49ers Blog and Q&A

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

January 31, 2009
Echoes of Norv in recent hires

Question: Hey Matt, now that we have an OC, what do you know about our QB coach, Mike Johnson? Is he someone that has coached up and made better some young gunslingers? Has he done any good documented work, or is he also a warm fuzzy gut feeling for coach Mike?
Adrian, Oviedo, Fla.

Answer: The first thing that jumps out: He was dismissed as receivers coach by the Ravens in 2008 and replaced by ... wait for it, wait for it .... Jim Hostler, who began his 49ers' tenure as QBs coach. He comes recommended by two men Mike Singletary has worked with, Brian Billick and Norv Turner. He's a former quarterback who I'm told relates well to his pupils. And, of course, he mentored Michael Vick for three seasons in Atlanta. Now whether he was successful in that venture ... that's a judgment call.
- Matt

Question: Singletary left the decision between Hue Jackson and Jimmy Raye in the hands of his assistant coaches? That is a bit unorthodox. You suggest it's his management style, but I wonder if this is the way it went down before offering Linehan the job? Was Linehan the choice of the assistants? Or, did Singletary reach a point of frustration and change the process because he couldn't make up his mind? Leadership? Decisive? Accountability? He gets paid to much to make that decision, then lets the guys who get a fraction the salary decide who it should the OC. Odd...
Tank, Modesto

Answer: Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that Singletary threw his hands in the air and told his assistants to make the decision for him. What I meant to underscore was Singletary's pattern of giving ownership to the rest of his team. His goal from the very start has been to make the 49ers into a family, and involving his assistants in the interview process was very much part of that style. But make no mistake, Singletary is very much the head of the household, and he made the final decision.
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, Do you think Norv had a big part in our choice of oc and qb coach?
Hiram, Hempstead, NY

Answer: Indirectly, yes. I think Turner was one of the people with whom Singletary consulted as he set out to find an OC. Both of the new hires have worked under Turner. Coincidence? I think not.
- Matt

Question: Concerning Michael Robinson, I see this being a critical year for him. He has much leadership ability and quarterback experience. He is a monster hitter. But his Running back experiment hasn't quite panned yet. I expect Clayton or another draftee to lock up that 2nd HB spot and from there M. Rob's situation gets questionable. I would hate all of that athleticism, hitting ability and leadership wasted. Thus I think he should be tried as a safety. We NEED one. I think he'd be better suited there than at HB. Thoughts?
Mark, Oakland

Answer: Man, you guys are like mad scientists working overtime in the lab on your safety experiments. It's a waste of time. They'll never get funded. They're bound for failure... And yet I keep agreeing with your instincts! Robinson seems like he would make an excellent strong safety in the 49ers' scheme. He's big, smart, can run, has great hands and I keep thinking about that massive hit he put on that poor Minnesota player (see, below). The fact that he played quarterback would be an asset in the chess match safeties play with the opposing passer. Mark, you've created a monster. Hey, Manusky, are you listening?!
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, LOVE the blog! I don't expect the 49ers to make a huge splash in free agency this year. I'm just wondering if you've got any insight into which position they may look to upgrade through free agency as opposed to the draft. I think the toughest one to project from the draft is pass rush specialist in the 3-4. Any chance of landing Peppers or Suggs? Thanks for all the hard work!
Eric, Springville, UT

Answer: As I alluded last week, I think safety might be a position the 49ers would rather fill through free agency than the draft simply because a free safety's responsibility is so great. Jimmy Raye also will have a bearing. If he studies the team's quarterbacks and concludes that he's not confident in Shaun Hill, they could be in the market for a FA QB (It is worth noting that Hill had a very good game in a convincing win over Raye's Jets in December and that Raye made note of that in Friday's conference call). As for Peppers, I just don't see the 49ers shelling out top dollar for someone who never has stood up as an outside linebacker. Could Peppers do it? Probably. But it seems like an awful big financial risk. Suggs seems like a safer bet, especially considering the familiarity factor between him and Singletary.
- Matt

Question: I know McCloughan is/was very high on Alex Smith's intelligence, work-ethic and demeanor, but do you know if he has a preference, physically, for a certain type of quarterback, or does he emphasize intangibles over specific athletic traits?
Terry, Davis

Answer: This is a good question since only one quarterback - Michael Robinson and Rasheed Marshall don't count - has been drafted under the McCloughan regime. Judging from his preferences at other positions and his old-school philosophy on offense, I'd say he likes big-bodied, traditional quarterbacks who can manage a game and don't make a lot of mistakes. At the 2008 Senior Bowl, he seemed to like Chad Henne and Joe Flacco, both of whom fit that description ... Which is another reason why the Vick-to-SF rumors were so absurd. The GM wouldn't stand for it.
- Matt

Question: With a "grunt" philosophy where you "impose your will," how likely is it that Oher's performance in Mobile gets him a one-way ticket to SF? You seemed to like what you saw... Second question: what was your impression of Raji? I'm hearing mixed reports. Finally, where do you put the odds Bryant Johnson gets re-signed? He looked good at the end of the year and, I assume, will not attract big money because he didn't do enough in '08. As always, thanks for your thoughts.
Mike, Montclair

Answer: Oher certainly fits the "grunt" philosophy. The question about him is how quickly he can pick up the offense and whether the 49ers can find a good RT later in the draft. ... Raji was excellent in Senior Bowl practices but disappeared in the game. I don't know what to make of him. For some reason I've become obsessed with his arms. Are they too short? ... I'd say it's 65-35 that Johnson doesn't return. The 49ers will not aggressively try to re-sign him before Feb. 27. But if he doesn't get a lot of attention on the FA market, they'd welcome him back. He's a big-bodied WR who would be a good fit in a smash-mouth offense.
- Matt

January 30, 2009
Mum for a month, Singletary speaks

Mike Singletary broke a month-long media silence this afternoon when he hopped on a conference call to talk about the hiring of Jimmy Raye as offensive coordinator. Raye has agreed to a three-year deal. One word that Singletary used over and over was "leadership," something which made Raye, a 32-year NFL veteran, his choice. He said every other criterion, including scheme, or popularity and past success, was secondary to leadership. Said Singletary: "I think it just came down to that leadership we know we need on that side of the ball. The leadership. The preparation. The vision."

As for his assistant coaches, he said he didn't make them pick the offensive coordinator but he did want them to get a feel for the man they will be working with. "As far as making that decision, that was going to be my decision."

On Scott Linehan, Singletary said there was a "misperception" that he had offered the job to Linehan and Linehan had turned it down. Singletary said he laid out a list of parameters for the job and asked Linehan, 'Can you do these things?' Included in that was a commitment to a hard-nosed, physical offense. Singletary said he respected Linehan's honesty when he told him he could not meet those parameters. (Which is significantly different than what Linehan said when he passed on the job).

That led to a question about whether prospective offensive coordinators felt stifled by Singletary. "I really don't know," Singletary said. "But I think I made it clear in every interview we had that some of the things we did last year (under Mike Martz) I felt very good about."

On whether Mike Johnson, the new QBs coach is a de facto coordinator in waiting: "It would be nice to think that he could do that, but right now he's the quarterbacks coach."

Singletary said that Norv Turner did not recommend Raye to him. Rather, Raye's name was mentioned several times as he began compiling a list of potential coordinators. Raye (who spoke after Singletary) said he first met Singletary when he introduced himself this season when the Jets visited the 49ers.

Singletary said he was not concerned about being with a coordinator for the past month. "The most important thing is that we didn't pick the wrong person." As I wrote yesterday, Raye will be back in Santa Clara Wednesday to begin evaluating the 49ers' offensive personnel. That's important to do before the combine when the staff will start debating which positions need augmenting.

Singletary sidestepped questions about Alex Smith's future with the 49ers, saying they would be decided at a later date. "For right now, I feel very good about Shaun Hill and we'll have to see about Alex Smith, and we'll go from there," he said.

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After Singletary hung up, Raye dialed in from Morristown, N.J. Raye seemes like a very calm and measured man, which I guess comes from being an NFL coach for more than three decades. One thing that stood out was when he talked about his first NFL coaching job, for the 49ers in 1977. At that point, the franchise was just being sold to the DeBartolos. The league still had a 14-game season and there were six -- SIX!! -- preseason games.

Asked about the talent he will inherit, Raye admitted he probably knows more about the 49ers defensive players, whom he broke down on film when the Jets played the 49ers this past season. He did mention quarterback Shaun Hill, who had a solid game against the Jets, Vernon Davis, whom he scouted at the combine in 2006, Eric Heitmann, Isaac Bruce and Frank Gore. "I like the runner. I know of him and I know what he's done, Gore."

He also said he hasn't worked with anyone on the 49ers' staff, which is notable given his longevity in the league. He said he knows receivers coach Jerry Sullivan and offensive line coach Chris Foerster and knows running backs coach Tom Rathman from Rathman's playing days. As for bringing in his own assistants, he said that's something he and Singletary will discuss. "... the staff is pretty much set the way it is. Those will be ongoing talks when I get back to San Francisco."

Asked about his vision for offense, he refuted the notion that he and Singletary are obsessed with the run. "I think this is the new millenium -- 2009," Raye said. "I don't think we can play one-dimensional. Never have." Raye pointed to the success he had in the passing game in Kansas City, especially using play action to throw to Tony Gonzalez, Andre Rison and Derrick Alexander.

Asked whether his digit-based system is similar at all to Martz's digit-based system, Raye said: "I don't know Mike Martz's system. Everyone takes part of what they are exposed to and then expands it wherever they go."

Asked about his specific role while offensive coordinator in Oakland from 2004-05, Raye said Norv Turner handled the lion's share of the play calling but from time to time would call upon Raye to call the plays. Therefore, Raye said he prepared during the week as if he was handling the play calls.

-- Matt Barrows

January 30, 2009
Singletary to staff: You decide

Very interesting KNBR interview yesterday with Jim Trotter, the SI reporter who, along with Adam Schefter, broke the news about the Jimmy Raye hire Wednesday evening. According to Trotter, before Mike Singletary made his final choice for offensive coordinator, he brought the two finalists, Raye and Hue Jackson, and had them sit down and talk football with the rest of his assistants, both offensive and defensive. After the session, Singletary then asked the assistants to make a choice. According to Trotter, it was unanimous in favor of Raye.

This seems to be vintage Singletary. His management style, one that was effective late in the season, is one of ownership. That is, he has the people involved, in this case his assistants, buy into the decisions that are being made. It reminds me of the late-season game in St. Louis during which Shaun Hill was struggling mightily and was nearly benched for J.T. O'Sullivan. Following the near benching, Singletary brought Hill to the sideline, gathered the rest of the offensive players around the quarterback and said, "You guys figure this out." Then he walked away. The approach was the polar opposite of Mike Nolan's micromanagement style. And it also was effective. Hill and the 49ers scored two late-game touchdowns and enjoyed a last-minute win over the Rams.

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Raye says he wants a "square-backed" fullback who will "bloody some noses." Raye yesterday must have mentioned Tony Richardson, his do-everything fullback in Kansas City, a half dozen times. It's interesting to note that Richardson also followed Raye to the New York Jets this season and that Richardson is scheduled to be a free agent next month. Will he land in San Francisco in 2009? Richardson is 37 and is nearing the end of his career. But who knows Raye's offense and Raye's mentality better than Richardson? ...

***Update, 11:30 a.m. **** Just got off the phone with Richardson, who sang the praises of Raye. I asked him how many more years he intended to play, and he said at least two. He said he has not yet had any conversations with the Jets about renewing his contract there. He thought those talks might begin in a couple of weeks or so as the new coaching staff in New York settles in. I also asked about the possibility of playing in San Francisco. "That's the one thing I've learned about the National Footall League -- you never say never," Richardson said. "Free agency starts in February, so you never know. Never say never."

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The 49ers announced that the team has reached agreement with both Raye and quarterbacks coach Michael Johnson. This is the first time the team has officially acknowledged the hires. The two won't actually sign their contracts until they return to Santa Clara next week. Singletary is expected to talk about his new hires at 1 p.m. on a conference call. Stay tuned ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 29, 2009
Raye speaks: He and Singletary share "grunt" philosophy

I finally tracked down the new offensive coordinator of the 49ers, Jimmy Raye II, at his home in New York. Raye was nice enough to spend a few minutes with me on the phone. He first of all confirmed that he indeed has accepted the job. He has not officially signed any documents, so the 49ers have not yet announced the hiring.

I asked Raye about the interview he had Wednesday with Mike Singletary: "The interview was very good," he said. "It was our first face-to-face encounter after logging untold hours on the telephone talking back and forth. Mike has a clear vision of what he's trying to do." Raye said Singletary first got in touch with him soon after the regular season ended. Which is to say, Raye was not a last-minute candidate despite having his first face-to-face interview Wednesday.

I asked Raye about how Singletary communicated that vision to him: "He wants a tough-minded football team. He's a middle linebacker that understands the grunt part of the game, the briar patch if you will. He wanted to find someone with a similar vision."

I asked Raye about the personnel he'll inherit in San Francisco. He said he was still studying that group and that he would fly back to Santa Clara next week to immerse himself in film study in preparation for the scouting combine. He did say that he thinks the 49ers are somewhat similar to the Kansas City Chiefs squads he coached a decade ago. In fact, that seems to be the model both he and Singletary are using. "I'm hopeful of that. I don't know if I can compare a Vernon Davis to a Tony Gonzalez because I haven't seen (Davis) yet. I know he has a tremendous upside. Hopefully he is. We will try to see if that's a fit for him. Frank Gore seems like he has the capability to carry the ball 25 times (a game). Now (fullback) Tony Richardson - we don't have that player or that body right now in the building. But I think we'll find that guy."

Raye said his offense would marry the one Norv Turner, his boss in Oakland, ran in San Francisco in 2006 and the one he ran in Kansas City. "I think it would be a part of that," he said of Turner's system. "It would be a combination of that and what I did as a coordinator in Kansas City with Elvis Grbac and Tony Gonzalez and Tony Richardson and the players I had there." Both men are disciples of the Zampese digit-system, so Raye said he thought quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Alex Smith would be somewhat familiar with the language since they used it in 2006. "There should be some continuity. Norv and I come out of the same three-digit school."

I mentioned that the 49ers don't have a true fullback on the roster: "Might need a big, square-backed guy who can go in and bloody some noses," Raye said. (Tom Rathman probably likes that description).

I asked if he had ever talked to Turner about Alex Smith: "Yeah, I talked to him this morning. I've talked to him a lot about Alex. He was very high on him. He qualified that with 'As long you do the things that (Smith) can do.' Now what those things are is something I have to find out."

I asked Raye whether he has ever worked with quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson. He said he has not, although he's talked to him at combines, Senior Bowls, etc. Again, the connection is Turner. Johnson and Turner worked on the same Chargers staff in 2001.

Here's a quick look at those K.C. teams from a decade ago. These, by the way, are the best offenses that Raye has led over his career:

1998: 19th overall (16th passing, 23rd rushing)
1999: 12th overall (22nd passing, 4th rushing)
2000: 8th overall (5th passing, 25th rushing)

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In other news, the 49ers announced they have signed WR Maurice Price to a future contract. Price (6-1, 200) was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2007 by the Chiefs out of Charleston Southern. he had a spot on the Chiefs' 53-man roster entering the 2008 season and was inactive in the season-opener at New England (9-7). Price was then released by the Chiefs (9-11) and signed to the team's practice squad, where he remained for two games before being signed to the active roster of the New England Patriots (9-24). He was inactive at San Francisco (10-5) before being released by the Patriots (10-11) and signed to their practice squad (10-15). He spent the rest of the 2008 season on the practice squad of the Patriots.

-- Matt Barrows

January 28, 2009
Reports: Raye lands OC job

Apparently, Mike Singletary saved the second- best for last. Adam Schefter at the NFL Network is reporting that the 49ers have decided on Jimmy Raye, the eighth and final candidate to visit the 49ers, as their new offensive coordinator. Raye, 62, has the most experience of all the candidates who interviewed having been an offensive coordinator on seven separate occasions, most recently with the Raiders in 2004-05. Raye was the Jets running backs coach this past season but was not expected to be retained by incoming coach Rex Ryan.

Another report, this one by Sports Illustrated, has the 49ers hiring Mike Johnson, 41, to be their quarterbacks coach. Johnson, who most recently was the Ravens receivers coach in 2007, interviewed with the team Tuesday. The 49ers declined to comment on either report. They typically don't comment until the contract is final and the signature is on the bottom.

Raye's hiring is not going to fire up the fan base (see: comments section below). He certainly isn't an up and coming prospect and he's been passed around the league more often than J.T. O'Sullivan. The Merc's Dan Brown analyzed each of the 12 offenses that Raye has run over the years. The only time he cracked the Top 10 was in 2000 in Kansas City when Elvis Grbac threw for 4,169 yards. Most of Raye's other offenses ranked in the high teens or 20s.

So what was the allure? Only Singletary knows for sure, but the fact that Raye probably won't be gunning for a head-coaching job in 2010 likely had something to do with it. You couldn't have said that about Scott Linehan, Rob Chudzinski, Rick Dennison, Jeff Jagodzinski or Hue Jackson. Singletary also probably found the Jets' rushing statistics from last season -- ninth overall; Thomas Jones fifth in individual rushing yards-- reassuring.

Still, you have to wonder why neither of the two canidates who had two interviews in Santa Clara, Linehan and Jackson, are the team's new offensive coordinator. Were they asked to give multi-year commitments? Did they feel stifled by a defensive-minded coach who wants to run the ball? Did they not share Singletary's old-school vision? These, of course, are questions for Singletary who hasn't spoken publicly since Dec. 31. Mike, we're all ears ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 28, 2009
Delving into Manusky's Big D dinner

Question: Hey Matt, First great job on the blog, I read it everyday. It has recently been reported that DC Greg Manusky has had dinner with Cowboys coach Wade Phillips and owner Jerry Jones. It also brings up the possibility that coach Manusky is a candidate to become the next DC for the Cowboys. Is there any truth to that rumor since coach Manusky was retained by coach Singletary and is still under contract with the 49ers?
Chris, Honolulu

Answer: This story reminds me of a line from "The Usual Suspects" when a group of cops arrive to arrest Kevin Pollack's character, Hockney, in a garage.

Cop: I can put you in Queens on the night of the hijacking.
Hockney: Really? I live in Queens. Did you put that together yourself, Einstein? Got a team of monkeys working around the clock on this?

In other words, the evidence linking Manusky to Big D seems rather circumstantial. Because this story hit the Bay Area message boards yesterday, it made it seem like the dinner meeting happened recently in Dallas. No, it happened on Jan. 19 at the Senior Bowl. Lemme let you in on a secret about the Senior Bowl: The coaches don't go down to Mobile, Ala. every year to scout prospects like everyone thinks. They go down there to network, to hobnob and to re-live the good old days. It's like one giant frat reunion. The fact that Manusky went to dinner with Phillips isn't surprising considering that Phillips was Manusky's mentor in San Diego. And the fact that Jones was there, too, isn't surprising considering that Jones and Phillips were attached at the hip that week. Hell, I sat next to them at the weigh-in, and no one's linking me to the Cowboys' GM job. (Note to Mr. Jones: I would make an awesome GM).

The bottom line, as Chris alluded, is that Manusky is under contract in San Francisco, meaning the 49ers can block any sort of lateral move. The only way Manusky could leave without the 49ers' blessing is if it were for a HC position. And I doubt Phillips would be involved in such a meeting. ... That being said, Manusky is definitely considered an up-and-comer in coaching circles. He's smart. He's charismatic. He relates well to players. It wouldn't surprise anyone at 4949 Centennial if his name comes up in relation to HC openings in the future. And it wouldn't be surprising, given Manusky's relationship with Phillips, if the Cowboys made a run at Manusky when his contract expires. Perhaps Mike Singletary should be grooming successors for both OC and DC ...

-- Matt

January 28, 2009
Jimmy Raye is in the building

Just when it looks like the 49ers' OC search is about to burn out, they throw another candidate onto the fire. This time it was former Raiders offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, who is currently meeting with Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan.

Raye, 62, has had seven separate stints as an offensive coordinator, including 2004-2005 with the Raiders. One thing that might grab the attention of Singletary, who wants to run the ball in 2009: The Raiders were 32nd in rushing offense in 2004 and 29th in 2005. Raye most recently was the running backs coach for the Jets.

Raye was a standout quarterback for Michigan State in the mid 1960s, leading the Spartans to the Rose Bowl in 1966. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams, who moved him to defensive back. His first offense coordinator job came with the Rams in 1983. Raye was on the same Redskins staff as Hue Jackson, another candidate for the 49ers' OC job, in 2001. The Redskins, led by Marty Schottenheimer that season, finished 28th in total offense and 28th in points. Former 49ers OC Jim Hostler, who was with the Chiefs in 2000, has cited Raye as one of his mentors.

Raye's OC experience:
L.A. Rams (twice - 1983-84, 1991)
Tampa Bay (1985-86)
New England (1990)
Kansas City (1998-2000)
Washington (2001)
Raiders (2004-2005)

-- Matt Barrows

January 27, 2009
Former 49ers receiver Billy Wilson passes away

The 49ers are reporting that Billy Wilson, a prolific receiver with the team from 1951-1960, has passed away at age 81. A six-time Pro Bowler, Wilson led the NFL three times in receptions. He is fourth among the 49ers' all-time receiving touchdown leaders. He averaged 14.5 yards per reception with 407 career receptions, marks that place him sixth in both categories among all-time 49ers players. After his playing career ended, Wilson became an assistant coach with the 49ers.

"When you look at what Billy accomplished in his 10 years as a 49ers player, it's quite remarkable," John and Denise DeBartolo York said in a statement. "Considered as one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game, Billy's impact on the 49ers organization is far-reaching, not only as player, but also as a coach and administrator. We are grateful for all of Billy's contributions and he will be missed."

In 2003 Wilson was inducted into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. Former 49ers coach Bill Walsh campaigned for Wilson to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, even sending tapes of Wilson from the 1950s to the hall's veterans committee, which handles the voting.

"I don't control things like that." Wilson told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2004 when asked about the hall of fame. "But I've had people tell me that I'm the most qualified player who's not in. A lot of people have pushed me in the last year or so."

-- Matt Barrows

January 27, 2009
Ravens' Jackson returns for second interview

Hue Jackson, the Ravens' quarterbacks coach, is in for his second interview today for the 49ers' offensive coordinator position. Mike Johnson, a former Ravens wide receivers coach and Falcons quarterbacks coach, is interviewing for the 49ers' quarterbacks coach position. The last person who got a second interview, Scott Linehan, was offered the job that day.

Jackson, 43, has been an NFL coordinator for two different teams, Washington in 2003 and Atlanta in 2007. The Redskins finished 23rd in total offense that season after finishing 20th the year prior. The Falcons also finished 23rd under Jackson after finishing 12th in total offense in 2006. However, there were plenty of extenuating circumstances that season, including Michael Vick's dog-fighting saga and the midseason departure of head coach Bobby Petrino. Jackson recently has received praise for the work he did in preparing Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco this season.

Prior to joining the Falcons, Jackson was the receivers coach for the Bengals, mentoring one of the best tandems at the time, Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh. He also has served as offensive coordinator for two college programs, USC from 1997-2000 and Cal in1996.

Johnson, meanwhile, is intriguing because he could be a potential heir to Jackson at offensive coordinator. Johnson, 41, is a former quarterback at Arizona State and Akron who played for the Cardinals for one season (1990) before joining the World League and the CFL. His first NFL coaching job was with the Chargers in 2000. He was the Falcons receivers coach in 2002. He became Atlanta's quarterbacks coach -- mentoring Vick -- the following season and held that job before joining the Ravens as receivers coach in 2006.

Johnson was released by the Ravens when new coach John Harbaugh was hired last year. Johnson also has reportedly drawn interest from the Jets for their vacant receivers coach position.

-- Matt Barrows

January 27, 2009
Next up for 49ers: Jimmy Raye?

You certainly can't accuse the 49ers of not being thorough in their search for a new offensive coordinator. In their quest to leave no coordinator unturned, the 49ers, according to Pro Football Talk, are interested in former Raiders offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, who most recently was the RBs coach for the Jets. The 49ers would neither confirm nor deny interest in Raye.

Raye, 62, certainly has a wealth of experience having spent seven separate stints as an offensive coordinator, including 2004-2005 with the Raiders. One thing that might grab the attention of Mike Singletary, who wants to run the ball in 2009: The Raiders were 32nd in rushing offense in 2004 and 29th in 2005.

-- Matt Barrows

January 26, 2009
Report: Reeves talking with Cowboys

The 49ers were dumped by one offensive coordinator candidate, Scott Linehan, who had multiple suitors. Could it be happening again with Dan Reeves? ESPN is reporting that Reeves is engaged in talks with the Cowboys about a consultant's role with the team. Reeves' roots are with Dallas -- he was a running back there in the 1960s and began his coaching career there under Tom Landry in the 1970s. There certainly would be plenty of reason to return to Big D. If Reeves gets crossed off the 49ers' list -- and the ESPN story suggests he will -- it looks like they are deciding between Hue Jackson and Jeff Jagodzinski. Or arranging more interviews... Oh, and Dallas area beatwriters: Have fun with all the Vick-to-Cowboys rumors ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 26, 2009
Cross Chudzinski off the OC list

Cross Rob Chudzinski's name off the list of potential offensive coordinator candidates for the 49ers. Chudzinski - known around the league as "Chud" - today accepted a job as Norv Turner's tight ends/ass't head coach in San Diego. Chudzinski was the one of the first candidates to interview with Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan for the 49ers' job. He also was a candidate for offensive coordinator of the Buccaneers, but obviously thought tight ends coach - his specialty - was his best bet. The 49ers have interviewed seven prospective OCs and three have dropped out:

Chudzinski: Took job with the Chargers
Scott Linehan: Took job with the Detroit Lions
Rick Dennison: Remained with the Denver Broncos

Here are the remaining contenders:

Clyde Christensen
Age: 52
Last/current job: Colts receivers coach
Pros:
* Been a component of a consistently excellent passing attack for the last eight seasons.
* Would mesh well with offensive line coach Chris Foerster; They worked together for eight seasons, first in Tampa Bay and later in Indianapolis.
Cons:
* Has not received a call-back since interviewing, which is not a good sign.
* Spent only one season, 2001 in Tampa, as an offensive coordinator.
* Does not come from a smash-mouth system; Indianapolis ranked 31st in rushing this past season.

Hue Jackson
Age: 43
Last/current job: Ravens quarterbacks coach
Pros:
* Has had an array of NFL coaching jobs, including two stints at offensive coordinator.
* Mentored rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who led his team to the conference championship game this season.
* Would bring with him a proven quarterbacks coach; perhaps former Ravens and Falcons assistant Mike Johnson.
Cons:
* The two offenses he's directed, Washington's in 2003 and Atlanta's in 2007, didn't exactly flourish. Both finished 23rd overall.
* For all the praise he received this season, Flacco had a modest year for the Ravens.
* Jackson would certainly garner interest as a head coach with success in San Francisco.

Jeff Jagodzinski
Age 45
Last job: head coach at Boston College
Pros:
* Very creative; enjoys a great deal of respect around the league.
* Is well-versed in the West Coast offense.
* Has been an offensive-line coach, which ought to be attractive for a head coach who wants to run the ball.
* Would bring an experienced QBs coach, Steve Logan, with him.
Cons:
* Is ambitious and success with the 49ers would lead to head-coaching opportunities
* Not a lot of experience as an NFL offensive coordinator

Dan Reeves
Age 65
Current job: radio analyst
Pros:
* Reeves began coaching in the early 1970s and would provide a wealth of experience to a relatively inexperienced head coach.
* Reeves' patient and nurturing style would mesh well with the quarterbacks on the 49ers' roster.
* The 49ers would not have to worry about Reeves gunning for a head-coaching position.
Cons:
* Reeves hasn't been on the sidelines since the 2003 season; How much of the game has passed him by?
* It's unknown how recently Reeves called plays. The last time he was an offensive coordinator, Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
* Reeves dealt with heart-related issues while head coach of the Falcons

-- Matt Barrows

January 25, 2009
Q&A: Safety first

Question: Seems like the top teams historically have a top-notch safety and that 49ers stood out with Ronnie Lott. To me Nate Clements is a decent corner, but would be a great safety. What do you think?
Steve, Sacramento

Answer: I think two things: 1.) You're right and 2.) It'll never happen. Clements not only has a safety's body but a safety's mentality. He's not afraid to swoop in from the secondary and upend a ball carrier. He's smart and has the leadership qualities to run the secondary and to set up the defense. He's also been incredibly durable over his career. But he's a very good cornerback. And because that position is so valuable and because top cornerbacks are so rare and because the 49ers pay him so much money, I can't imagine the 49ers switching him to safety ... Now if they drafted Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins at No. 10, that would be interesting. It would be like getting two new players - a hotshot rookie corner and, if Clements switched over, a brand new free safety. Hmmm ...
- Matt

polamalu.jpg + Bob sanders.jpg = nate.jpg ?

Question: I hear quite a bit of talk about the 49ers' need for a play making free safety. Last year during training camp, there seemed to be more than a few comments on how Dashon Goldson was always around the ball a making plays. Why isn't he mentioned more? Is it his history of being injured or is he just not the answer?
Bob, Colfax

Answer: I think Goldson's injuries are part of the issue. A bigger part, though, is the position he plays. The free safety is like the quarterback of the defense. Coaches are as hesitant to put an inexperienced player at free safety as they are at quarterback. That's why Mark Roman - for all his lack of ball skills and play-making ability - has been the 49ers' starter for so long. He doesn't make a lot of mental mistakes. For that reason, I think the 49ers will try to find a free safety in free agency and not the draft. And if they draft a rookie free safety, I wouldn't count on him starting any time soon.
- Matt

Question: With the Niners looking as they're bringing back Smith for the '09 season, does that rule them out in anyway in drafting a Sanchez if he fell to the 10th spot?
Henry, Oakland

Answer: No, especially if Smith's salary, as expected, is modest. But I still think that the 49ers take a quarterback in the middle rounds. Just a hunch, though ...
-- Matt

Question: Hey Matt if that report about Linehan not being comfortable with coach Mike....well it had me wondering, if that is true, is it possible we haven't found the "right" coordinator b/c something about coach Mike just rubs them the wrong way...maybe that is a factor why none of them have wowed him to this point? It seems unlikely, but you never know, your thoughts?
Adrian, Oviedo, Fla.

Answer: I think the bottom line of the Linehan saga is that Linehan thought there would be better opportunities for him than the 49ers' gig. What made them better? I don't know for sure, but I would guess that Linehan felt he wouldn't have as much control with the 49ers. With the exception of quarterbacks coach, the offensive staff is already assembled. I also think that the prospect of coaching under an old-school, defensive-minded coach who doesn't have a lot of experience might give an offensive coordinator pause, especially if he sees other opportunities on the horizon.
- Matt

Question: Matt...I am a longtime season ticket holder (35+/- years) so I saw bad football then good football and then "now" football. I am as confused as I ever have been over why the 9ers don't use/play Thomas Clayton. He has looked so accomplished in the few times he has had the opportunity. Any thoughts?
Peter, Fairfield

Answer: I'm as puzzled on this topic as all of you. I thought Clayton's performance in that preseason game in Chicago was good enough to win him a roster spot. And if it wasn't the 49ers' roster, I figured another team would pluck him off the practice squad. But several teams that had injury issues at RB this season took a look at Clayton and passed on him. What is that they're seeing? I don't know ...
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, I'm sure you've heard the Michael Vick rumors. Say it ain't so! Singletary is going to throw Shaun Hill under the bus for *this* guy?? Just when things were starting to look up, huh? When Vick goes down (not if, but when), he'll be taking Singletary, Jed York, and everyone else down with him. Drama aside, Vick's play wasn't even that impressive toward the end - and I can't imagine that the past few years have "vastly improved his game."
Rob, Madison, WI

Answer: I hear his prison-yard team is awesome - beat the guards 36-12 the other day. Remember, Vick first has to be reinstated. And with Sheriff Goodell running the show, that's certainly not a given.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, I just wanted to know if you thought the Niners would spend a lot of money in free agency this offseason and if so who you think their biggest signing could possibly be?
Aditya, San Diego

Answer: The signal I've been getting is that the 49ers will not spend a bundle this offseason. One guy who seems tailor-made for this team, however, is receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. I wonder if Scot McCloughan could resist taking a run at him. Other potential FA's to keep an eye on: FBs Leonard Weaver and Moran Norris and safeties Jim Leonhard and Oshiomogho Atogwe.
- Matt

Question: It seems like hiring Reeves would put us right back in the same situation next year. At his age how long can the team expect to keep him around? I don't want to see 8 OCs in 8 years. Don't you think we should hire someone a little younger who is willing to stick around?
Tyler, Sacramento

Answer: Are you suggesting that Reeves only has a year to live? One of the teams the 49ers have cited in recent years is the Indianapolis Colts, whose offensive core - QB, receivers, o-coordinator - has been in tact for years. That offensive coordinator, Tom Moore, turned 70 in November. Reeves is 65. In terms of continuity, I'd be much more worried about an ambitious young coach moving on than an older one retiring. Seventy is the new 55.
- Matt

Question: If it's Reeves, what are the lessons learned from Joe Gibbs' second stint in Washington about once great coaches who -- after being away for an extended period -- return? Your thoughts?
Mike, Montclair

Answer: Gibbs certainly didn't bring the Redskins back to the Super Bowl, but he did take them back to the playoffs. Another successful example is Dick Vermeil, who, of course, won a Super Bowl in St. Louis after a long stint away from the game.
- Matt

Question: This is regarding the two "Bad Boy" longshots that will try to make the team ... Any word on how Jimmy Williams looked at his workout, did he look like he's been working hard to get back in shape? Now that it's the offseason, and Sing has some time to "teach", will Brooks be trained as a ILB, or will they continue to develop him as a pass rusher? I'm rooting for these two guys to step up, I know these projects often don't work out. But it should be interesting to watch.
Cools, Danville

Answer: I agree - both guys to this point have squandered their considerable physical talent and it will be interesting to see if that master motivator, Singletary, can inspire them. I'm told that the 49ers did an exhaustive background check on Williams, including a workout. I'd imagine the 49ers will take a long look at Brooks as an outside linebacker and as a back-up to Patrick Willis at "Mike" linebacker. Keep in mind that both players are low-risk in that if they don't work out, they get cut and the 49ers don't suffer any cap issues ...
- Matt

Question: Any indication on who the 49ers have interviewed in Mobile. I read at TFYDraft.com that we interviewed Raji and Sidbury. Do you know of any others?
Bill, Alameda

Answer: Don't put too much stock in reports about who the 49ers talk to. By the time the draft rolls around, someone from their organization will have either worked out of spoken with hundreds of prospects.
- Matt

January 24, 2009
Senior Bowl: South better on both sides

The Senior Bowl just wrapped up with Jack del Rio's South squad winning pretty handily. One of the story lines of the game was West Virginia quarterback Pat White, who along with Sam Houston State's Rhett Bomar, was the best of the quarterbacks. Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell really struggled. The good news for Harrell is that Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan looked just as awful a year ago, added weight and strength in the offseason, and turned in a pretty good preseason for the Redskins. In other words, don't bury the kid just yet.

I wrote about N.C. State running back Andre Brown earlier in the week and now I'm feeling like a genius. (Look out, McCloughan). Brown seemed a little hesitant on his first two carries but took off after that. At 224 pounds, he's a big guy, but he showed he also has nice hands out of the backfield and is a nifty open field runner.

Speaking of running backs, during Monday's weigh-in, there was a murmur when Virginia running back Cedric Peerman's hand measurement was announced - 7 7/8 inches. To put that in perspective, tiny Utah kicker Louie Sakoda - he fits in your breast pocket - had 8 3/8-inch hands. Scouts like big hands on running backs for ball security, and wouldn't you know it, Peerman fumbled in the first half.

Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers' solid week of practice also carried over into the game. Ayers had an end-zone sack that jarred the ball loose and was recovered for a South touchdown. I thought he and Ole Miss DT Peria Jerry were the two best defensive linemen in the game.

Other guys who looked good and who could play positions of need for the 49ers: LSU fullback Quinn Johnson, LSU linebacker Darry Beckwith, Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas, and Ohio State WR Brian Robiskie.

Where was B.J. Raji? The unblockable North defensive tackle was a non-factor today as was his Boston College teammate Ron Brace. Maybe the South offensive line was better than previously thought. I didn't think my guy from Virginia, Clint Sintim, looked very good dropping into coverage. His best fit is probably as a rush linebacker - hint, hint - in a 3-4 scheme.

-- Matt Barrows

January 24, 2009
Vick rumors: all bark and no bite

The 49ers have high hopes for a quarterback who was picked first in the draft and whose career has been on ice for the last year and a half. But his last name is Smith, not Vick. A couple of reports yesterday looked at the some of the 49ers' recent moves - interviewing Hue Jackson and Dan Reeves, signing Jimmy Williams - and connected the dots to Michael Vick, the former Falcons quarterback currently behind bars for dog fighting. What the reports didn't look at was:

  1. The 49ers' first choice for offensive coordinator was Scott Linehan, who has no ties to Vick.
  2. Good character has been a top criterion for the 49ers in recent years. Guys who run dog-fighting operations from their homes don't exactly fit that description.
  3. Mike Singletary doesn't suffer fools. "Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can't do it. I want winners!"
  4. The 49ers don't think their quarterback situation is as dreary as everyone else does.
  5. Any team that signs Vick will experience some backlash from fans and from the community. But the hue and cry in San Francisco would be deafening.
  6. It would be asinine to hire an offensive coordinator based on the possibility that he could help you land a quarterback who hasn't thrown a pass since 2006, is currently incarcerated and who may or may not be suspended for the rest of his life.
  7. And one more thing - the 49ers say they have no intention of pursuing Vick.

*****************
All's quiet on the coordinator front today. Jackson and Reeves interviewed for the position yesterday. There were no more interviews today. As far as I can tell, Reeves has not left town. Maybe he stuck around to enjoy the sights in Santa Clara. (Wait, I'm being told there's nothing to see in Santa Clara). ... Stay tuned. ***Update*** I was wrong. Looks like Reeves is no longer in town.

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2009
It's official: Reeves is in the building

Dan Reeves, the 65-year-old former head of the Broncos, Giants and Falcons, is currently meeting with coach Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan about their vacant offensive coordinator position. Earlier in the day, Ravens coach Hue Jackson interviewed for the same position. Reeves hasn't coached since he was fired 13 games into the 2003 season in Atlanta, but he is still highly regarded around the league, especially by Mike Singletary who has consulted with Reeves about his own career. In other words, it's very hard to see the 49ers flying the venerable Reeves to Santa Clara, sitting down with him and then sending him home without a job.

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2009
Report: Dan Reeves to interview for OC

Wow. The 49ers news is coming fast and furious this morning. The latest comes courtesy of Fox Sports' Jay Glazer who reports that former Broncos, Giants and Falcons head coach Dan Reeves will be interviewing for the team's vacant offensive coordinator position. Per Glazer, Reeves, 65, will be visiting within the next 24 hours.

Reeves became the league's youngest head coach in 1981 when he took over the Broncos. He led the Broncos to three straight Super Bowl apprearances in the 1980s, one of them a 55-10 loss to the 49ers. Reeves is a protege of former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry. Reeves coached under Landry in the 1970s. In 1977, he became the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, running the offense and coaching the quarterbacks and wide receivers. He has been out of coaching since 2003, his last season with the Falcons.

So what's the connection here? It's got to be Mike Nolan, who was first hired by Reeves in Denver and then was made one of the youngest coordinators in NFL history by Reeves in 1993 with the Giants. Nolan, in turn, brought Singletary with him to San Francisco, and the two still speak regularly.

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2009
49ers sign return specialist

The 49ers have signed return man Micheal Spurlock to a futures contract, according to the league's transaction report. The 5-10, 214-pound Spurlock played for the Buccaneers in 2007. That season, he returned 16 kicks for 444 yards, including a 90-yard touchdown. In fact, that return was the first kickoff return for a touchdown in Buccaneers history. (see below) He also returned four punts for 30 yards. Spurlock played wide receiver at Ole Miss and was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Cardinals in 2006. He spent last season on Tampa Bay's practice squad.

Buccaneer Michael Spurlock Kickoff Touchdown Return!

Futures contracts are low-risk deals that typically involve back ups and practice-squad players. Spurlock's signing is notable because the 49ers' return man last season, Allen Rossum, will be a free agent at the end of next month.

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2009
Hue Jackson interviewing for OC spot

Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson is in the building. Jackson, believed to be a favorite of coach Mike Singletary's, is interviewing for the vacant offensive coordinator position with Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan.

Jackson, 43, has been an NFL coordinator for two different teams, Washington in 2003 and Atlanta in 2007. Neither offense was very prolific. The Redskins finished 23rd in total offense that season after finishing 20th the year prior. The Falcons also finished 23rd under Jackson after finishing 12th in total offense in 2006. However, there were plenty of extenuating circumstances that season, including Michael Vick's dog-fighting saga and the midseason departure of head coach Bobby Petrino.

Prior to joining the Falcons, Jackson was the receivers coach for the Bengals, mentoring one of the best tandems at the time, Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh. He also has served as offensive coordinator for two college programs, USC from 1997-2000 and Cal in1996.

Jackson is the sixth candidate to officially interview for the position. The others are Colts receivers coach Clyde Christensen, former Browns coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Broncos assistant Rick Dennison, former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski and former Rams coach Scott Linehan. Linehan was offered the job but declined. He is now reported to be interested in becoming the Raiders offensive coordinator.

****UPDATE***** ESPN's Chris Mortensen is reporting that Linehan has agreed to run the Lions' offense. Linehan likely would have have more control over his staff in Detroit than in San Francisco. He also is considerably closer to his family in St. Louis. ... The Lions will visit San Francisco this season...

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2009
Senior Bowl: Three who are 10-worthy

Perhaps time will prove everyone wrong, but the general consensus in Mobile this week was that there was a dip in talent level from last season. In fact, you could say that the draft pool as a whole is more shallow than it was last year. Still, it seemed that there were a few players worthy of the 49ers' 10th overall pick.


  1. B.J. Raji, DT-NT, Boston College. Raji was one of the most hyped players coming into this week and he didn't disappoint. He weighed a nose-tackle worthy 334 pounds on Monday and proved that he could move that weight in practice all week. He had his way with all of the North squad centers save Cal's Alex Mack, and his match-up against the less acclaimed South centers Saturday will be worth watching. The 49ers have shown no signs of re-signing back-up nose tackle Ronald Fields at this point, and although Aubrayo Franklin came on at the end of the season, the 49ers have signaled in the past that they want to upgrade the position.
  2. Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss. Another big body who can move. Two other offensive tackles, Virginia's Eugene Monroe and Alabama's Andre Smith, also have been mentioned as worthy of a Top 10 selection, but it's hard to imagine them being any better than Oher, who absolutely crushed and demoralized some of his opponents this week. Questions remain, however, about how quickly Oher can pick up a team's playbook. The 49ers are set at left tackle with Joe Staley but need a long-term solution at right tackle. But would they select their right tackle at No. 10 and pay him more than Staley?
  3. Rey Maualuga, LB, USC. It's hard to rate linebackers at Senior Bowl practices because they're not allowed to hit. And that happens to be Maualuga's specialty. The USC linebacker weighed in at 254 pounds and he seems custom-built for the 49ers' "Ted" linebacker position where the team has no young prospects. But like offensive tackle, there is politics to consider. Say the 49ers re-sign Takeo Spikes. How would he feel knowing there's a No. 10 pick waiting in the wings? Also, Maualuga would earn more than the understood star of the linebacking corps, Patrick Willis.

-- Matt Barrows

January 22, 2009
49ers to give Williams a shot at safety

The 49ers on Thursday signed defensive back Jimmy Williams, a former second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons who sat out the 2008 season. Williams spent the 2006 and 2007 seasons in Atlanta, recording 40 tackles, one interception and three passes defensed in 27 games played with starts at both cornerback and safety. The 49ers will give him a shot at free safety, where they are in need of a playmaker.

Williams ran afoul of the Falcons in 2008, reportedly showing up for offseason workouts overweight at more than 230 pounds and missing two of three days of a voluntary minicamp. He had a workout with the 49ers before being signed.

************
In other 49ers news, Scott Linehan is reportedly interested in the Raiders offensive coordinator position. If that BS detector inside your head isn't going wild right now, I have some newspaper stock I'd like to sell you ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 22, 2009
Hackett on the radar for 49ers OC

Like Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson and Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Paul Hackett also has been discussed by the 49ers as a candidate for their vacant offensive coordinator position, according to sources. No interviews have been set up, but the 49ers are expected to begin arranging sit downs upon returning from the Senior Bowl today. They interviewed former Boston College coach Jeff Jagodzinski while in Mobile, Ala.

Hackett, 61, currently works as a scout for the Raiders. A UC Davis alum, Hackett has been the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh and at USC. He was the Jets' offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2004 and Tampa Bay's quarterbacks coach from 2005 to 2007. Hackett was reportedly considered for the Raiders' head-coaching position earlier this year.

-- Matt Barrows

January 22, 2009
Alex Smith has been throwing for two weeks

Alex Smith has been throwing a football for the past two weeks and is on track to be at full strength for the team's first minicamp. Which team's minicamp? That still remains to be seen, but it seems more and more likely that Smith will wind up with the 49ers next season.

Smith has two hurdles this offseason: shoulder and salary. As far as the first, the area of Smith's shoulder that fractured just before the regular season finally has mended, and Smith was cleared by doctors to resume throwing. The thinking in the organization is that this year's comeback won't be nearly as arduous as last year's when Smith had surgery in late December to essentially reattach his shoulder and collar bone. Smith currently is doing some light tossing. He should be able to air it out by late March or early April.

As for the second hurdle, I spoke with Smith's agent, Tom Condon, at the Senior Bowl. Condon said he has had no discussions with the 49ers at this point about Smith's salary for 2009 - he's scheduled to earn a base salary of $10 million - and said those talks probably wouldn't begin until the 49ers' new offensive staff is in place. Condon bristled when it was suggested that it was forgeone conclusion that Smith would have to accept a more picayune paycheck in 2009. Still, Smith is on record as saying that he is open to remaining in San Francisco and that he "absolutely" would agree to a reduced salary.

On a related note ... it was reported this week that the reason Scott Linehan turned down the 49ers' offensive coordinator job was because he wasn't enamored with the team's quarterback prospects for 2009 and beyond. I agree that Linehan's explanation for spurning the job - family reasons - rings hollow considering he had two interviews in Santa Clara and in light of the fact that he has since agreed to interview for the Buccaneers opening. But quarterback play seems like an odd rationale. For one thing, Tampa Bay's quarterback situation isn't any sturdier than San Francisco's, especially if the Bucs lose potential free-agent Jeff Garcia (who could wind up in SF). The New York Jets' situation - another possible destination at the time that Linehan declined the 49ers - is just as tenuous.

Linehan was jazzed about Smith, whom he has known since Smith was a little boy, when Smith came out in the 2005 draft. He also was Shaun Hill's offensive coordinator in Minnesota. Is Hill the second coming of John Elway? No, but Linehan seemed to do just fine in 2005 when he was the Dolphins coordinator. His quarterbacks that season: Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels.

-- Matt Barrows

January 21, 2009
Senior Bowl: Standouts from Wednesday's practice

Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher was the best player at practice on Wednesday. He seemed unbeatable in one-on-one blocking drills, and several times he drove his opponent into the grass and then landed on top of him for good measure. It seems Oher has that nasty streak offensive line coaches love. ... Another good blocker is Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who is sporting a Mohawk this week. Pettigrew, who stands 6-5 and weighs 257 pounds, appears to be the rare tight end who can both block and catch passes. Some already-good team is going to pick him later in the first round and be very happy. ... Antoine Caldwell won't be a high pick, but the Alabama guard was very solid on Wednesday.

Rey Maualuga got all the advance praise, but it's another USC linebacker, Brian Cushing, who has generated a lot of buzz from the scouts this week. Cushing measured in at 243 pounds, and I wonder if he could be a candidate for Ted linebacker. ... Northern Illinois' Larry English is one of the best edge rushers here. He's solely played defensive end at the Senior Bowl, but at 254 pounds is far too light to be an end in the 49ers' scheme. The question is whether he's agile enough to stand up and play linebacker, something he did from time to time at Northern Illinois. "That wasn't our dominant scheme, but there were times I got to do that and build a certain comfort level doing that," English said after the morning practice. English said he had not spoken to the 49ers.

A little clarification on Cincinnati tight end/defensive end Connor Barwin. He was a tight end at Cincinnati - and a good one - until the Bearcats moved him to defensive end his senior season. It turned out to be a good move. Barwin had 11 sacks last season and NFL Draft Scout has him as the 6th best defensive end in the draft. He is being listed as a tight end at the Senior Bowl because that was the best way to get him on a roster here in Mobile. However, the Bengals have given him a few snaps as a defensive end yesterday and today. Barwin's another guy who might intrigue the 49ers as pass-rush linebacker. In fact, that might be the rare position this year that is better, draft-wise, than it was last year.

I also had a brief chat with B.J. Raji, who is perhaps the hottest name at the Senior Bowl and who happens to play a position of need for the 49ers. More on that later this week. ... Very few scouts will attend tomorrow's practices and there will be walk-throughs on Friday. Barrows is puttering out of Gulfport tomorrow, Canada geese willing ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 21, 2009
Jagodzinski would bring top lieutenant

MOBILE, AL -- If Jeff Jagodzinski became the 49ers' offensive coordinator, he would bring Steve Logan with him as quarterbacks coach. Jagodzinski and Logan have known each other since the early 1990s and are considered a package deal. That sort of tandem is attractive to the 49ers, who are looking for continuity at offensive coordinator. The thinking is that if the coordinator were to leave for another job - Jagodzinski notably interviewed for the Jets head coaching this year - the quarterbacks coach would step into the position. Jagodzinski worked under Logan when Logan was the head coach at East Carolina University. Most recently, Logan was Jagodzinski's offensive coordinator at Boston College. Logan has also worked with 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula in NFL Europe with Berlin Thunder.

The 49ers met with Jagodzinski yesterday evening. They do not have any more interviews planned in Mobile, although they could continue their search for an offensive coordinator in Santa Clara. Mike Singletary is believed to be interested in Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson, although he has yet to have an interview with the team. The 49ers also have discussed Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, but they believe he ultimately will remain with the Jets. New Jets coach Rex Ryan is trying to persuade Schottenheimer to stay with the team. Schottenheimer, however, is disenchanted with the team after it passed him over for the head job.

-- Matt Barrows

January 20, 2009
Senior Bowl: Oher, Ayers shine for South

Today was the first time I saw the South Squad practice. Two different scouts told me that Ole Miss offensive tackle Michael Oher might be the most talented player in Mobile this week. Oher didn't disappoint today, mostly manhandling his opponents on what was otherwise a rough outing for the South offensive line. Anyone who's read Michael Lewis' fascinating book, "The Blind Side," knows all about Oher's travails in the classroom. NFL teams still are wondering how quickly he can pick up the pro game.

ayers.jpg oher.jpg

Tennessee defensive lineman Robert Ayers had an excellent practice. Defensive players usually are the ones getting pancaked, but Ayers put Tulane offensive lineman Troy Kropog on his back during one-on-one drills. He later came back and did the same to Auburn's Tyrone Green. The 6-3, 273 pound Ayers certainly would be a good fit as a 4-3 defensive end. The question is whether he's fluid enough to be a 3-4 rush linebacker. NFL Draft Scout currently has Ayers rated as the seventh best defensive end in the draft. Ole Miss's Peria Jerry also whipped past his man and flung him to the ground. Draft Scout has Jerry, 290 pounds, as the second-best DT in the draft behind B.J. Raji.

Some of you have asked about West Virginia's Pat White. He's been used solely as a quarterback at this point. None of the Senior Bowl's quarterbacks have looked all that good, with the best probably being the North's Graham Harrell and Rhett Bomar. One player who's been asked to play two positions is Cincinnati tight end Connor Barwin. The 6-3, 253-pound Barwin took three snaps at defensive end today.

Troy safety Sherrod Martin had a tough practice. Martin looked slow and was beaten badly on a double move by Ole Miss receiver Mike Wallace. The most eye-catching receiver on the South squad today was Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi, who measured in at 6-1, 210 pounds yesterday. You know how the 49ers love big receivers ...

NC State running back Andre Brown also looked good. There's no live tackling during these practices, but Brown's tough, straight-ahead style was evident. Draft Scout has the 224-pound Brown as the ninth-best RB in the draft.

-- Matt Barrows

January 20, 2009
Jagodzinski back in the fold for OC

MOBILE, AL-- Jeff Jagodzinski is back in the fold as a candidate for the 49ers' vacant offensive coordinator position. The former Boston College head coach had an impromptu meeting with general manager Scot McCloughan in the stands of the Senior Bowl here in Mobile. He is expected to meet with McCloughan and head coach Mike Singletary this evening. Both are in Mobile to scout prospects at the Senior Bowl. The National Football Post reported on Jan. 12 that Jagodzinski, 45, would be interviewed for the position. That interview, however, didn't occur until the team's first choice for the job, Scott Linehan, declined the offer.

jags2.jpg

Jagodzinski's resume has a lot of similarities with that of Rick Dennison, the former Broncos assistant the 49ers also interviewed for the position. Dennison was retained by the Broncos last week. Both are well-versed in the West Coast offense and in the zone-blocking rushing style perfected by former Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. Jagodzinski served as offensive coordinator in Green Bay in 2006 under Mike McCarthy before joining Boston College. He also served as offensive line coach for the Falcons from 2004-2005 under offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. In two years at Boston College, Jagodzinski compiled a 20-8 record. His reputation also is boosted by the success former B.C. quarterback Matt Ryan had as a rookie with Atlanta.

Jagodzinski reportedly interviewed for the New York Jets' head-coaching job early this year, which led to his dismissal at Boston College. The Colts' Clyde Christensen and former Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski also have interviewed for the job. The fact that the 49ers are interviewing more canidates, however, is an indication that neither was deemed an exact fit with the 49ers. Meanwhile, Scott Linehan, the team's first choice for offensive coordinator, will be in Mobile to interview for the Buccaneers' offensive coordinator position.


-- Matt Barrows

January 20, 2009
Senior Bowl: All eyes on d-linemen

The North squad had its practice today and I'm now at the Panera Bread Co. - don't knock it, they have free wifi - off of Airport Road in crisp, cold Mobile to relay what I heard and saw. Mike Singletary was on hand today, leaning against the chain-link fence that lines the practice field. Singletary has refused to talk to me this week - Won't do it! - but I can report that he was watching intently as the defensive linemen went through their drills. Boston College's B.J. Raji, who would project to nose tackle in the 49ers' scheme, is the best of the bunch, and he had another impressive practice today.

I am remiss in not relaying that Ziggy Hood had a good practice yesterday. I watched him in drills and thought, "Wow, that Penn State d-lineman is pretty good," then couldn't find him on the roster. That's because Hood went to Missouri not Penn State. His helmet went missing yesterday and he had to wear a plain white one, just as Joe Flacco had to do last year here. Anyway, Hood measured in at 6-3 and 298 pounds. He projects as a prototypical three-technique defensive tackle.

Speaking of defensive linemen, I caught up with Al Harris, who was recently hired by Singletary to be the pass-rush coach. Johnson, a teammate of Singletary's in Chicago, will coach both linebackers and defensive linemen. As you might expect, Johnson also was concentrating on the d-linemen today.

Phil Loadholt, who is a massive offensive tackle from Oklahoma, had a mixed outing yesterday. Today, however, he was much better. Loadholt is the second biggest man at the Senior Bowl behind Herman Johnson. He measured in at 6-8, 343 pounds yesterday. He projects to right tackle, where - ahem, ahem - the 49ers are looking to upgrade. Others who looked good today include Louis Delmas, a safety from Western Michigan, and receiver Jauquin Iglesias from Oklahoma.

As for the 49ers' search for an offensive coordinator, no interviews have been set up, although that could change by this afternoon. Stay tuned ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 19, 2009
Senior Bowl: Trench warfare with Mack, Raji

NFL scouts say it's important not to make snap judgments on the first day of Senior Bowl practices. But, hey, I'm not a scout. Here are some observations from the opening day in Mobile, Ala. The North and South squads practiced at the same time in different locations. I decided to stick with the North, which has three quarterbacks: Rhett Bomar out of Sam Houston State, Nathan Brown from Central Arkansas and Graham Harrell from Texas Tech. It was very windy in the afternoon and all three struggled with their deep pass. Bomar, it seemed, had the best arm out of the three.

mack.jpg bj.jpg

Everyone is talking about Boston College's B.J. Raji, and for good reason. Raji measured 6 ½ feet today and weighed 334 pounds. He's built like an oak stump, but he has excellent quickness for a guy that size. He typically had his way with offensive linemen today. The only guy who was able to handle Raji was Cal center Alex Mack, who was easily the best offensive linemen on the North squad and who was considerably better than Oregon's Max Unger, whom many publications have rated higher than Mack. Mack got the better of Raji during team drills, at one point standing him up and driving him backward.

Another B.C. defensive tackle, Ron Brace, also looked good. In fact, the North squad seems to have a lot of decent defensive linemen. Illinois' Will Davis showed good quickness and was getting a lot of praise from his position coach. Northern Illinois' Larry English looked good off the edge. English was used solely as a defensive end. Another sack master, Virginia's Clint Sintim, played linebacker throughout.

At receiver, Penn State's Derrick Williams seemed to be the most athletic. Williams made two excellent sideline catches on deep passes that the wind knocked out of the air. Overall, it was hard to assess the wideout play today as the quarterbacks were less than stellar in the wind.

The Bengals' coaching staff has Cal linebacker Zack Follett playing "Mike" linebacker, a position he hasn't played since college. At 231 pounds, Follett seems a little light for Mike. The new position also has him going against college teammate Mack, something he never did at Berkeley. Said Follett: "I was blessed. I always stayed on the outside and never had to face Mack. That was good news for me."

-- Matt Barrows

January 19, 2009
Mystery solved: Linehan has other options

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Disptach is reporting that there's a reason why Scott Linehan turned down the 49ers yesterday: He has other suitors. Thomas reports that Linehan is high on the Buccaneers' list of OC candidates and also could garner interest from the Jets. The 49ers, meanwhile, have decided to expand their search and will conduct more interviews from here in Mobile. I don't have any names, but so far none of the canididates are assistants who coached in yesterday's conference championship games. That seems to be an indication that the 49ers weren't bowled over by Clyde Christensen and Rob Chudzinski,

*************
The Senior Bowl weigh-in -- nicknamed the meat market -- was just completed here in Mobile. To get an image of the weigh-in, picture thousands of men packed into a ballroom to watch a swimsuit fashion show. But instead of beautiful young women, it's a bunch of dudes strutting around in their undies. Sorry, their Under Armour undies. Under Armour sponsors everything here. The idea is that scouts and coaches can get a good look at the players' body types. I sat right behind Wade Phillips and Jerry Jones.

The one player who produced a murmur through the crowd was LSU offensive lineman Herman Johnson, who was a tad taller than 6-7 and weighed 382 pounds. He also had hands that measured 11 1/4 inches across and had 36-inch arms. Most arm lengths today were around 30 inches. In fact, after Johnson's arm lenth was announced, Phillips turned to Jones and said in astonishment, "His arms are six inches longer than mine."

Others who stood out -- for good reasons -- were Cal Poly receiver Ramses Barden, who is a very well-proportioned 6-6 and Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who stood 6-5 and had 10 1/2-inch hands. All three of the USC linebackers here -- Brian Cushing, Clay Mathews and Rey Maualuga -- all passed the eyeball test.

-- Matt Barrows

January 18, 2009
49ers go Mobile for OC search

As soon as I stepped off the plane in Gulfport, Ms this afternoon, my cell phone rang. I looked down and saw a 314 area code. It was Scott Linehan. I had been pestering the poor guy for weeks, even calling him in his hotel room when he visited Santa Clara Thursday. But Linehan's tone wasn't angry, it was apologetic. He was sorry he hadn't gotten back to me and sorrier that he was declining the 49ers' offer. He sounded genuinely torn on the phone. At this point, you have to take the guy at his word -- he rejected the 49ers' job because it wasn't the right move for his family. If he accepts another long-distance job this offseason? Then you can start calling him names.

Whenever the 49ers decide on a OC, they will say that this hire was the best candidate out there, someone who is a perfect fit for the 49ers. But at this point, it's impossible to see the candidate as anything other than a Plan B. Then again ... let's say the 49ers interview someone,Eagles QB coach Pat Shurmur, for example, here at the Senior Bowl. His West Coast Offense pedigree will make people forget ... um... what's his name again? (And, no, I have no information that Shurmur is on the short list).

Every year, some of the top names at the Senior Bowl drop out at the last minute. they realize their draft stock is already high and don't want to risk injury. Judging by the rosters (see below), Virginia tackle Eugene Monroe has taken this option. Others who dropped out include linebacker Aaron Curry of Wake Forest; offensive linemen Duke Robinson of Oklahoma and Jason Smith of Baylor, and receivers Demetrius Byrd of LSU and Louis Murphy of Florida. One name I hadn't seen before is Ohio State receiver Brian Robiskie. He adds to a deep, if not dazzling, group of receivers.

Some of the guys I'll be keeping on eye on here in mobile are Boston College nose tackle B.J. Raji, Northern Illinois sack master Larry English and Cal Poly wideout Ramses Barden. Who else should I be scouting and asking questions about? Drop me a line ...

North
1 Brooks Foster WR North Carolina
1 Darius Butler DB Connecticut
2 Derrick Williams WR Penn State
4 Brandon Gibson WR Washington St.
4 Macho Harris DB Virginia Tech
5 Nic Harris LB Oklahoma
6 DeAngelo Smith DB Cincinnati
6 Graham Harrell QB Texas Tech
7 Rhett Bomar QB Sam Houston St.
9 Juaquin Iglesias WR Oklahoma
10 Nathan Brown QB Central Arkansas
11 Ramses Barden WR Cal Poly
11 William Moore DB Missouri
15 Patrick Chung DB Oregon
16 Keenan Lewis DB Oregon State
21 Mike Mickens DB Cincinnati
23 Kory Sheets RB Purdue
24 Jeremiah Johnson RB Oregon
25 Louis Delmas DB Western Michigan
27 David Bruton DB Notre Dame
35 Louie Sakoda K Utah
36 Eric Kettani RB Navy
37 Cedric Peerman RB Virginia
40 Scott McKillop LB Pittsburgh
43 Tony Fiammetta RB Syracuse
47 Kevin Huber P Cincinnati
50 Clint Sintim LB Virginia
51 Alex Mack OL California
51 Larry English DL Northern Illinois
52 Cody Brown DL Connecticut
54 Tyrone McKenzie LB USF
55 Marcus Freeman LB Ohio St.
56 Zack Follett LB California
57 Mark Estermyer DS Pittsburgh
60 Max Unger OL Oregon
63 Kraig Urbik OL Wisconsin
64 William Beatty OL Connecticut
66 Andy Levitre OL Oregon State
68 Xavier Fulton OL Illinois
72 Ryan Shuman OL Virginia Tech
76 Trevor Canfield OL Cincinnati
79 Phil Loadholt OL Oklahoma
80 Brian Robiskie WR Ohio State
81 Will Davis DL Illinois
82 Connor Barwin TE Cincinnati
85 John Phillips TE Virginia
87 Brandon Pettigrew TE Oklahoma St.
90 B.J. Raji DL Boston College
91 Tim Jamison DL Michigan
92 Ron Brace DL Boston College
94 Ziggy Hood DL Missouri
97 Mitch King DL Iowa

South
1 Coye Francies DB San Jose State
1 Mohamed Massaquoi WR Georgia
2 Alphonso Smith DB Wake Forest
2 Mike Thomas WR Arizona
3 Derek Pegues DB Mississippi St.
4 Ellis Lankster DB West Virginia
5 Pat White QB West Virginia
6 Sherrod Martin DB Troy
6 Quan Cosby WR Texas
7 Patrick Turner WR USC
9 Chip Vaughn DB Wake Forest
9 Mike Wallace WR Ole Miss
10 Cullen Harper QB Clemson
10 Brian Cushing LB USC
11 Ashlee Palmer LB Ole Miss
11 Kenny McKinley WR South Carolina
14 John Parker Wilson QB Alabama
15 Thomas Morstead P SMU
16 Domonique Johnson DB Jackson State
22 James Davis RB Clemson
23 Rashad Jennings RB Liberty
24 Andre Brown RB NC State
25 Michael Hamlin DB Clemson
27 Arian Foster RB Tennessee
40 Patrick McAfee K West Virginia
45 Quinn Johnson RB LSU
47 Clay Matthews LB USC
48 Darry Beckwith LB LSU
49 Rashad Johnson DB Alabama
57 Jake Ingram DS Hawaii
58 Rey Maualuga LB USC
59 Moise Fokou LB Maryland
59 Antoine Caldwell OL Alabama
60 Eric Wood OL Louisville
63 Jonathan Luigs OL Arkansas
71 Tyronne Green OL Auburn
74 Michael Oher OL Ole Miss
75 Anthony Parker OL Tennessee
75 Fili Moala DL USC
76 Troy Kropog OL Tulane
77 Jason Watkins OL Florida
79 Herman Johnson OL LSU
81 Shawn Nelson TE Southern Miss
83 Travis McCall TE Alabama
84 Kyle Moore DL USC
85 Anthony Hill TE NC State
90 Corvey Irvin DL Georgia
91 Robert Ayers DL Tennessee
92 David Veikune DL Hawaii
95 Lawrence Sidbury DL Richmond
98 Peria Jerry DL Ole Miss
99 Vance Walker DL Georgia Tech

-- Matt Barrows

January 18, 2009
Linehan: It wasn't business-related

Scott Linehan will not be the 49ers' next offensive coordinator. After being offered the job Thursday afternoon, Linehan notified coach Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan moments ago that he had to decline their offer. Linehan said he turned down the job due to personal and timing issues: "It was nothing business-related," he said in a short phone interview. "It was 100 percent not economic. They were great. Everything was done with the utmost class. It was more of a personal decision I had come to."

The 49ers interviewed four canidates for the job with Linehan emerging as the leader when he arrived for a second interview on Thursday. He left Friday telling Singletary and McCloughan that he needed to spend the weekend discussing the job with his family."At 45, I look at things a lot differently than when I was 25," he said. "I have a wife. I have three kids."

Linehan's withdrawl means that the 49ers are down to two canidates, Colts receivers coach Clyde Christensen and former Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. Rick Dennison, who interviewed Monday, was retained by the Denver Broncos. Both Singletary and McCloughan are in Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl. They will meet this evening to discuss the merits of conducting additional interviews there, including with assistants on teams that are playing today.

"I will say this," Linehan said. "Mike Singletary is going to be a huge success. He's too good a person and knows too much about the game to fail."

***4:20 p.m. Update****

Whomever the 49ers hire will be the team's seventh offensive coordinator in as many seasons. Indeed, the revolving door at that position is one of the chief reasons the 49ers have struggled over the same span. Singletary's first big task as head coach is finding someone who not only will lead the offensie effectively, but who will do so for a number of years.

"I believe and have faith in the process we have set forth in our search for an offensive coordinator," Singletary said in a team-issued statement. "While we'd like to fill this position sooner than later, we will remain patient in our approach. The right person for the 49ers is out there."

-- Matt Barrows

January 17, 2009
Q&A: Splashing into the free-agency pool

Question: The wonderful thing about the positions which Singletary is looking to fill is that there are plenty of free agents to fill them. I was mainly looking at Terrell Suggs who already has experience with a 3-4 defense and has been the Ravens' dominant pass rusher. Very durable and the Ravens can't hold on to all their linebackers so I think he'll be available. Another player is Jordan Gross from Carolina. If we could put him at right tackle we could move Snyder in at guard where i think he'll succeed. What do you think of free agency this season?
KC, Fair Oaks

Answer: The thing about the free-agent oasis is that it dries up rapidly in advance of free agency. That is, some of these would-be free agents will be crossed off the list by 9 p.m. Feb. 26. I think Gross will be tough to snag because the 49ers will be hesitant to pay left-tackle money to someone they would put at right tackle. If he hits the market, Gross will have many suitors. Suggs seems more realistic given Singletary's history with him. But remember, Suggs had eights sacks this season. Parys Haralson had the same total and, unlike Suggs, he did not start every game and did not have as good a surrounding cast.
- Matt

suggs.jpg gross.jpg<

Question: It seems that it would be a mistake to hire Linehan. I understand that he had a wholesale revolution on his hands in St. Louis along with a very poor win-loss record. The 49ers would be right back where they have been for the past 5 or 6 years. I have been excited about the roll they have been on under Singletary and I fear that would be reversed under Linehan.
Dean, Rancho Murieta

Answer: Some guys are great tacticians but not great managers of men. But since that's where Mike Singletary excels, I don't see any locker-room revolts in the 49ers' future. Isaac Bruce? Now that may be a different story ...
- Matt

Question: hey matt, just wondering if youve heard any rumblings regarding russ grimm as a possible oc. i know he dosnt have any play calling experience but from what ive read he would bring a pretty tough physical presence to the offense. he also has alot of playoff experience that would be great for a young team.
Chris, Dallas

Answer: hey chris, what happened to capitalization and apostrophes? ... I think Russ Grimm's next move would be as head coach, especially if his Cardinals make it past Philly tomorrow.
- Matt

Question: Mr. Barrows: With all the new coaching moves & interviews, is there a chance coach Singletary would entertain the notion of bringing in some old 49ers (such as Ronnie Lott) to coach the players. Maybe if this crop of players could hear what it was like to win they might catch on. Thanks.
Jimbo, Sacramento

Answer: It seems that ex-Bears, not ex-49ers, have Singletary's ear. However, I wonder if Bryant Young will join the staff as an assistant at some point.
- Matt

Question: Yo Matt, I feel as if being a 49ers faithful is starting to pay off! On that note what do you think is Singletary's highest priority this offseason? (Franchise qb, OC position, Good Draft, Free Agents......etc..)
Matt, San Diego

Answer: The biggest priority for the franchise is finding continuity on offense. That starts with the OC. Once that's set, I see Singletary, Scot McCloughan and the OC - ostensibly Linehan - sitting down and talking about the quarterback. Are they happy with Shaun Hill? Do they make a play for Jeff Garcia? Do they keep Alex Smith? Do they target a quarterback in the draft? When they settle that, then they start to look at the offensive line, beginning with right tackle.
- Matt

Question: Matt, thanks for all the hard work buddy. I keep hearing people say that the 49ers offensive line is a perfect fit for Singletary's hard-nose running attack. Just wondering, did anyone bother to watch the games this year? The line couldn't convert on third and short all year long, and were even worse trying to run in the red zone (even under Singletary's rule). Can Rathman, Foerster and the new OC solve this problem? The majority of that same line will be back next year.
Marc, Tempe, AZ

Answer: I hear what you're saying - even though the 49ers will have new coaches and a new attitude, their personnel at the most critical spot, the o line, will be virtually the same. The bottom line is that we'll have to wait and see, but there are few things that should give fans hope. One is that Chilo Rachal ought to really take off in 2009. He has the potential to be the best run blocker - both plow-ahead blocking and pulling - on the team. Two, there promises to be an upgrade at right tackle. And three, the 49ers certainly will have a legitimate fullback leading the way.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, Huge Niner fan on the east coast. What are the prospects for niners drafting a QB, specifically Chase Daniels? He runs a complex offense and seems to have the arm and release needed by an NFL QB. Thanks!
John, Plainville, CT

Answer: Daniels definitely seems to have the brains for the next level. But he plays in that s-p-r-e-a-d offense and is usually in the shotgun. He also seems a bit Flutiesque in terms of stature. That being said, he could be a mid-round selection the 49ers would have to develop. And if they take Jeremy Maclin at No. 10, who knows ...
- Matt

Question: What on earth makes you think the 49ers would even consider using the 10th pick in the draft on Rey Maualuga? Don't you think that they have so many more pressing needs than a 2nd inside linebacker, especially considering how well Spikes played this year?
Jason, Stockton

Answer: Spikes isn't a long-term answer and the 49ers have no one waiting in the wings at that position. And remember, the 49ers nearly drafted Curtis Lofton in the first round last year. If McCloughan thinks Maualuga is the best player on the board at 10, he'll grab him.
- Matt

January 16, 2009
Dennison remaining in Denver

Rick Dennison, one of four candidates the 49ers interviewed for offensive coordinator, is remaining with the Denver Broncos, according to the Rocky Mountain News. Dennison interviewed with Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan earlier this week. The 49ers yesterday offered the offensive coordinator position to Scott Linehan, who has not yet accepted the job. The 49ers also have interviewed Colts receivers coach Clyde Christensen and former Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

-- Matt Barrows

January 16, 2009
Linehan-49ers: No deal yet

Scott Linehan remains the 49ers' top choice for offensive coordinator, but there has been no movement on the contract offer to the former Rams coach. Linehan was scheduled to fly out of the Bay Area this morning. Reached yesterday evening, Linehan said he thought there might be something to report in the "next 24 to 48 hours." The 49ers' goal was to sign Linehan to a contract before his morning flight. No word yet on what might be holding up that deal. There is no indication that Linehan is being considered elsewhere.

-- Matt Barrows

January 15, 2009
Linehan in for second interview

NFL.com's Adam Schefter is reporting that Scott Linehan is heading into Santa Clara this afternoon for his second interview with Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan. Linehan, the former Rams coach, also interviewed on Friday. I'm trying to confirm this with the 49ers, but if you'll recall, Schefter was on target when he reported Linehan's first visit.

1:03 p.m. I've confirmed that Linehan indeed is heading in for Round 2. One only can assume this means that he is the leader in the clubhouse ...

7:30 p.m. Just spoke with Linehan. He's in the middle of negotiations. Nothing's set in stone yet, but it seems close.

Let's assume Linehan gets the job. Who would he bring in as quarterbacks coach? One possibility is Terry Shea, 62, who was his QBs coach last season in St. Louis. Shea was quarterbacks coach with the Dolphins the two seasons prior, and he also coached the quarterbacks during two stints on the Chiefs' staff. He was offensive coordinator for the Bears in 2004. Shea also has been a college head coach, at San Jose State and at Rutgers. Or the 49ers could hire Linehan and one of the potential QB coaches, Rip Scherer or Pat McPherson, they've interviewed in the last two days.

Linehan became the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2002 and the Dolphins offensive coordinator in 2005. He took over the Rams in 2006.

Year.................total offense............rushing...........passing .........Points

Minn. 2001.........12th......................25th...................7th..................290
Minn. 2002..........2nd.......................1st.....................9th..................390
Minn. 2003..........1st.......................4th.....................4th...................416
Minn. 2004..........4th.......................18th....................2nd.................405

Miami 2004.........29th......................31st...................21st.................275
Miami 2005.........14th.....................12th....................16th.................318

St Louis 2005.......9th......................22nd....................4th..................363
St Louis 2006.......6th......................17th.....................4th..................367
St Louis 2007.......24th.....................25th....................19th................263

-- Matt Barrows

January 15, 2009
Mobile or bust

Mike Singletary's offseason wish list includes a safety, an offensive lineman, a quarterback and a pass rusher. The first stop on the 49ers coach's shopping spree will be Mobile, Ala. where Singletary and his staff will assemble early next week for the Senior Bowl. Barrows is going, too, and I'm beginning my preparations today. Toothbrush? Check. Rain gear? Check. Typhus shot? Check. Gratuitous shot at the state of Alabama? Check.

While this year's Senior Bowl seems to be light on quarterbacks, it's a good year for several of the other positions Singletary has cited.

Safety. The 49ers biggest need is at free safety where - say it with me - Mark Roman has gone two seasons without an interception. The player who potentially would have been the top safety in the draft, USC's Taylor Mays, decided to play for the Trojans again next year. Still, there is a lot of talent at the position this year, especially at free safety. In fact, all of the players ranked in NFLDraftScout's Top 5 will be at the Senior Bowl. They are:


  1. William Moore, Missouri.

  2. Derek Pegues, Mississipi State. (Double bonus - he's an excellent return man)

  3. Louis Delmas, Western Michigan

  4. Rashad Johnson, Alabama

  5. Sherrod Martin, Troy


Offensive line. Yes, David Baas is entering the final year of the contract, but the 49ers seem to have some depth at guard. Both Tony Wragge and Adam Snyder can play there, and don't forget, Eric Heitmann started his 49ers career at guard. If Cody Wallace shows potential, the 49ers have the luxury of having Heitmann move one spot to the left or right. Here are some of the top names at the Senior Bowl:

  1. OT Michael Oher, Ole Miss. If you haven't read "The Blindside," stop what you're doing right now and head to your nearest library.

  2. OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia. UVA produces two things: Offensive lineman and talented writers. (See: Poe, Edgar Allan; Fey, Tina; Barrows, Matt)

  3. G Duke Robinson, Oklahoma. Two "Dukes" on one offensive line? Now that's confusing

  4. C Max Unger, Oregon. The 49ers seem to be building an army of centers.


Pass rusher. The common denominator among the teams still left in the playoffs seems to be the number of turnovers they produce. The 49ers have been quite poor in this category for years and desperately need a playmaker on defense. Players they will look at in Mobile are Virginia's Clint Sintim and Northern Illinois' Larry English. Both spent a lot of time with their hand on the ground in college but would be OLBs in San Francisco. Perhaps the best pass rusher, Texas' Brian Orakpo, is not on the Senior Bowl roster at this time.

By the way, Percy Harvin, who is fast becoming my 2009 Carl Nicks, is expected to declare himself eligible for the draft today. Percy Galore!

-- Matt Barrows

January 14, 2009
49ers dial up another Broncos assistant

A day after talking to the Browns' Rip Scherer about the 49ers' quarterbacks coach position, Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan today had a phone interview with Denver's Pat McPherson, 39, about the same position. Just as Scherer and Rob Chudzinski could make a QBs coach-offensive coordinator tandem for the 49ers, so too could McPherson and Rick Dennison, the Broncos assistant who interviewed for the 49ers' offensive coordinator job earlier this week. The 49ers plan to hire the QBs coach and OC as a package deal.

mcpherson.jpg

McPherson (bonus points: He was born in Santa Clara) spent the last two seasons as the Broncos' tight ends coach. McPherson, who is the son of long-time 49ers defensive coach Bill McPherson, also coached the Broncos' quarterbacks from 2003-2006. The 49ers also have discussed Broncos assistant Jeremy Bates, although there are no plans to interview him at this point. Bates was Denver's quarterbacks coach the last two seasons. New Broncos coach Josh McDaniels is still assembling his staff. While he has not ruled out the team's current assistants, they have permission to interview elsewhere.

The McPherson interview douses the speculation that the 49ers are poised to hire Chudzinski as offensive coordinator. Here's another bucket of water: I spoke with someone close to Chudzinski late yesterday, and there was no indication that he and the 49ers were closing in on a deal.

*********************
Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig and Dwight Clark will be some of the Bay Area athletes helping to ring in the new Presidential administration Tuesday night at the Metreon in downtown San Francisco. The event, from 6-10 p.m., will include big-screen footage of the inauguration as well as live music.

Stanford basketball player Jennifer Azzi, swimmer Natalie Coughlin, and Golden State Warriors Stephen Jackson, Jamal Crawford, Corey Maggette and Ronny Turiaf also are scheduled to attend. Proceeds will benefit local charities. For ticket information, log onto www.inaugurationwest.com or call 415-771-9271.

-- Matt Barrows

January 14, 2009
The OC: A quartet to consider

All quiet on the 49ers' front for now. No interviews are scheduled today for offensive coordinator, so I figured I'd lay out some of the pros and cons of the four candidates who have already interviewed. Here they are in alphabetical order:

Clyde Christensen
Age: 52
Last/current job: Colts receivers coach
Pros:
* Been a component of a consistently excellent passing attack for the last eight seasons.
* Would mesh well with offensive line coach Chris Foerster; They worked together for eight seasons, first in Tampa Bay and later in Indianapolis.
Cons:
* Spent only one season, 2001 in Tampa, as an offensive coordinator.
* Does not come from a smash-mouth system; Indianapolis ranked 31st in rushing this past season.

Rob Chudzinski
Age: 40
Last/current job: Browns' offensive coordinator
Pros:
* Up-and-coming offensive coordinator who helped resurrect Cleveland's offense in 2007.
* Former tight ends coach whose protégés have flourished in his system
* Might give the 49ers an inside edge on landing a quarterback, Derek Anderson, who can push Hill.
* 49ers could hire Rip Scherer, who worked under Chudzinski as quarterbacks coach.
Cons:
* One-year wonder? Browns faltered badly last season as Chudzinski stuck with Anderson, who was a disappointment.
* System appears to lean heavily on the passing game
* Not a lot of experience as offensive coordinator.

Rick Dennison
Age: 50
Last/current job: Broncos offensive coordinator
Pros:
* Has direct connection to 49ers' glory days, having coached under Mike Shanahan.
* Denver's rushing attack has been consistently strong for more than a decade.
* Has unique background. Was an NFL linebacker. The rest of the candidates are former offensive players.
* He and Broncos' quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates could provide a nice, one-two combination
Cons:
* While he drew up game plans in Denver, he has no experience calling plays.
* Having coached under Shanahan, it's hard to ascertain his style.
* Broncos' zone-blocking theme may not mesh with the personnel the 49ers have assembled.

Scott Linehan
Age: 45
Last job: Head coach, St. Louis Rams
Pros:
* Has solid experience as an offensive coordinator; vastly improved Vikings and Dolphins offenses
* Is dedicated to the running game
* Is familiar to the only two 49ers quarterbacks, Shaun Hill and Alex Smith, under contract. Hill, who spent three years in Linehan's system, could hit the ground running in minicamps.
* Unlikely to be plucked for a head coaching job any time soon.
Cons:
* Lost control of the Rams last season and was fired after four games
* Not on very good terms with Isaac Bruce, the 49ers' best receiver from 2008.

-- Matt Barrows

January 13, 2009
Niners talk to QB coach candidate

The 49ers interviewed their first candidate for quarterbacks coach, Rip Scherer, who held that position with the Cleveland Browns the last four seasons. The 49ers also have interviewed outgoing Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for their offensive coordinator -- things that make you go, Hmmmm -- but I'm being cautioned that the Scherer interview is not an indication that Chudzinski is a leading candidate for the OC job.

The mere fact that the 49ers are interviewing quarterbacks coaches before hiring an OC, however, is intriguing. During his end-of-season press conference, Mike Singletary said the incoming OC would have the discretion to pick his top lieutenant, the QBs coach. The idea was that the setup would create built-in continuity if the OC were to move on.

"Normally, the offensive coordinator that comes in, he has a person that he likes to have with him, and normally that's a quarterbacks coach," Singletary said on Dec. 31. "That's the flexibility that we have allotted him, whoever that is. So, we move forward with that."

The Browns are the only NFL team for which Scherer, 56, has coached. Most of his experience has been at the collegiate level, and he has been head coach at James Madison University and at the University of Memphis.

Coaching Background:
1974-75 Penn State, graduate assistant
1976 North Carolina State, part-time assistant quarterbacks coach
1977-78 University of Hawaii, running backs coach
1979 University of Virginia, quarterbacks coach
1980-81 Georgia Tech, quarterbacks coach
1982-84 Georgia Tech, running backs coach
1985 Georgia Tech, assistant athletic director
1986 Georgia Tech, quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator
1987 University of Alabama, offensive coordinator
1988-90 University of Arizona, offensive coordinator/director of football operations (1988)
1991-94 James Madison University, head coach
1995-2000 University of Memphis, head coach
2001 University of Kansas, co-offensive coordinator
2003-04 Southern Mississippi, offensive coordinator
2005-06 Cleveland Browns, quarterbacks coach
2007-08 Cleveland Browns, assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach

-- Matt Barrows

January 12, 2009
Jagodzinski not a candidate for OC

To update an earlier blog, I'm hearing now that Jeff Jagodzinski, the recently dismissed Boston College coach, is not a candidate for offensive coordinator and there are no plans to bring him in for an interview. A report in The National Football Post linked Jagodzinski to the 49ers opening. So far, former Rams coach Scott Linehan, Colts receivers coach Clyde Christensen, former Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and former Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison have interviewed for the job.

-- Matt Barrows

January 12, 2009
Singletary adds new faces, new position to defensive staff

The 49ers added two new assistants to the defensive staff today both of whom have close ties to coach Mike Singletary. Vantz Singletary, a nephew of the head coach, will serve as the team's inside linebackers coach. Al Harris, a former Bears teammate of Singletary's, has been added as "pass rush specialist coach." That position presumably will work with both linebackers and defensive linemen. Jason Tarver, who became the de facto linebackers coach when Singletary became head coach, will continue to coach the outside linebackers.

"We are pleased to add Vantz Singletary and Al Harris to our coaching staff," Singletary said in a statement. "Both possess the qualities and character that I am looking for to lead our group forward."

Vantz Singletary coached at the collegiate level for the past 17 seasons with his most recent stop in 2008 as the defensive tackles coach at Buffalo. He also has coached at Tennessee at Chattanooga (2006-07), Hawaii (1999-2005), Southern (1997-98) and Trinity College (1992-96). He has coached a number of would-be NFL players, including 49ers defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga at Hawaii.

"Vantz has had a tremendous career during his many seasons as a collegiate coach," Singletary said. "I am confident that the way in which he has worked with young football players during that extensive experience will translate into success as he embarks on his NFL coaching career."

Harris, who was both a linebacker and defensive end, played 11 campaigns with Chicago (1979-84, 86-88) and Philadelphia (1989-90).

"Al Harris' greatest attribute is as a teacher," Singletary said. "We're excited about the addition of Al because our players will benefit from his teaching ability, in terms of the strategy and methodology of what goes into the pass rush."

-- Matt Barrows

January 12, 2009
49ers look to the west coast (offense) for OC *updated*

The 49ers' thorough search for an offensive coordinator may include another disciple of the West Coast offense. Former Raiders personnel chief Mike Lombardi writes in the National Football Post that recently dismissed Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski will get an interview with the 49ers.

jags.jpg

Jagodzinski's resume has a lot of similarities with that of Rick Dennison, the former Broncos assistant the 49ers interviewed earlier today. Both are well-versed in the West Coast offense and in the zone-blocking rushing style perfected by former Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs. Jagodzinski served as offensive coordinator in Green Bay in 2006 under Mike McCarthy before joining Boston College. He also served as offensive line coach for the Falcons from 2004-2005 under offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

Both Dennison and Jagodzinski also are regarded highly enough to have interviewed for head-coaching jobs. Dennison was considered for the Broncos' opening. Jagadzinski reportedly interviewed for the New York Jets' head-coaching job, which led to his dismissal at Boston College.

****UPDATE**** To update this report: I'm hearing now (7:45 p.m.) that Jagodzinski is not a candidate for offensive coordinator and will not be coming in for an interview after all.

-- Matt Barrows

January 12, 2009
Dennison is in the building ...

I'm told that Broncos' offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is currently at 49ers headquarters to meet with coach Mike Singletary and GM Scot McCloughan. Dennison's interview has been set up for a while and is not related to the Broncos' hiring Josh McDaniels to be their head coach. Meanwhile, numerous reports have former 49ers coach Mike Nolan landing in Denver to be McDaniels' defensive coordinator. Gotta wonder how John Engelberger, Jamie Winborn and Darrell Jackson feel about that ....

-- Matt Barrows

January 12, 2009
Dennison added to 49ers' OC list

The 49ers have added Rick Dennison, the Denver Broncos' offensive coordinator, to their list of offensive coordinator candidates. In Dennison, 50, Mike Singletary will find a fellow former linebacker who played roughly the same span as Singletary. Dennison spent nine seasons with the Broncos from 1982-1990. He joined the Broncos as an offensive assistant in 1995. He coached the team's offensive line for five seasons before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2006. ESPN's Mike Sando first reported the interest in Dennison last night.

The Broncos have been as consistent as any team in running the ball, ranking no lower than 12th in average rushing yards for the last decade. However, they use a zone-blocking style that employs smaller, more nimble lineman. The 49ers' offensive line has been built as a power-rushing unit. The question would be whether Dennison, who hasn't played or coached for any team but the Broncos, could adapt.

Dennison likely became available to interview when the Broncos tapped former Patriots' offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as their next head coach.

-- Matt Barrows

January 11, 2009
49ers digesting OC interviews; will they go for seconds?
  • The road to the Super Bowl goes through ... Glendale, Ariz? The team that everyone was certain was going to take an early and embarrassing exit from the playoffs now is in an excellent position to become the national media darling and go to the big game. Arizona hasn't received this much attention since Rod Tidwell played there. We knew the Cardinals could throw the ball. Now they're running and playing defense. The Cardinals were throttled by the Eagles, 48-20, earlier this year, but that game was in Philly. Arizona is 6-2 7-2 at home this season.

  • No interviews today for the 49ers' vacant offensive coordinator position. This is how I read the situation: Mike Singletary and Scot McCloughan are happy with the trio of candidates they spoke with Friday and Saturday. Now they have to ask themselves whether it would be wise to continue looking. On one hand, it would be nice to have the staff together as early as possible, including in advance of next week's Senior Bowl practices. On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be a real risk in being thorough.
  • This is entirely hypothetical at this point, but let's say the 49ers hire Scott Linehan to run their offense. And let's say Mike Martz convinces the Rams to take him back as their offensive coordinator. You have to believe that in that situation that Isaac Bruce, so beloved in St. Louis but still under contract in San Francisco, would want to be re-reunited with Martz. That's the type of situation that could result in an extra draft choice for the 49ers.
  • Remember just after Martz was fired I noted that the top five rushing teams this season all made the playoffs? Well, all but one - Baltimore - has been knocked out. Oops. In fact the common denominator among the teams that are advancing is not that they can consistently run the ball but that they have been excellent on defense and are forcing timely turnovers. On a related note, only two teams -- Jacksonville and Denver -- forced fewer turnovers this season than the 49ers. (12 INTs, 6 fumble recoveries).

-- Matt Barrows

January 10, 2009
Q&A: Harvin thumbs up; Tebow thumbs down

Question: Who is your favorite for the 49ers offensive coordinator position?
- Michael, Sacramento

Answer: So far, Linehan. Seems like a Norv Turner clone. The other two guys seem more pass-oriented, although I have to admit that I know little about either. Like I've written before, the chemistry between Singletary and the candidates will be key. Singletary relies on his instincts quite a bit, and to be frank, those instincts have been pretty spot-on since October.
- Matt

Question: Oh hell Matt after watching the Gators how can you not pull for the 9ers to get Tebow if he declares for the draft? I was the most critical of him but, wow, he just wins.
Adrian, Oviedo, Fla.

Answer: I know this won't win over any readers in the Sunshine State, but if I hear another word about what a great guy Tim Tebow is, I'm going to hurl my body out of a third-story window. I've never heard two grown men gush over another man like announcers Thom Brennaman and Charles Davis did Thursday night. To paraphrase Brennaman: To spend just 15 minutes with Tebow is to improve your life. What?!!? Are you freakin' schoolgirls? It sounded like those two had joined a Tim Tebow cult, and by the end of the broadcast I was urging them to drink the Kool-aid. Oklahoma fans must have tuned in and thought they were getting the Gainesville, Fla. broadcast. They hardly said anything about the Sooners quarterback, who, you know, actually won the Heismann this year. The icing on the cake came in the end when, after hours of listening to The Amazing Tales of Tebow, the golden boy was slapped with a taunting penalty. Doh!
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, love your blog. What are the chances that the 49ers draft USC's Rey Maualuga, a very physical, very intense ILB (& prolly the most Singletary-type player in the draft), and move Takeo Spikes to OLB, where he has played most of his career? Would Spikes at OLB improve the pass rush?
JJ, Lafayette

Answer: Chances are good to very good, especially considering the 49ers have zero young prospects at "Ted" linebacker. But even if they do draft Rey, I still think Spikes at least starts the season at "Ted." It's a tough position to pick up, and Spikes would be an ideal mentor. He won't play OLB; It's not his strength ...
- Matt

Question: Do you know if Chargers QB coach John Ramsdell is on the niners OC short list?
Mark, London, ON

Answer: A lot of you are asking about assistants from other teams, and I have to tell you, I have no clue on most of these. First, the 49ers are being mum about their list of candidates. The way around that is to talk to the coaches' agents - except a lot of these assistants don't have agents. I have been able to talk to a few. Matt Cavanaugh's name, for example, came up the other day. I reached him at his office at Pitt and the former QB said he had not been contacted about the job.
- Matt

Question: What about Bill Musgrave for OC?
Larry, Lincoln

Answer: See above, but I personally think he'd be an excellent fit. I admire what he did at UVA with a quarterback, Matt Schaub, who - let's face it - has limited physical skills.
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, I love the blog. You mentioned in your Jan 1 blog that you thought that Chilo Rachal was one of the successes of the season. Could you explain why? Living out of the Bay Area I have not been able to watch the niners on t.v. and I have read very little about his play or about what you feel his chances are for becoming a force on the O-line next year. What little I have read seems to be positive. Your thoughts?
Greg, Darlington, S.C.

Answer: First I thought it was significant that Singletary trusted Rachal, a rookie who came out early, something the previous regime had been hesitant to do. It was a signal - one of many, it turns out - that Singletary was willing to give ownership of the team to the players. I believe that was key to Singletary's success. ... And when Rachal got in, he was effective. He's a big guy with athleticism. He can hit a moving target and was very effective at pulling. He's a guy that needed some seasoning and made the most of it. He should hit the ground running when minicamps begin.
- Matt

Question: I've heard a lot about the 9ers either drafting or signing a QB, but what about WRs? With the emergence of Josh Morgan and Jason Hill, I doubt the 9ers will draft one in the early or mid rounds. So that leaves us with the free agents. Who are the FA receivers out there? And who do you think would be a good fit? (I know it's kind of a tough question considering the 9ers don't even have an OC yet).
Chris, El Cerrito

Answer: Well, one potential free agent who seems custom-made for the 49ers is T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Big, physical receiver with good hands who would be an asset in the running game. Some other potential free agents include Antonio Bryant (although the Bucs could franchise him) and the Saints' Lance Moore, who proved to be an excellent possession receiver this year. He killed the 49ers in New Orleans.
- Matt

Question: How about our receiving corps for next season? We have Bruce, Jason Hill, Battle and Morgan under contract plus Bryant Johnson as FA. Do you see us chasing TJ Houshmandzadeh in the offseason or going after guys like Hakeem Nicks or Juaquin Iglesias in later draft rounds? I guess Michael Crabtree and Percy Harvin will be picked in early 1st round and the 49ers won't spend its first pick in a receiver.
Rodrigo, Rio de Janeiro

Answer: Maybe this will win back the Florida fans I lost in a previous answer: I've already expressed my admiration for Percy Harvin. It seems to me that he would be a great fit on the 49ers because he would A.) give them a home-run hitter at running back. B.) be able to stretch the field at receiver, which also would help the running game. C.) he already has experience taking the snap in the Wildcat D.) He would be a dangerous kick- and punt-returner a la Devin Hester. Harvin is fast, but he's not a waif like DeShaun Jackson. He's built more like Eddie Royal or Steve Smith. It seems that type of guy - small but muscular - typically excels in the NFL. ... I will admit that Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin are better pure receivers and it would hard to argue against either. Crabtree likely will be long gone before the 49ers pick.
- Matt

Question: Read the article about dipping into the draft for a compliment back and though, "what about Clayton?" Then I realized the only thing I know about him is that he always seems to look good in the preseason. ALWAYS. I found his college stats largely underwhelming, though he had some dominant games. He was the 3rd leading rusher on K-State! What am I seeing in him that neither his college nor pro coaches apparently are? Or am I just wrong?
Mark, Sacramento

Answer: I don't know. Clayton certainly was not close to being a starting-caliber running back when he first arrived here. He went to ground all too easily and ran too upright. But to his credit, he's changed his style and has done everything the coaches have asked him to do. He now runs like Frank Gore - low to the ground, always leaning forward. During the season some other teams considered plucking Clayton off the 49ers' practice squad, but none made the move. I wonder if he's been typecast as a practice squadder just as Shaun Hill had been as a third-string quarterback. It seems like Clayton just needs a lucky break ...
-- Matt

January 10, 2009
Chudzinski has left the building ...

As expected, former Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski interviewed this morning for the 49ers vacant offensive coordinator position. Chudzinski made a splash last year, his first as Cleveland's OC, by improving the Browns' offense from 31st overall to 8th overall in the league. Colts receivers coach Clyde Christensen and former Rams coach Scott Linehan also have interviewed.

-- Matt Barrows

January 9, 2009
Linehan is in the building ....

After meeting with Colts receiver coach Clyde Christensen this morning, Mike Singletary is now having a face-to-face with former Rams coach Scott Linehan to talk about the team's vacant offensive coordinator job. At least one more candidate, former Browns coordinator Rob Chudzinski, is scheduled to be in tomorrow. Of the three mentioned, Linehan has the most experience at the NFL level, having run the offenses in Minnesota, Miami and St. Louis in recent seasons.

In fact, if I were handicapping this beauty contest, I'd have to put my money on Linehan. He seems to hit on all the big criteria, which are 1.) A commitment to the running game. 2.) Experience. 3.) Works well with quarterbacks (Not named Bulger). 4.) No chance in becoming a head coach again anytime soon. Of course, the biggest test for any of these candidates is whether they hit it off with Singletary as new running backs coach Tom Rathman obviously did on Wednesday morning ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 9, 2009
Christensen interviews for offensive coordinator

Colts wide receivers coach Clyde Christensen became the first outsider to formally interview for the 49ers offensive coordinator position when he met with Mike Singletary this morning. Christensen, 52, has been the receivers coach in Indianapolis for seven seasons. He also served as the Buccaneers offensive coordinator in 2001. Tampa Bay finished 26th in total offense that season. Formers Rams coach Scott Linehan and former Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski are expected to interview this weekend.

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Christensen spent six seasons at Tampa Bay, coaching the the team's tight ends from 1996-98 and the quarterbacks from 1999-2000. A former quarterback, first at Fresno City Junior College in 1975 and later at North Carolina, Christensen also coached on the collegiate level, including stops at East Carolina, Temple, East Tennessee State and Mississippi.

Before joining Tampa Bay, Christensen spent 1994-95 as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Clemson. From 1992-93, he served as quarterbacks coach at Maryland. In 1991, Christensen served as running backs coach at South Carolina. He was receivers/tight ends coach at Holy Cross in 1989 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 1990.

-- Matt Barrows

January 8, 2009
Rob Chudzkinski, come on down ...

Adam Schefter of NFL.com is reporting that the 49ers will have two visitors this weekend, former Rams coach Scott Linehan and outgoing Browns offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski. The former was a hot name last year after the Browns put up 402 points behind a potent passing attack and good late-season running by Jamal Lewis. The hiccup for both candidates is that neither exactly comes into 2009 with a lot of momentum. Linehan, of course, was fired after four games while Chudzinski's Browns were second-worst in total offense. You also have to wonder whether Mike Singletary and Chudzinski see eye-to-eye as far as philosophy. Singletary wants to run the ball; The Browns run-pass ratio over the last two seasons suggest Chudzinski likes to pass.

Chudzinski became the Browns' offensive coordinator last season.

Year ............. total offense.........rushing.........passing.......total points
2006................31st....................31st..............23rd............30th (238)
2007.................8th.....................10th.............12th ............8th (402)
2008................31st....................26th.............31st.............30th (232)

One of the things the 49ers might find appealing is his background with tight ends. He's coached that unit three times -- at the University of Miami, with Cleveland and with the San Diego Chargers. Tight end Antonio Gates caught 10 touchdowns and had more than 1,100 receiving yards his first season under Chudzinski in San Diego. Kellen Winslow, Jr. had more than 1,100 receiving yards with Chudzinski as his offensive coordinator in 2007. The 49ers used a very high draft pick on Vernon Davis - 6th overall--and frankly haven't gotten what they wanted out of him. Having someone like Chudzinski presumably would help them get more bang for their buck. Chudzinski also was Frank Gore's offensive coordinator at Miami.

Landing Chudzinski also would create an intriguing possibility involving quarterback Derek Anderson with whom Chudzinski enjoyed roaring success in 2007. Anderson fell behind Brady Quinn in the pecking order this year. He will still be under contract with the Browns but the word "trade" has been bandied about frequently in conjunction to his name. The 49ers, meanwhile, seem poised to add at least one quarterback in the offseason. Just throwing it out there ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 8, 2009
A look at what Rathman inherits at running back

Tom Rathman signed his contract this morning, which officially makes him the 49ers' new running backs coach. It's worth taking a look at the unit that Rathman inherits, one that ranked 27th overall in running the ball this season and one that likely will be overhauled in the offseason.

Frank Gore is the unquestioned leader of the unit. Gore rushed for a franchise record 1,695 yards in 2006 and this past season became the first 49er to run for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons. But there were also disappointments. His 4.3 yards-per-carry average was only marginally better than the 4.2 average from 2007, the most dismal year offensively in 49ers history. His receptions total also dropped in 2008 despite Mike Martz's pass-oriented offense. Gore's longest run, 41 yards, came in the season opener against Arizona. After that, he didn't break any long touchdowns. In 2006, by contrast, he had runs of 51, 61, 72, 40 and 53 yards.

While those numbers are bound to go up in an offense that concentrates on the running game, the trend around the league is to split carries between two (and sometimes more) running backs. The Giants, for example, handed the ball to Brandon Jacobs 219 times this season, but also gave Derrick Ward 182 carries. Both rushers went over 1,000 yards. At Tennessee, the split was 251 carries to Chris Johnson and 200 to LenDale White. In Carolina, it was 273 to DeAngelo Williams, 184 to Jonathan Stewart. In Baltimore, it was 232 to Le'Ron McClain, 170 to Willis McGahee and 107 to Ray Rice. In San Francisco? Gore received 240 carries to DeShaun Foster's 76 despite the fact that Gore missed the equivalent of three games with an ankle sprain.

Gore certainly is 1A material. The question is whether Foster is 1B. He ran hard in games against Miami and St. Louis. Still, there is a sentiment at 49ers headquarters that they will try to get younger at the position. Foster turns 29 on Saturday. If the 49ers use a draft pick on a running back, the question is whether they turn to a home-run hitter like the Titans' Johnson or go with a thumper like the Panthers' Stewart.

And what of Michael Robinson and Thomas Clayton? Robinson reminds me more and more of Terry Jackson, the running back/special teams ace who played from 1999-2005. Robinson is excellent on special teams, is nifty when he catches passes out of the backfield and is a team leader inside the locker room. But he's been a mixed bag as a runner. Robinson definitely has a place on the team, but the 49ers can't rely on him to be a frequent rusher. As for Clayton, his running style improved markedly since his rookie season when he ran too upright and went to the ground too easily. But despite Gore's injury, the 49ers never saw fit to give Clayton a single carry and he's mostly been stuck on the practice squad. The 49ers will give him a chance for a juicier role on the team this offseason but they certainly can't count on him for a major role because he's never had one.

Fullback also needs some attention. Zak Keasey likely will be back this offseason, but the question is whether Rathman and company want a more traditional blocker leading the way. As mentioned in a previous post, Seattle's Leonard Weaver likely will be available on the free-agent market in the spring. Moran Norris, who led the way in Gore's record-breaking 2006 campaign, also could hit the market.

**************************
The 49ers announced that no offensive coordinator candidates would be interviewing today.

-- Matt Barrows

January 7, 2009
Rathman accepts job as RBs coach

All Tom Rathman needs to do is sign on the bottom line. The 49ers have offered Rathman the job as running backs coach and Rathman has accepted the offer. Team officials made no official announcement because Rathman has yet to sign the contract but they did say the two sides had agreed to terms. Coach Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan met with the 49ers' former fullback today. Rathman has been the Raiders running backs coach for the last two seasons but his contract recently expired.

I spoke with Rathman at about 5:40 p.m. He said he sat down with Singletary today for perhaps two hours and it quickly became clear they had the same philosophy on offense. "It doesn't matter what system you're running, if your approach isn't intense, there's no way to impose your will on your opponent," he said. Asked to describe his approach, Rathman said, "Straight forward. It's about results. And I'm looking for results on every play."

Rathman likely could have landed a job in Seattle with ex-49ers assistants Greg Knapp and Jim Mora, Jr. but said that staying in the Bay Area -- he has a daughter in high school -- was paramount. And before you ask, no, Rathman said that Singletary and McCloughan didn't tip their hats about whom they were planning to hire at offensive coordinator. "It never got mentioned," Rathman said. "We taked about mentality, the type of mentality I would bring to the job."

Rathman looks like an ideal fit at the position. He won two Super Bowls with the 49ers, paving the way for tailbacks while scoring 34 touchdowns -- 26 on the ground and eight through the air. Rathman coached the 49ers' running backs from 1997 to 2002 before joining Steve Mariucci in Detroit in 2003. Last season he returned to the Bay Area to oversee the Raiders running backs under offensive coordinator Knapp.

Shortly after being named head coach, Singletary dismissed his offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and running backs coach. Now he's looking for the right combination of replacements who will implement an offense that includes, in his words, a running attack "that can impose its will on the defense."

The 49ers have yet to interview any outside candidates for the offensive coordinator position, although former Rams head coach Scott Linehan is on their list of potential prospects. Linehan has a solid track record as an NFL offensive coordinator, first in Minnesota and later in Miami. Linehan was able to lift both offenses - especially the running game - in his first season as offensive coordinator. The 49ers have taken a methodical approach to the offensive coordinator search and likely will resist hiring someone until the playoffs are over.

-- Matt Barrows

January 7, 2009
Rathman interviews for 49ers' running backs coach position

Raiders assistant coach Tom Rathman interviewed this morning for the 49ers' vacant running backs coaching position. Rathman met with coach Mike Singletary and general manager Scot McCloughan. The 49ers have yet to hold any formal interviews for their offensive coordinator position.

Rathman won two Super Bowls during his eight seasons with the 49ers. He played his final season with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1994.

After retirement, Rathman joined the 49ers as their running backs coach from 1997 to 2002. When former 49ers coach Steve Mariucci took the head coaching job in Detroit in 2003, Rathman became the Lions' running backs coach for three seasons. He was hired for the same position by former Raiders coach Lane Kiffin in 2007.

-- Matthew Barrows

January 6, 2009
Ruminating about Rathman

Great column today in the Merc by Ann Killion, who advocates Tom Rathman for the 49ers' vacant OC job. As Ann (and, yes, many faithful blog commenters) pointed out, hiring Rathman would satisfy two big concerns. 1.) Rathman would bring that hard-nosed attitude that Mike Singletary covets in an OC. 2.) The 49ers finally would have a tie to their glorious past. Singletary has said that his ideal offense would be a Bill Walsh-era attack that can pound the ball down an opponent's throat. Rathman seems to personify that philosophy to a T ...

Of course, the downside is that Singletary would be taking a leap of faith with someone who has never been an OC before. The beauty of Scott Linehan, for instance, is that there's no question he can whip an offense into shape quickly. His track record in that regard is outstanding. How do you reduce your risk when it comes to Rathman? Remember that the 49ers are seeking to have built-in continuity when the dust settles on this issue. That is, they'd like to bring in an OC-QBs coach duo with the idea that should the OC leave, his pupil would take over. What if that arrangement were tweaked? Instead of the QBs coach being the heir apparent, what if it was the running backs coach? A Greg Knapp-Rathman combo deal perhaps? Just throwing it out there ...

All of this, of course, is mere musing. Rathman is still under contract (for now) with the Raiders and it's entirely possible he'll be retained or promoted in Oakland. It's also entirely possible that he and Knapp, the Raiders OC, leave for the big 49ers reunion in Seattle....

So who's on the 49ers' list? The team's been so stingy about the info, it might be easier to ask who's not on the list. My sources in the frozen North tell me that Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements has not been contacted. The 49ers might like Brian Schottenheimer, but there's a sense that he'll either wind up as the NY Jets' head coach or at the very least their OC. Jim Fassel's and Brian Billick's names have been bandied about. But both seem to be intent on a head coaching job. Ken Zampese's name has been mentioned in the past in conjunction with the 49ers' OC job, but I'm told he's not on their list, either ... The suspense continues, and I imagine it will for weeks ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 5, 2009
Taking a long look at Linehan

The 49ers are playing their offensive coordinator search close to the vest. So far, only one name has slipped out - former Rams coach Scott Linehan. Look for the 49ers to interview Linehan and perhaps a couple of other candidates in the coming weeks but to hold off on making a hire until the playoffs are over. That could change if Mike Singletary falls in love with a candidate and the 49ers are worried that another team might snatch him up. But unless that happens, this search promises to be rather methodical.

linehan.jpg

Since Linehan is the only name we know, let's take a closer look. Linehan, 45, seems to hit all the criteria Singletary laid out last week, and he has plenty of ties to the 49ers. Linehan's a former college quarterback, having played under Dennis Erickson at the University of Idaho. He's been both a quarterbacks coach and an offensive coordinator on the college and NFL level. He was the Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator for three seasons. One of his pupils in Minnesota was Shaun Hill, who I'm told is very fond of Linehan.

Another 49ers quarterback who might be rooting for Linehan is Alex Smith. Linehan has worked under Smith's uncle, John L. Smith, on three occasions -- twice at Idaho and once at Louisville where he was Smith's offensive coordinator. Alex Smith has said he's known Linehan since Smith was a little boy, and no doubt Uncle John has said many nice things about Linehan at the Smith dining room table.

Would Linehan satisfy Singletary's desire to run the ball? The statistics suggest he would. Before arriving in Minnesota, the Vikings ranked 25th in per-game rushing average. That rank improved to first under Linehan. (See chart below). He performed a similar resurrection in Miami in 2005, taking a rushing attack that ranked 31st the year prior and improving it to 12th. In 2006, Linehan's first as the Rams head coach, Steven Jackson ran the ball 346 times, the most for a St. Louis runner since Eric Dickerson in 1986.

So what's the bad news? Linehan's Rams made marginal gains in 2006 but they regressed badly in an injury-plagued 2007 season. This past season, however, things got even worse. The Rams lost four lopsided games to start the season and Linehan benched QB Marc Bulger, an unpopular move in the locker room. Jackson ripped Linehan on the radio, and Linehan was fired after only one quarter of the season. Linehan also edged Isaac Bruce out of St. Louis. Bruce was a quarterback's best friend this past season and would be a perfect complement to youngsters Josh Morgan and Jason Hill in 2009. Whether he would stay put in a Linehan regime remains to be seen.

Linehan has a calm and reserved demeanor that worked well when nurturing quarterbacks but that wasn't such a good fit as head coach. (See: Turner, Norv). Will Singletary see that as negative or will he view it as a good balance to his sometimes fiery personality? Singletary's sit-down with the OC candidates will be the key.

Linehan became the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2002 and the Dolphins offensive coordinator in 2005. He took over the Rams in 2006.

Year.................total offense............rushing............passing .........Points

Minn. 2001.........12th......................25th...................7th..................290
Minn. 2002..........2nd.......................1st.....................9th..................390
Minn. 2003..........1st.......................4th.....................4th...................416
Minn. 2004..........4th.......................18th....................2nd.................405

Miami 2004.........29th......................31st...................21st.................275
Miami 2005.........14th.....................12th....................16th.................318

St Louis 2005.......9th......................22nd....................4th..................363
St Louis 2006.......6th......................17th.....................4th..................367
St Louis 2007.......24th.....................25th....................19th................263

-- Matt Barrows

January 5, 2009
Robinson takes over for Starkey and other tidbits

Congratulations to Ted Robinson, who will succeed Joe Starkey as the play-by-play radio voice of the 49ers. Robinson has long ties to Bay Area sports having called games for the Giants, A's and Warriors. He also has experience with the 49ers, serving as the third member of the 49ers radio broadcast team in 1983 with Don Klein and Don Heinrich.

During a conference call that wrapped up moments ago, Robinson said he was looking forward to the stability of the job. His 2008 began with college basketball, moved to tennis, travelled overseas for the Olympics (synchronized swimming was one of his sports) and ended with college football. "The bottom line is that by the time I got to Dec. 1, I was pretty well done with travel," he said. The 49ers, he said, will allow him to concentrate on one job from July through -- hopefully, he said -- the end of January.

Starkey's signature phrase was, "What a bonanza!" Asked if he was working on his touchdown call, Robinson recalled the time he covered baseball in Minnesota. Thinking a Midwest play-by-play announcer needed a home-run call, Robinson experimented with a couple of phrases. "I tried one or two and they were horrible," he admitted. "Thank God I figured that out quickly -- it was just not me." Robinson said his philosophy is to be as spontaneous as possible. "To script and rehearse something -- now you're an actor. You're not a live sports caster."

In addition, Robinson has handled pre- and post-game coverage on the 49ers radio network from 1983-86 and anchored the 49ers locker room coverage after the team's 1985 Super Bowl victory. Starkey, who struggled with a bout of laryngitis this year, announced last month that he would stop calling 49ers games but would continue to be the voice of Cal football.

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When I went to sleep last night I wrapped up one of the most unproductive weekends in recorded history. Four NFL games, two hockey games and a Discovery Channel show about bear and shark attacks called "I Was Bitten" - it doesn't get any better for the single, superficial male. It was one of those weekends where you say to yourself, 'Let's see, it's already 4:30 so there's probably no point in changing out of my pajamas." I did, however, keep a notebook on the coffee table and jotted down all the 49ers-related thoughts that popped into my head. For example:


  • It's time to pull the plug on Norv Turner and Donovan McNabb. The one remaining shred of possibility that Turner could re-join the 49ers as OC would have been if his Chargers got spanked at home in the opening round of the playoffs. Saturday's win over the Colts means that Turner certainly will keep his job. Ditto McNabb, whose Eagles put together a Chargers-like late-season rally in the NFC. If the 49ers go out and get a veteran West Coast quarterback in the offseason, his last name will be Garcia ...
  • After watching Baltimore on Sunday, suddenly "Ravens West" doesn't seem so unappealing. The Ravens absolutely beat up a Dolphins team that until Sunday had been one of the most physical and blue-collar teams in the league. Mike Singletary said he wants a team that "can impose its will" on its opponents. That's the Ravens in a nutshell, and it's why no team should want to face them in the playoffs.
  • Ah, but the Ravens have plenty of playmakers on defense. It seemed like their defensive backs -- especially safety Ed Reed -- actually had better hands than the Dolphins receivers. The Ravens led the league with 26 INTs this season, nine of them by Reed. The 49ers were 21st with 12, none of them by their safeties.
  • The Ravens have two free agents the 49ers should keep an eye on -- Terrell Suggs and a defensive end named Marques Douglas. Seriously, Douglas -- who was rejected by both the 49ers and Buccaneers in 2008 -- seemed to everywhere yesterday, and you had to wonder how he would have performed opposite Justin Smith this year. As for Suggs, he led the Ravens this season with eight sacks, the same number as Parys Haralson.
  • Back to the Chargers, who showed the importance of having two top-tier running backs. Rotating running backs seems to be a league trend, as shown by the success of the Dolphins, Ravens, Giants and Titans this season. Look for the 49ers to pick up a young running back at some point during the draft. ...

-- Matt Barrows

January 4, 2009
Q&A: Average QBs can operate ground attacks

Question: Hey Matt, it seems everyone is on this power run philosophy citing most of the teams in the playoffs are power running teams. Well, last time I checked don't those teams have pretty good QB's also? I mean what happens when you get behind in games late in that magical 4th quarter? Anyways how do you see the QB situation playing out in free agency or in the draft??
Adrian, Oviedo, Fl

Answer: The way I see it, the beauty of a potent running attack is that you can be effective with an average quarterback. Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan are rookies. Gus "self-induced concussion" Frerotte, Kerry Collins and Chad Pennington are merely ok guys. And yes, there will be times that the 49ers have to play from behind. But the idea behind a ball-control philosophy is that you never fall behind by much. (See 2007 49ers for counter argument). As for the 49ers' quarterback future, I think it will depend a lot on whom they tap as OC. If it's a West Coast guy, I can see them giving Jeff Garcia and/or Donovan McNabb long looks should they become available. There are many, many variables, which is why Mike Singletary has been hesitant to say anything concrete about Shaun Hill. At the end of the day, however, my best guess for the 49ers' three QB's are: Hill, Alex Smith and unnamed rookie.
- Matt

Question: So it's all draft time for me now. Even though I am a UCLA guy, I love Taylor Mays with our first pick. Mark Roman just doesn't get the job done. Who do you see us taking with our first pick and any potential big free agents we may sign?
Tyler, Sacramento

Answer: The 49ers definitely must consider taking a safety and Mays seems like the best of the bunch. What the Ravens are showing me today is that "ball skills" (that sounds a tad perverted) are oh-so-important when it comes to the members of your secondary. And I've got to say that collectively, the 49ers are pretty poor in that regard.
- Matt

Question: How about this: the 49ers trade their #10 draft pick and Alex Smith for a higher pick? Do you think this is plausible? And would there be any takers?
Chris, El Cerrito

Answer: This is why I don't publish your last names - for your own protection. Trade? For a guy who's had two shoulder surgeries in 10 months and who is scheduled to earn more than $10 million?
- Matt

Question: Matt, your blog about Kentwan Balmer got me thinking about this years draft. How many picks do the 49ers have and do they have any compensatory picks via the departures of Kwame Harris and Justin Smiley.
Bob, Colfax

Answer: The 49ers will have the 10th pick in all seven rounds. They also believe they could get two compensatory picks due to lost free agents. ****Actually, the 49ers will alternate with the 7-9 Bills, who have the 11th pick. So, 49ers pick 10th in the first, 11th in the second, 10th in the third, etc ...*******- Matt

Question: even though the 49er defense played pretty well this season, i still see some pretty good sized holes in the lineup. including a big time pass rusher. do you think there is any way on earth we could land albert haynsworth through free agency?
David, Modesto

Answer: A defensive line of Balmer, Haynesworth and Justin Smith certainly looks good on paper, doesn't it? If Haynesworth becomes a free agent, however, you have to believe that he'd be the marquee name on the market. That is, the 49ers would have plenty of competition. Also, you'd have to wonder if an Albert Haynesworth with a big, fat long-term contract would be as effective as an Albert Haynesworth motivated by playing in his contract year. After all, the guy hasn't exactly been the picture of restraint over the years.
- Matt

Question: Matt: Will Sing continue to coach the LBs?
Teddy, Kenner, La.

Answer: Jason Tarver took on more control of the lbs when Singletary became interim head coach.
- Matt

Question: I haven't seen Tony Wragge on the list of FAs this year. Can you tell us anything about his contract? I was surprised to hear Singletary mention guard as a position where he was looking for help. Obviously, we know Baas' contract expires after next season and Rachal is locked up for 3 more years. Do you think the team is concerned about re-signing Baas and how does Wragge figure into this?
Matt, Modesto

Answer: Wragge signed a one-year extension before the season. He's signed through 2009. I see Baas' situation being similar to Smiley's last year. I think the 49ers would like to have him back, but they will not get in a bidding war over him. Wragge could certainly play there but is not a long-term soluation. Adam Snyder is also an option, although I think Snyder showed this year that he is a better tackle than a guard.
- Matt

Question: I'm wondering if there's some way of bringing in Tom Rathman with the intention of grooming him as an oc. The guy is the very definition of smashmouth football. It seems to me like his smashmouth running-back mentality, along with his knowledge of Walsh's offense seems to fit the bill perfectly (Singletary: "I want to go back to the kind of offenses Bill Walsh ran here early on"). Any chance the undead vampire across the bay will let Rathman go? How would we bring him in to learn and inherit the position without making him the guy that calls the plays?
Ian, SF

Answer: Well, there's a good chance that the Raiders hire a new coach, who would bring in an entirely new staff. In that case, Rathman would be on the street. The 49ers need a new RBs coach. Why not hire Rathman as such and allow him to apprentice under the new OC? He could be the heir apparent.
- Matt

Question: Hey Barrows! Whatever happened to Patrick Willis' nickname (Bam Bam) that you "chose" last year? I was the one who suggested "The Second Samurai" and lo and behold, Singletary is now the new coach. I think Willis' new nickname should be changed to reflect that of his coach. Plus, it will probably stick more than "Bam Bam". What about sending me that T-shirt now? Keep up the good work, dude.
Zeb, Sacramento

Answer: How 'bout we compromise and call him "Sam Sam?" Damn, maybe I should send myself a t-shirt ...
- Matt

January 3, 2009
Add 'fullback' to the list of offseason needs

When asked Wednesday which positions the 49ers would try to beef up in the offseason, Mike Singletary cited quarterback, offensive tackle, pass rusher and safety. He didn't mention "fullback," but after talking about his power-rushing philosophy for most of the press conference, he probably didn't need to. The 49ers played most of the 2008 season without a fullback on their active roster. Zak Keasey won the job over incumbent Moran Norris in the offseason but tore his biceps on Oct. 12. The 49ers replaced him with a couple of tight ends, Sean Ryan and Delanie Walker, but neither spent much time as a lead blocker.

Keasey himself symbolized the gap between the old-school philosophy the 49ers had been using in recent years and the more unorthodox approach of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Keasey is a converted college linebacker, and Martz said that the 235-pounder's ability to get through traffic and make blocks downfield separated him from Norris, who at 250 pounds was a traditional thumper. Keasey also was a better receiver out of the backfield, which was a must in Martz's system.

weaver.jpg keasey.jpg norris.jpg

Both Keasey and Norris, who spent the season in Detroit, will be free agents come Feb. 27. The 49ers always have liked Keasey because he is smart and because he's excellent on special teams. Norris, however, is certainly a better fit in a power running game, and it's interesting to note that Frank Gore still referred to Norris as "my fullback" months after Norris had left San Francisco. Norris was Gore's wingman, and he certainly didn't develop any similar attachments this season.

There are plenty of other options as well. Seattle's Leonard Weaver, another soon-to-be free agent, seems to be a perfect composite of Keasey and Norris. At 242 pounds, he provides some lead-blocking bulk, but he also is a nifty pass catcher, as anyone who watched Seattle's Oct. 26 win over the 49ers can attest. Weaver, 26, has had 59 receptions over the last two seasons and he's averaged 4.4 yards a carry over his career. He's also expendable. The Seahawks used a fifth-round draft choice in April on another fullback, Owen Schmitt out of West Virginia.

*********************
Another way in which Singletary has departed from Mike Nolan: It doesn't look as if he wants to coach the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. The coaching staffs of the North and South have yet to be announced.

-- Matt Barrows

January 2, 2009
Balmer struggled but had plenty of company

Hardest position to play as a rookie? You're probably thinking quarterback, right? Well, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco have put that old adage on its head this year. Both rooks had excellent seasons and led their teams to the playoffs. In fact, it seems that the rookies assigned to chase the quarterback have struggled far more in recent years. A look at Kentwan Balmer's modest statistics this season might suggest that the 49ers whiffed when they chose him in the first round. But his stats seem to be par for the course when looking at rookie defensive ends. To wit:


  • Chris Long. No. 2 overall. The Rams rookie started all 16 games at right defensive end. He finished with 40 tackles and four sacks. None of those sacks, however, came after Oct. 26.

  • Vernon Gholston. No. 6 overall. The Jets moved the Ohio State rookie to outside linebacker. He played in 15 games but had no starts. He finished with 13 tackles and zero sacks. Not an auspicious start.

  • Derrick Harvey. No. 8 overall. Started nine games for the Jacksonville Jaguars and finished with 19 tackles and 3 ½ sacks.

  • Lawrence Jackson. No. 28 overall. Started 14 games for the Seahawks, finishing with 29 tackles and two sacks. Both sacks came in Seattle's home loss to the 49ers.

  • Kentwan Balmer. No. 29 overall. Did not start this season but played in all 16 behind Isaac Sopoaga. Finished with seven tackles and zero sacks.

Even Mario Williams, the No. 1 pick in 2006, struggled as rookie. He fought through injuries that season and finished with 4 ½ sacks. At that point, everyone thought the Texans were asinine for picking Williams ahead of Reggie Bush and Vince Young. Most rookies talk about the difficulty in picking up the technique. In college, they can rely on their superior strength and athleticism. In the NFL, they are the weak links. The good news is that a light bulb seems to come on during a player's second year. Williams, for example, finished with 14 sacks in 2007 and made the Texans brass look like geniuses.

As for Balmer, he will never turn into a sack master in the 49ers' 3-4 scheme. The hope is that he evolves enough to provide some balance to Justin Smith on the right side. It seems that the defensive line is set, or nearly set, for the near future but that the 49ers will look to add another pass-rushing linebacker this offseason. By the way, Auburn linebacker Quentin Groves, the guy Barrows was plugging for the No. 29 spot last spring, finished with 13 tackles and 2 ½ sacks ...

quentingroves.jpg

***********************
Jeff Ulbrich was the winner of the coveted "Top Gun" award that special teams coach Al Everest gives to his best special teamer each year. Everest has a points-based system that takes into account everything from tackles inside the 20 to blocks to forced fumbles. The coaches pick a different winner each week and then an overall winner for the season. It's very competitive and there's a weekly kitty, a few hundred dollars or so, put up by the team's high rollers. (See: Clements, Nate). Last year, Michael Robinson barely edged out Ulbrich for the honor.

**********************
I got confirmation from the team that Joe Staley indeed played every offensive snap this season. In fact, he was the only player on the team to play every snap. Last year he and Patrick Willis both accomplished that feat

-- Matt Barrows

January 1, 2009
49ers aiming for continuity

Ted Tollner might not see it this way, but the decision to allow the incoming offensive coordinator to pick his own quarterbacks coach is a wise one. The move was done with continuity in mind. That is, the incoming OC brings an apprentice with him. Should that OC leave for greener pastures, then the QBs coach would be promoted and the offense - in theory - wouldn't miss a beat. That will be an important criterion when the 49ers begin their interviews: Who would you bring with you?

A team should want its OC to be considered for a head-coaching job. That means he's been effective at his current job. What the 49ers have to do as they sit down with OC candidates in the coming weeks is think several moves ahead, something that hasn't been done - or at least done well - in the last six years.

*************************
The 49ers not only played better under Mike Singletary, they played smarter. San Francisco was the 10th-most penalized team this year, incurring 98 flags for 732 yards. Sixty of those penalties occurred in the first half of the season. In fact, over the last six games, the 49ers averaged just 3 ½ penalties a game. If they had had that average over all 16 games, they would have been the least penalized team in the league.

Their biggest bugaboo was false starts. The 49ers had 25 of them this season with Vernon Davis and Billy Bajema the chief culprits. That makes sense. As tight ends, they are at the end of the offensive line and thus can't always see the ball or hear the snap count.

On defense, the 49ers had 15 encroachment or offsides penalties. Six of them were committed by Ray "jumpy" McDonald. The 49ers had 16 holding penalties. Guard David Baas led the team with three. Fellow guard Chilo Rachal had zero. In fact, Rachal has to be considered one of the 49ers' success stories this season.

Interesting stat: Prior to Davis' infamous "unnecessary roughness" penalty that led to his banishment in Week 8, the 49ers had nine such personal-foul type penalties. After the Davis brouhaha, the 49ers had five. Maybe Singletary got their attention.

************************
Other interesting season stats ...

Isaac Bruce became the first wide receiver since Brandon Lloyd ('05) to lead the team in receptions (61). Frank Gore has been the team leader the last two seasons. With Martz gone, what becomes of Bruce? He's under contract for 2009, but it's hard to imagine him being as happy in another offense, especially one that leans on the running game.

Last year's "Ted" linebacker, Derek Smith, finished with 78 tackles and an interception. His 2008 replacement, Takeo Spikes, finished with 96 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a sack. The 49ers top four tacklers, in order, were: Patrick Willis, Spikes, safety Michael Lewis and defensive end Justin Smith. That's pretty much how coaches envisioned it before the season.

Betcha can't guess who led the team in special teams tackles. I'll give you a hint, his initials are T.B.C. Yes, Banta-Cain, who was inactive for four games, edged out the perennial leaders like Michael Robinson, Jeff Ulbrich and Keith Lewis by finishing with 19 tackles. Counter-intuitively, Jason Hill was second with 17. It's hard to imagine Hill playing much special teams next season.

Joe Staley, Eric Heitmann and Davis were the only offensive players to start every game. As far as I can tell, Staley played every snap for the second straight season. On defense, Smith, Willis, Walt Harris, Mark Roman and Lewis started every game. Lewis might have to get the warrior award for starting 16 games despite an array of injuries.

-- Matt Barrows

January 1, 2009
Q&A: Would the next OC please stand up?

Question: Any guesses about whom the 49ers might be wanting for the OC? It would be GREAT to have Shanahan back but I see him as a HC somewhere. How about Turner? Any up and comers worth mentioning?
Paul, Lodi

Answer: Yes, but they're just guesses. Scott Linehan might not get the fan base too jazzed up, but he seems to fit all the parameters Mike Singletary is looking for. Ironically, he is from the Dennis Erickson coaching tree. Tom Rathman also catches my eye. His lack of experience as an OC is the big caveat, but I get the feeling that Singletary will use his instinct - which, btw, has been spot on thus far - to make this pick. The face-to-face that Singletary has with these candidates will be paramount.
- Matt

Question: It seems like Singletary is not sold on Shaun Hill. How do you think Singletary will address the QB situation? Trade the 10th pick for a QB - Matt Cassel or moonwalking McNabb? Are there any big free agent QBs available?
Ryan, Sacramento

Answer: Singletary definitely seems to be keeping his options open at quarterback, which is a bit puzzling because he and Hill seemed to be joined at the hip. That is, they owe each other their success this season. With the type of run-based offense the 49ers plan to have next season, I think they'd be perfectly fine with Hill as their quarterback. Still, I thought it was worth noting that Singletary said that his ideal offense is similar to the one that Bill Walsh used to run. Who runs Walsh's West Coast offense? Donovan McNabb. Coincidence? We shall find out ...
- Matt

Question: Would it be wise to let the playoffs shake out for another two weeks before choosing an OC? There's usually at least 1-2 firings every offseason after playoff losses.
Ryan, La Mirada

Answer: Yes, especially since all these playoff teams appear to be running the type of offense Singletary covets. There might be a young assistant who emerges just as Steve Spagnuolo did last year for the Giants.
- Matt

Question: If the 49ers retained Alex Smith in 2009 do you think he would he be given a chance to compete for the starting job against Shaun Hill if no other QB is brought in besides drafting one?
Patrick, Montclair, N.J.

Answer: Yes. For the last few weeks, I thought the scenario would go like this: The 49ers retain Smith in early March and draft a QB in, say, the third round of the draft. Then they go into training camp with Hill as the starter, Smith as the No. 2 and, say, Nate Davis as their project. But listening to Singletary yesterday, it sure sounded like they might bring in a QB through free agency.
- Matt

Question: Matt -- I was not in favor of hiring Martz (liked Cameron better), but must admit he did a good job. In some ways, once they reached an understanding, Martz and Singletary appeared strangely good for one another...and in the process, made the offense better. Question: Do you let Martz go so early on unless you already have his successor pretty well locked up? Does this mean we can expect a new OC named quickly?
Mike, Montclair, N.J.

Answer: You make a good point: If you're getting rid of a legitimate OC, you must have someone on the line, right? I think the 49ers feel they have a sure thing (or two) but that they want to see how the rest of the NFL firings pan out before they pounce. ... I also agree with your premise that Martz and Singletary were good for each other. Singletary took care of the big-picture issues while Martz handled the details. In the end, though, the feeling was that Martz never could/would fully convert to what Singletary saw as the vision for the team.
- Matt

Question: I know that Singletary did a good job down the stretch, but do you think there is any second guessing now that Mike Shanahan is available? He is from the Bill Walsh coaching tree, has a brilliant offensive mind, and has roots to the 49ers and ties to the prior success of the 49ers.
Adam Milpitas

Answer: I think it would have been near impossible NOT to hire Singletary. He did everything his bosses asked of him when he took over as interim coach. Hiring someone else would have been viewed as a betrayal, I think. ... Still, hiring Shanahan would have been brilliant in two ways: 1.) It would have given the 49ers the offensive consistency they've lacked over the last six seasons and 2.) It would have been a wonderful bridge to the team's glory days.
- Matt

Question: In regard to becoming a run first team, all five of the top running teams feature two good running backs (and in the case of the Giants three). I'm thinking if the 49ers want to be a top rushing team this means they're going to have to get another good running back to compliment Gore. Who's out there? Is he going to come as a free agent or through the draft?
John, Sacramento

Answer: Great point, John. I think the 49ers recognize this also. Look for them to go after a running back in the draft and to get Thomas Clayton more involved next season.
- Matt

Question: Matt, love the blog. ('bout time the question segment was back. I was having such bad withdrawals that I was forced to turn to Miacco!) I was looking at the 49ers schedule for next season and got a perplexed one part. I understand that we play the NFC North and AFC South, thus Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay, Minnesota, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Indianapolis and Houston are supposed to be on the schedule, but why I cannot fathoms as to why Philly and Atlanta are on the schedule?
Nick, Roseville

Answer: Every year the 49ers play one entire NFC division outside their own. In 2009 it's the NFC North. For the two remaining divisions, they face the team that finished in the same spot as they did in their own division. In other words, the 49ers finished second in the NFC West so they will face the second-place team in the South (Atlanta) and East (Philadelphia). Let's see Miacco explain it more clearly than that!
- Matt



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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