49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

November 28, 2006
Smith on the run

Question: I kinda like some recent play by Alex Smith where he's gone old school with screen plays and naked boots that use his mobility in sneaky ways. I don't recall these as weapons used by Norv Turner in the past. Whose call have these plays been?

- Tim Hartigan, Sacramento

Answer: That's Norv's call. Smith is very good on the run, especially rolling to his right. It's a play that takes a lot of coordination, however, and it's one that the offense has become more efficient with as the season has gone on.

- Matthew Barrows

November 28, 2006
More fourth-and-one

Question: I believe that Mike Nolan will build a winner in S.F. by next year. But punting on the 34 is unacceptable, especially in a dome. Not going for the fourth down and 1-inch showed no confidence in the offense. This reminds me of Chuck Knox. He always won in the regular season and lost in the playoffs because of timid play calling. Nolan does not coach to win, instead he coaches not to lose. Like Knox. The only way to win a Super Bowl with this kind of coaching philosophy is to have an historically great defense. What do you think?

- Berger, Reno

Answer: Mike Nolan is a defensive coach (he's the team's de facto defensive coordinator, after all) and his fourth-and-one decision was one a defensive coach would make. That is, he had confidence his defense would hold the Rams out of the end zone. Don't forget, the 49ers won their previous three games by six points and in each of them they prevented the opposing offense from scoring a touchdown at the end. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, my issue is with the timeout. Nolan has made some rotten decisions with timeouts and clock management this season, so bad, in fact, that maybe he should consider turning over that duty to someone else.

- Matthew Barrows

November 28, 2006
Winner or non-loser?


Question: It seems that Mike Nolan plays not to lose rather than too win at times. I for one would like to see the Niners go for the jugular. Do other teams see this as a sign of weakness?

- Alex, Shingle Springs

Answer: I think other teams see the 49ers' inability to convert short-yardage plays as a weakness. However, I think most coaches would have done exactly what Nolan did when in his situation. A lot of fans are pointing to Mike Holmgren's gutsy decision Monday night as an example of what a winning coach does. But that was an entirely different game than the one the 49ers were involved in. The final score is evidence of that.

- Matthew Barrows

November 28, 2006
That fourth-and-one-inch call


Question: Please tell me you agree that it was a ridiculous call on fourth and a half-inch. I mean, he stole the momentum away from S.F. and handed it right back to the Rams. Don't forget, the Rams may not have scored yet, but if Torry Holt had looked over his shoulder about a half-second earlier on their previous drive, he was gone for a touchdown, so it isn't like the 49ers defense was Bears-esque or anything. This kind of over-conservative play-calling nearly cost them last week against Seattle as well. It'll cost them more games if he remains this stubborn.

- Kevin, Vancouver

Answer: I've gotten A LOT of e-mails and Q&A questions about this call, and I hate to say it, but I agree with Nolan's fourth-down decision. Before you guys burn down my house, this is my reasoning: The 49ers have been HORRIBLE in short-yardage situations all season. They messed up a sure TD earlier in the year against the Rams and one a week later against the Eagles. In fact, their short-yardage "specialist," Michael Robinson, is one-for-six when called on to get one yard. And don't forget, he had just failed a play earlier on third and one. If they had gone for it and failed - and the percentages strongly suggest they would have - it would have been waaaay too easy for the Rams to march to the San Francisco 35 or so and kick a field goal. To me, the big problem was calling a time out before the third down run. The 49ers had the Rams on their knees begging for mercy. Calling a timeout at that point was akin to a boxer going back to his corner when he has his opponent teetering on the ropes. It gave the Rams a moment to regroup and that's exactly what they did.

- Matthew Barrows

November 28, 2006
'The Catch' confounds

Question: A friend and I have a disagreement regarding "The Catch." I maintain that Clark caught the ball in the end zone that is under the Jumbotron. My friend says it was the opposite end zone near where home plate was in the old days. I found one picture on line, but it is impossible to tell.
Would appreciate your help; no cash involved, just pride.

- Jeff Rabinovitz, Sacramento

Answer: Tell your buddy he's wrong. It was the north end zone where they have the large Jumbotron. Montana and Clark did their re-enactment there on Nov. 5.

- Matthew Barrows

November 22, 2006
Helmet mystery solved

Question: It seems like Anthony Adams' helmet is always coming off in the middle of plays. What's up with that? Does he knock it off on purpose?

- Mac Daddy, Roseville

Answer: Ha! That's a great question because it's bugged me, too. If there's a loose helmet on the field, it's a safe bet it belongs to Adams. I'd love to take credit for finding this answer, but it was the Santa Rosa Press Democrat's Matt Maiocco who came up with it. Apparently, Adams is a huge sweater. He perspires so much that by the second quarter the inside of his helmet becomes slicker than a jar of Vaseline. He makes contact with an opponent and - POP! - the helmet comes flying off.

- Matthew Barrows

November 22, 2006
Where's Roderick Green?

Question: I remeber a while back that Nolan picked up Roderick Green from the Ravens, but I haven't seen him play yet. I remember hearing about Green and he seemed to be a fairly dominant player in the past. What happened with Mr. Green? At about 6-1 and roughly 270 pounds, he's certainly formidable and God knows the Niners could use "formidable on their D-line.

- Don, Citrus Heights

Answer: Hi, Don. Funny you should mention Green because Nolan was talking about him today (Wed.) I'm sure you saw that he had a big sack late in the Seattle game and blew past one of the best offensive tackles in the league - Walter Jones - to get the quarterback. Nolan said he was impressed and that Green will see more time as a situational pass rusher.

- Matt Barrows

November 22, 2006
At least Gore is aggressive

Question: The complaints about Frank Gore fumbling are tiring. We complain about him like we used to complain about Wendell Tyler. Like Tyler, Gore is an aggresive runner and efforts to gain more yards instead of crumbling like Kevan Barlow expose him more hits and more chances to fumble. Would you prefer having the excitement of a game-breaking runner, or the safe two-yard carries that lead to a long series of three and outs, and punts from deep in our own territory?

- Joel Hessing, Sacramento

Answer: Why not have both? See: Barber, Tiki.

- Matthew Barrows

November 22, 2006
Not yet convinced

Question: Now that the 49ers have done what you considered impossible by beating the Seahawks, has your opininion of their chances at a playoff birth changed? I think four of the six remainding games are winable - St. Louis, Seattle, Green Bay and Arizona. Granted, against more dominant teams, the 49ers have not done well (stinky, in fact), and granted, New Orleans and Denver are stronger opponents, and probably out of reach, but at this point, who knows? In the wacky NFC West anyone (except Arizona) could take the division. Now getting past the first round of the playoffs is another matter entirely.

- Joshua Kewish, Rancho Cordova

Answer: I'm more persuaded, but not yet convinced. I'll tell you what, though, that game in New Orleans is shaping up to be huge in the NFC playoff race. Who would have thought that two teams with a combined seven wins last season would be duking it out for a playoff spot this year? The game also might feature two of the top contenders for coach of the year.

- Matthew Barrows

November 22, 2006
Lance Briggs a 49er?

Question: Do you think with the extra salary cap space next year the 49ers will go after Lance Briggs at outside linebacker and then run the 4-3?

- Eric Abeyta, Elk Grove

Answer: That's a great question. Nolan et al. prefer the 3-4 defense but are starting to have so much success with the 4-3 that they might change their tune. Briggs will be the top linebacker on the free-agent market and the Bears, who already have paid a mint to Brian Urlacher, will have a tough time retaining him. The 49ers have a good relationship with Briggs' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and, of course, have loads of salary-cap space next season. A linebacking corps of Briggs, Moore and Lawson would be pretty sweet and I'm sure the 49ers wouldn't mind the caravans from Elk Grove.

- Matthew Barrows

November 22, 2006
Smith or Leinart

Question: At this time of the season, how do you rate Alex Smith with Matt Leinart of Arizona?

- Norm Bills, Fairfield

Answer: That's a question that will come up several times next month when Leinart and Smith go head-to-head in San Francisco. Leinart looks like the more natural passer, but Smith is doing a better job at managing games. It's hard to make comparisons, though, because they play for such different offenses. The 49ers are a ball-control team that would run every down if they could. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have one of the best receiving corps in the league but not much running game. Apples and oranges, I'm afraid.

- Matthew Barrows

November 16, 2006

Question: Do you think the 49ers will make a push for the playoffs this year?
-- Grk Guru, Sacramento

Answer: At the risk of sounding like the party pooper -- I don't think so. The only reason there's currently a bit of playoff buzz is because the rest of the NFC has been so bad this year. If the 49ers beat Seattle on Sunday, I might change my tune. But they haven't beaten Seattle since 2002. They play the Seahawks twice and also must visit Denver and New Orleans, two more teams with winning records. If they lose those games, they will finish, at best, 7-9, and most likely out of the playoffs.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Why does Mike Nolan keep using Michael Robinson on short yardage situations? He always gets tackled in the backfield and it never seems to work out for us. He had one good game and that's it.
-- Tabrez A, Elk Grove

Answer: Well, you'll recall that earlier in the season that job belonged to Frank Gore until he had a few catastrophic fumbles in short-yardage situations. Robinson is bigger than Gore -- and more importantly to Nolan -- doesn't put the ball on the ground. My issue is the lack of creativity in short yardage. Nolan wants his offense to be able to push around the opponent's defense and get a couple of yards whenever it so desires. This, I think, has led to a stubbornness in short-yardage scenarios that has ended up backfiring several times this year. Why not use Alex Smith more? Or throw to one of the talented tight ends? Or Arnaz Battle?
-- Matt Barrows

Question: How many draft picks do the 49ers have this coming year? What picks did they get for Kevan Barlow and Mike Rumph? What does it exactly mean by undisclosed picks?
Harsh, Berkeley

Answer: They have eight for sure with the possibility of some "compensatory" picks. These are extra picks the NFL doles out before the draft that are meant to compensate for the free agents the team lost the prior year. For example, the 49ers expect to be awarded a pick at the end of the third round as compensation for losing Julian Peterson. They also could get a pick for Andre Carter. They got a fourth rounder from the Jets for Kevan Barlow and a fourth rounder from the Redskins for Brandon Lloyd. They didn't get any picks for Rumph -- he was traded for seldom-used wideout Taylor Jacobs.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I'm interested in your opinion on the progress of Alex Smith. It's obvious he's light years ahead of where he was last year, but on the limited time that I've been able to see him this season (living in Seahawks country), he seems reluctant to run for first downs. I thought that rushing ability was one his strenghts coming out of college. He also seems to have a tendency to fall back away from the pass rush instead of stepping up into the pocket to throw the ball. Do you agree? Are these things he is working on improving?
-- Kevin, Vancouver, Wash.

Answer: One of the lessons Smith learned last season is that running for first downs in the NFL isn't as easy as running for them in the Mountain West. His ventures outside the pocket usually ended in him being hammered by a linebacker or defensive end, as was the case when LaVar Arrington knocked him out for a few weeks in a game against the Redskins. He has, however, gotten a lot better at buying extra time in the pocket by taking a step forward here or a sidestep there. That, to me, is one of the biggest reasons for optimism regarding Smith, because it's not something every young quarterback -- especially one who used the shotgun exclusively in college -- has picked up as quickly.

For one reason or another, he hasn't looked as good in recent weeks. But you have to remember that he's a 22-year-old quarterback who is already on his second offensive coordinator. There are going to be times when it looks like he's taking a step or two backwards -- literally and figuratively. What has the coaching staff smiling is that he's very smart, very tough and doesn't let much rattle him. And he's also won his last two games.
-- Matt Barrows

November 15, 2006

Question: If you were GM, what would you most likely pick with our No. 1 pick in this upcoming draft?
-- Harold Jennings, Antioch

Answer: That's a great question, considering all the holes on defense. After watching Julius Peppers the other night, I'd have to go with a pass-rushing defensive end. A great pass rush will disguise all sorts of other deficiencies on your defense. After that, I'd go with a stud safety or a space-eating nose tackle.
-- Matt Barrows

November 7, 2006

Question: How good are the 49ers defensive linemen? I know they don't have much pass rush. Can they stop the run?
-- Gary Vian, Sacramento

Answer: They're pretty good at stopping the run. In the first half of Sunday's game against the Vikings, the 49ers mainly played a seven- (instead of eight) man front because they didn't want to be beaten on any long pass plays. As a result, Minnesota running back Chester Taylor was able to run for 61 yards in the first half. For some reason, the Vikings didn't run as much in the second, and he finished with 96 yards.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: What do you think the chances are of the infamous #77 Kwame Harris losing his starting spot on the offensive line? There's been quite a few frustrating occassions when the 49ers make a big play, only to be brought back because of a holding penalty on #77. Not to mention the sacks he gives up, I think two in the Chicago game, one leading to a turnover. Do you think coach Nolan will give Adam Snyder a shot at holding down that right tackle position, which seems to be the achilles heel of that offensive line?
-- Jhuri, Folsom

Answer: I think slowly but surely Snyder will start to take over that right tackle spot. He and Harris essentially split time there against the Vikings (Harris had four more snaps) but neither played particularly well.

I watched Snyder get beat a couple of times, although Alex Smith was able to wriggle free on each occassion. Still, Snyder has been more steady than Harris and he certainly doesn't have Harris' reputation for untimely penalties.

Another reason Synder might overtake Harris on the right side is that Jonas Jennings has been playing well on the left. Coach Nolan didn't like it when Jennings missed a couple of games earlier this year. A few weeks ago, Nolan announced that Snyder would push both Harris and Jennings for their starting spots, a surprise considering that Jennings was a marquee free-agent pick-up and one of the team's captains. Jennings got the message and played well against the Bears and Vikings.
-- Matt Barrows

November 3, 2006

Question: Matt, what are the long-term plans for the OL? Are Baas and Snyder going to be riding the bench next year as well? Who is playing out their contract, ala Parrish and A Adams? I know there is the possibility of an extension or tag, but who are some marquee defensive UFA next March? Justin Smith, Leonard Little, etc.? "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man."
-- Lebowski, Los Angeles

Answer: Hey there, Lebowski. The wild card on the offensive line is right guard Justin Smiley. He is signed through the 2007 season, but the 49ers have yet to sign him to a contract extension. Smiley was drafted by the previous regime and is more of a zone blocker -- a smaller, quicker guy that can get out ahead of a running play. He's the type of lineman a team like the Denver Broncos covets. Nolan prefers massive, power blocking players a la Larry Allen. Still, Smiley has played well in my opinion and seems to be especially valuable on screen plays, something the 49ers are leaning on more and more. Who knows what will happen to him.

As for Snyder, look for him to take over the right tackle poition by the end of the season (barring injury, of course). He is currently platooning with Kwame, and if the situation at strong safety (Mark Roman sharing time with Tony Parrish) is any model, Snyder will soon be the starter. Baas has been playing well in practice of late. Allen turns 35 this month and he certainly won't last forever. The long-term plan for the line is fluid, but Baas played behind Allen this summer and he seems to be the heir apparent.

As for big-name UFAs, the one that makes the most sense is Adalius Thomas. He's big, productive, versatile and -- best of all to Mike Nolan -- he's a Baltimore Raven. Having Thomas at one outside linebacker spot and Manny Lawson at the other would strike some fear into defenses. At any rate, look for the 49ers to be active on the free-agent market this season. They could be as much as $41 million under the salary cap when free agency begins.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: With the defense doing so bad, why didn't Mike Nolan try to get some help before the trade deadline? There were some good players out there that teams were willing to trade. What do you think the plans are for this years draft?
-- Josh Banks, Arbuckle

Answer: Hi, Josh. The 49ers tried hard to bring in safety Troy Vincent, but he signed with the free-spending Redskins instead. Vincent is heavily involved with the players' union, which is located in D.C. His family also lives in Southern Jersey, about a 2-1/2 hour drive from Redskins Park. And you're right, the team did have a chance to bring in some help. The problem is that they would have had to give up some of their precious draft picks -- a second rounder in one case -- and Nolan et al. are very reluctant to do that. This year's draft will be rich with defensive players and I can only assume that pass rushers and safeties are at the very top of the 49ers' wish list.
-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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