind of know what to expect, unless they come up with something different,'' center Jonathan Goodwin said. ``But definitely a talented group up front, and that's what makes them a good defense. They try to do some things to confuse you.''

If Crabtree and Kaepernick can pull off another outstanding outing in the game of their lives, they'll take the podium together again for an entertaining back and forth of compliments and good-natured ribbing.

After one game, they held a joint postgame news conference.

All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, a member of San Francisco's stingy, run-stopping defense, regularly offers a pat on the back and hug to Kaepernick.

``In a close game, we would win because our defense doesn't give up,'' Davis said. ``Our offense is always aggressive and eager to win.''

Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is the plan now. In the Niners' rooting section: Rice, Roger Craig, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

The current 49ers are fully aware of the history, most notably a perfect Super Bowl record that they must protect. San Francisco is 5-0 in championship games and trying to match the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever.

``This is incredible, man,' Davis said. ``Just being a part of this franchise is legendary - Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Steve Young - and to be able to bring a ring back, that's something that you can cherish for the rest of your life.''

PREDICTION: 49ers 31, Ravens 27.

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

Since drafting Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have made it clear that Joe Flacco is their starter. That doesn't mean they're not experimenting with having them both on the field at the same time, however. 

During this week's minicamp, the team has been lining Jackson up at multiple positions. 

"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson during Tuesday's minicamp, via ESPN.com.

"If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."

While at Louisville, Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. That's more rushing yards than No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That unique skill set could be the creative options the Ravens are looking for. 

While at the NFL Combine, however, Jackson refused to workout at any other position than QB. 

"I have a lot of fun seeing what they come up with and what they're going to come up with next," Jackson said. "We'll see where it goes. You have to use your good players."

The Ravens are already viewing Jackson as one of those 'good players.' 

"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," LB C.J. Mosley said after minicamp practice. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."

Harbaugh has alluded to the fact that the rookie will be active on game days, just exactly how they get the most out of him is what's in play.

"There's a lot of considerations that go into that," Harbaugh said of using two QBs at the once. "Everybody has an opinion. I've read a few. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys."

While Flacco isn't the fasted QB in the league, he has shown glimpses of running ability in the past. Figuring out how to utilize Flacco when Jackson is under center is where things will get interesting.

Interesting - as long as it works - is what Ravens fans have been searching for over the last several seasons. 

"Joe has to be able to do other things if [Jackson is] throwing the ball," Harbaugh said. "It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard on that."

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There are no dreary work days for Don Martindale, who has overwhelmingly embraced his new role as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

After serving for five seasons as the team's linebackers coach, Martindale was promoted to coordinator in January after Dean Pees left the post.

Enthusiastic doesn't even begin to describe Martindale's attitude about being in charge of the defense.

"Ever since we've made this transition, it's been a joy to just come through those gates every day. I love it," Martindale said after Wednesday's mandatory minicamp practice.

This isn't the first time Martindale has been put in charge of molding a defense. In 2010, he watched over a unit in Denver that was the worst in the NFL in both yards and points allowed per game.

Given a second chance, the 55-year-old Martindale is putting together a defense that will rely heavily on the instinct of several of its most proven players, most notably safety Eric Weddle and linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley.

"He's just putting his personal fix on our defense and expanding it, giving the guys confidence to play fast," Weddle said. "The idea is to do what's best for the defense, not what's best the individual."

Martindale called Mosley "the quarterback" of a fluid unit that can make a snap-change from drop-back coverage to an all-out blitz. In that regard, Mosley believes this defense is superior to the one that in 2017 yielded 18.9 points per game, sixth-best in the NFL.

"The way we're able to use our core guys, put them in different spots and do some of the same things just from different positions, it's more creative, I would say, than where we were last year," Mosley said.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh promoted Martindale rather than go outside the organization because he wanted to extend his vision of a defense that has evolved since his arrival in 2008.

"All we're doing is forwarding John's plan," Martindale said. "We're remodeling the package. It's still Ravens football, it's still Ravens defense, but we've streamlined it. It's the elegant simplicity. Guys are playing really fast."

Asked for his take on Martindale's defense, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg replied, "They're fast and they're furious."

Sure, things might be different once the pads go on at training camp, but at this point, Martindale's boss likes what he sees.

"We're doing a lot of neat things on defense, things that are really good," Harbaugh said. "More than ever, we're putting it on our players to make decisions in real time."

Martindale has a new title, but old habits die hard.

"For the most part, it's been the same," Mosley said. "He always comes in and says, `I have to lead the linebacker room,' and sits down and gets to talking like he's back at linebacker coach."

Told of Mosley's disclosure, Martindale smiled and said, "I've been trying to stay out of there, but you can't help but go in. That's home. I have a good time in the secondary room as well."

And just about everywhere else.

"Where we're going with this thing is really exciting to me," Martindale said, "and I know it's exciting to the players."

In other training camp news, cornerback Jimmy Smith was a surprise participant at practice, going through a light regimen of individual drills just six months after tearing his left Achilles tendon.

"I don't know if Jimmy's like half Wolverine, but he's healed up in half the time of regular human beings," Weddle said, referring to the amazing recuperative powers of the Marvel super hero.

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