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Archive for the ‘2008 Offseason’

How Much Better Can They Be?

August 06, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason 3 Comments →

I found myself wondering recently just how much Ted Tollner affected things in 2007. I wondered what the collective rating of the quarterbacks were during different spans. The First thing I did was look at the collective rating under Hostler alone (HCR), then with Tollner added into the mix (TCR). The numbers were striking.

HCR: 55
Smith: 57.22
Dilfer: 58.08

TCR: 80.47
Dilfer: 60.1
Hill: 101.3

The first thing a lot of people like to do is claim Shaun Hill’s future starter status as evidenced by his late-season performance. They say quarterbacks play as good as they are, and to prove this they’ll tell me to look at Dilfer’s rating which was virtually unchanged.

The thing these arguments do not take into account are playcalling and scoring. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but there was a noticeable change in playcalling when Ted Tollner came in. Watching the games of Alex Smith, the three-step drop was almost nonexistent. Receivers would routinely run off the right side of my screen, Smith would bounce a couple times, then throw the ball to a man 15 yards downfield. It was like this nearly every time. Yes, he often held on to the ball too long, and that’s a habit that Mike Martz will break him of. But I highly doubt that his hesitation would lead a receiver to run further away from the quarterback.

When Tollner came in, you saw Dilfer get 64% completion percentage, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. More importantly you saw the pace of the game change. The plays were quicker. The throws were shorter. But Dilfer is Dilfer, and the next week against Carolina, his 4 interceptions blew any chance for a second straight win. When Hill came in, there was barely a single route beyond ten yards, and the pace was better. Things seem much more fluid when the quarterback is taking a five-step drop and chucking it on a slant or quick out. Players seem much happier when they’re actually getting the ball. Quarterbacks seem like leaders when people are happy and have something to celebrate.

What about scoring? That’s the most telling thing. Under Hostler, Trent Dilfer threw 3 TD to 7 INT, while Smith threw 2 TD and 4 INT. With Tollner, Dilfer was 4 TD to 5 INT, while Hill threw 5 TD and 1 INT. No one can deny the playcalling changed, or that the game got more fun. The offense found no rhythm whatsoever with Hostler at the helm. When Tollner came in, I daresay it even energized Jim Hostler.

Now, people will tell me that this really means nothing, and Hill really was better, or as I have argued the Vikings prevent and the Bengals defense made Hill look better, it also made Tollner look better. Maybe. But the Niners put up 10 points a game under Hostler, while with Tollner they jumped up to 19 per game.

The point of this post is to simply encourage people that no matter who plays quarterback for the 49ers in 2008, it comes down to coaching, and our coaching has improved drastically. If Ted Tollner could change things that much, imagine what Mike Martz will do.

Pre-Season Outlook: T-Minus Six Weeks

July 28, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason 1 Comment →

Today is the first day of contact practice for the 49ers, and while I have been remiss in getting my Training Camp Outlook out prior to its start, now is as good a time as any to go over the things I’m looking to hear about as Training Camp progresses.

The Quarterback Competition
It’s no secret I believe Alex Smith is the best option going forward, but it has nothing to do with his previous success, or lack thereof. His career thus far is as much a mark of the overall inconsistency this team has suffered as anything else is. My feeling on who the starter is doesn’t really matter. The source for my optimism is Mike Martz. I know he’s the kind of coach who can come in and improve things right off the bat, and I know we have players that are talented enough to facilitate that improvement.

Whether it’s Smith or Hill, I know that this team will be better than last season. I am interested in hearing the observations of Matt Maiocco and Matt Barrows as they attend Training Camp on a daily basis. The consensus thus far is that Hill has a better touch for the short game while Smith continues to do better long. If Smith can shake off the rust and develop his touch passes, he will assert himself better in this competition.

Is it Justin Smith Just in Time?
I wondered about the Justin Smith signing when it occurred. Not so much the financial aspect, but I couldn’t have told you who he was if you’d told me his name. My friend Kevin the Bengals fan tells me that Smith is not worth the money, that he took plays off, and he won’t improve our pass rush any. I keep telling him that if I played every snap for the Bengals defense I’d take plays off, too! They say he has a high motor, so I imagine he expends energy more quickly than the average player. Taking plays off in Cincinnati seems more like a necessity than a flaw.

The fact is Smith was their most talented and statistically accomplished D-lineman, leading the position group in tackles over the last, like, I don’t know… ever? I like to think playing in front of guys like Patrick Willis, Nate Clements and Michael Lewis will give Smith a renewed sense of vigor. Plus, having far more depth to spell him will keep him fresh. I remain interested to see how he will be used in this hybrid 3-4/4-3 as a hybrid lineman/backer.

Is Manny the Man?
Over on the other side of the ball, it’s the long-awaited return of Manny Lawson, or as I like to call him, ‘SuperManny.’ Something casual observers would be hard-pressed to ignore last season was the absolute bullet #99 was off the ball against Arizona and St. Louis. Anyone could see Matt Leinart faced the same pressure as Smith in Week One, and Marc Bulger suffered cracked ribs in Week Two.

With Lawson gone, instantly our defense lost its ability to attack. Remember watching Hannibal Navies struggle in vain to cover Pittsburgh Tight End Heath Miller? I thought you would. I believe that the success of the 49ers defense hinges on Manny Lawson. I think he had already established himself as the leader on the unit, and I am excited to see what he will bring to the table.

Is Vernon Davis the Duke or a Dud?
We’ve seen great things from Vernon Davis, and we’ve seen frustrating things from him. A certain wide open post pattern against the Giants comes to mind. Running over several Green Bay Packers on the way to the endzone also comes to mind. Which Vernon Davis will we see step up this season?

I believe this is another player who will benefit immensely from the arrival of Mike Martz. Here is a man who knows how to use players in unconventional ways. If he can make use of men with questionable talent and skill (Warner, Bulger), how much better use can he make of men with obvious ability just bubbling under the surface? Martz produced the unanimous league MVP over three straight seasons, with Warner in 1999, Faulk in 2000, and Warner again in 2001. I expect great things from Vernon Davis in 2008.

Tooting My Own Horn (because I can)

July 18, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason 6 Comments →

A couple weeks ago I answered the call to name a Quarterback that started out as poorly as Alex Smith and turned out to be decent. I made a comparison to Steve Young, but it turns out I’m not the only one.

As you’ll read in Matt Maiocco’s latest column, he answers the question of how to tell when someone’s a bust. Granting that the question no doubt related to Alex Smith, he also made a comparison to Steve Young, stating that in the eyes of the Buccanneers, Young was a complete bust.

I don’t toot my own horn often around here, I merely present my opinion backed up with the facts as I see them. As I read other sites, though, opinions expressed on this block are consistently validated by the sources closest to the team, namely Matt Maiocco and Matt Barrows.

I’m not going to take time out of your day to tell you every time this happens. maybe I’ll make a ticker or something. But as the opening of Training Camp is one week away, and the season fast approaches, I hope I’ve shown an ability to accurately assess the newsworthy items surrounding our 49ers, and I hope
you continue to come by and read my blog. I’m very humbled that so many of you do.

Rating the Running Backs

July 15, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason, Editorial 4 Comments →

Recently, over at 49ers Paradise, someone asked on the forums whether Garrison Hearst was the greatest running back to play for the 49ers.  This prompted me to do a study on the great ones we’ve had, and see how Frank Gore compares.  I also thought it fit in nicely after the Quarterback discussion I prompted last time.

http://www.49ersparadise.com/forum/index.php/topic,5365.0.html

First, let’s look at the career numbers for Roger Craig, Ricky Watters and Garrison Hearst

 

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

Craig

1,991

8,189

4.1

56

566

4,911

8.7

17

Watters

2,622

10,643

4.1

78

467

4,248

9.1

13

Hearst

1,831

7,966

4.4

30

229

2,065

9.0

9

The first thing of note is Ricky Watters’ staggering lead in the rushing category.  When he left San Francisco, Watters had six straight seasons where he gained over 1,000 yards.  He is arguably the most talented runner the 49ers have had grace the roster, but his production was largely after he left.  Watters was also just as talented catching the ball out of the backfield as Craig was, even considering the fact that the West Coast Offense was not a new thing when he played.

Originally playing Fullback, Roger Craig was never a rushing mainstay.  He ran over 1,000 yards three times in his career, and eclipsed 1,500 in 1988.  Because of Walsh’s use of the Pass to move the chains, Craig’s best use was as the dual threat. 

With Jerry Rice catching the bulk of 49er passes during this stretch, it is conceivable that Craig may have benefited from the attention Rice received, leaving him open much of the time.  However as a runner, he did average the mainline four yards a carry when they ran the ball.  His high-knees style made him hard to bring down, and his intelligence made him a keystone to Walsh’s offense whether running, receiving, or blocking.

Let’s look at how they contributed to the 49ers alone:

 

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

Craig

1,686

7,064

4.2

50

508

4,442

8.7

16

Watters

653

2,840

4.3

25

140

1,450

10.4

8

Hearst

1,189

5,535

4.7

26

174

1,604

9.2

7

Ricky Watters’ career with the 49ers was short, but he made good use of it.  As the West Coast Offense became a common faith, and San Francisco its Mecca, Watters was traditionally used as the dual threat.  You can see his average was well above that of the others, but also his value as a scoring threat was better than the other two.  In three seasons compared to Craig’s eight, he reached half of Crag’s TD totals, and equaled the total Hearst achieved in five seasons.

Garrison Hearst averaged on the high end in the running game, and maintained a Craig-like 9 yards per reception.  He was a smaller and quicker runner, and what he lacked in overwhelming talent he more than made up for in heart.  Who can forget his 96 yard Touchdown in overtime against the Jets, with the Niners backed up on their own one-yard line?  Who can forget the heartbreak of his broken leg in the playoffs against Atlanta, then his miraculous comeback from a degenerative bone disease two seasons later?  He came back without missing a step, eclipsing 1,200 yards in 2001.

Niner fans perhaps missed him most when his absence gave has-been Lawrence Phillips the opportunity to blow his assignment, allowing Aeneas Williams to come free and end Steve Young’s career.

To get an insight into how Frank Gore compares, I thought I would average everyone’s per-season totals with the 49ers and see how things iron out.

 

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

Craig

210

883

4.2

6

63

555

8.8

2

Watters

217

947

4.4

8

46

483

10.5

3

Hearst

238

1,107

4.7

5

34

320

9.4

1

Gore

233

1,135

4.8

5

43

351

8.2

1

Granted, these men played in different times, but not too different.  His diminuitive size and ability to come back from injury reminds us of Hearst, right down to his number being one digit off.  His averages are also very comparable.  The one thing statistics can’t show is Gore’s equal ability to block in the passing game, and his tireless work ethic.

Considering the weakness of the passing game the last three years, it’s no surprise that Gore has received so much work.  But as analysts are quick to point out, it is precisely because of this that his numbers are so remarkable.  With defenses keying to the run, Gore’s production did not suffer.  Despite a horrid season last year, with personal problems and team problems abounding, he still gained 1,100 yards on the ground and 400 yards receiving, respectable numbers no matter who the back is.

Frank Gore is well on his way after three seasons, and one hopes it can continue.  He has an average of 4.9 per carry, with 3,405 over these three seasons.  He’s already put himself above Ricky Watters in my book.  Barring significant injury (knock on wood), what is the likelihood of this success panning out over a career?

Knowing Marshall Faulk had eight straight seasons of 1,000+ yards, we can trust that Mike Martz will get Frank Gore his production on the ground, but will likely also be able to keep him healthy, which is critical for the career of a running back.

If Mike Martz stays with the 49ers, whether as an OC or a HC, we can be optimistic that Frank Gore could very well be the best we’ve ever had.  One would hope Martz will finish out his career here in any capacity, but if he leaves after two seasons, one could also believe that Ted Tollner is a worthy successor, if not Adam Gase, the assistant Martz brought with him, should he stay in San Francisco.  But that’s a coaching discussion best left for other prognosticators.

In the Running Back discussion, I rate them as follows:

1. Roger Craig, the legend, the one they cut the mold from.
2. Garrison Hearst, the player with the most heart.
3. Frank Gore, a class act and tough player, a worthy successor well on his way.
4. Ricky Watters, a talented player that left to be a running mainstay.

49ers Fanboy Returns, Into the Quarterback Fray

July 03, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason, Editorial 14 Comments →

Well it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve sat out this offseason waiting for, as Jack Sparrow once said, the opportune moment. This is that moment. As we begin the runup to Training Camp, staring on July 24th, I ran into a few questions that I find intriguing enough to answer on this blog.

The first is a question regarding the Quarterback issue. Over on Matt Maiocco’s blog at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, a fan called San Jose 49er said the following in the comments:

“Damon Bruce said ‘If Alex Smith came back to be a decent quarterback it would be the biggest comeback in the history of the NFL.’   Name one quarterback that has started a career like this and ended up even being decent? Thats what I thought… none.”

Of course I took this opportunity to look into the issue and decide if there indeed had been any quarterback that fits this equation. One fan posited Terry Bradshaw as his answer, with the challenge for San Jose 49er to “do some research.” Not to worry, I did it for him. I went straight to our very own quarterback history.

Steve Young fits this bill. In 1986 for Tampa Bay he played in 11 games, threw for 2k yards, 8 TD, 13 INT, 47 sacks. He did better the next year, in 8 games he threw for 10 TD and 0 INT, but only 570 yards. In 1988 in 11 games for the 49ers, 680 yds 3 TD, 3 INT, 13 sacks. Steve Young’s future in the league was questioned right up to the point he was named the starter. If you forget that, you’re either too young to remember or too blind to notice.

So I calculated Young’s first three years vs. Smith’s first three years:

G Att Comp Pct Yds Avg TD INT SCK RATING
27 570 304 53% 3787 6.6 21 21 71 71.14
32 800 435 54.4% 4679 5.8 19 31 81 63.5

Then I even broke it down by average per game over those three years, because that’s the kind of dedication I bring:

Att Comp Pct Yds Avg TD INT SCK RATING
21 11 52% 140 6.6 .7 .7 2.6 70.73
25 13 52% 146 5.8 .6 .9 2.5 62.75

Smith and Young are comparable on accuracy around 53%, comparable in yards, and neither very impressive with their rating. Young turned out pretty darn good later on.

What about Terry Bradshaw? Well he wasn’t even a “great” quarterback. He’s the Trent Dilfer of his day. In fact, I compared him to Trent Dilfer for you, because I bring it, fo rillz, yo.

Att Comp Pct Yds Avg TD INT SCK RTG
2025 3901 51.9 27,989 7.2 212 210 307 70.9
1759 3172 55.5 20,518 6.5 113 129 263 70.2

Any guess as to which numbers are for the Hall-of-Famer and which are for the career scrub? The only time Bradshaw threw over 60% in a season was when he had 8 pass attempts in 1983, his final year. For the record, the top line is Bradshaw, and Dilfer was a more accurate passer! This just goes to show how a great supporting cast can help you. Imagine if Alex Smith had John Stallworth and Lynn Swann to throw to!

Look at John Elway. He was under 60%, 1 to 1 TD to INT ratio (or worse) all the way through 1991. Yeah he had a ton of yards, but his career rating is 79.9.

Now, let me be frank here: The Quarterback Rating system is an imperfect system. It was designed to place a greater weight on completion percentage and Touchdown to Interception ratio. This goes to the strength of the West Coast Offense. However, a guy like Dan Marino has an 86.4 rating, which will not take into account his massive number of yards and touchdowns. A high rating is great to have, but ultimately means nothing. In the end Bradshaw has four rings, and Marino has none.

So what’s the point? Am I implying that Alex Smith is every bit as good as Steve Young, Dan Marino, and John Elway? Certainly not. Am I saying Smith will win Super Bowls while being as bad as Terry Bradshaw or Trent Dilfer? I hope not. The point is that after three seasons his fate is hardly decided at this juncture, and I maintain that it’s not his fault. Yes, that’s right, it’s time for “excuses” as some say, or “facts” as I like to call them.

The last five years in San Francisco may in fact be the worst ever environment for players or coaches in the history of sports. Terry Donahue managed to almost singlehandedly destroy the salary cap status of the franchise. He also managed to rob us of a good coach in Steve Mariucci. Dennis Erickson stepped into a situation of ineptitude and micromanagement, and never really had a chance to succeed.

Enter Mike Nolan, a rookie head coach. Enter Alex Smith, a rookie quarterback. Both of these men stepped into a situation where ownership wanted to change things around. Both of these men stepped into the historically hallowed positions “49ers Head Coach” and “49ers Quarterback,” with expectations to do just that. However, it is an ownership that so far has been marked by nearly as much ineptitude as Terry Donahue displayed, but at least they’re trying to learn.

All the quarterbacks mentioned above stepped into the pros after playing the same style of football in college. This factor cannot be overlooked. All the Hall of Fame quarterbacks mentioned above played for Hall of Fame coaches at the outset. They all had consistency in their coaching staff and playing style. Alex Smith has had none of that.

From day one Nolan and Smith were expected to be as good as Walsh and Montana. Like it or not, say it or not, no city or fan base comes pre-installed with the same level of expectations as San Francisco. Fans of this team have come to expect greatness, and so they demand greatness. From day one McCarthy used this as a vehicle to go coach Brett Favre, Turner used it as a vehicle away from the Raiders, Hostler… got in the vehicle and didn’t know how to drive it.

Smith has always had the physical tools to be a great quarterback, he’s just never had the coach who could draw out the good and refine away the bad.  He has already done that 49er Quarterback thing of cementing himself in NFL history, when he made the single greatest improvement in quarterback rating jumping up from 40 in year one to 74 in year two.  The quarterbacks above had consistency in their coaching staff, quality receivers to throw to, and an offensive line that knew how to protect.

This is the first season he will have all three of those pieces. Now watch what he does with them.

Draft Impressions

May 02, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason 3 Comments →

1st Rd #29 – Kentwan Balmer, DL North Carolina
I was shocked when I saw that the 49ers drafted him, not because I thought that they wouldn’t, but because no one else did first!  I wasn’t surprised that they picked him up, however, if you recall what I said in my post on the 49ers’ draft needs: “they really don’t need a fast Defensive End in this scheme. The kind of player they’d benefit most from here is Kentwan Balmer. Defensive line is probably not a priority going in for Scot McCloughan, but if a big beefy tackle is there, I could easily see them springing for him. In that scenario, it makes putting Sopoaga in Young’s spot a much more permanent move.”

He was easily in the top five of defensive linemen in the entire draft, and when he fell to the 49ers he was absolutely the best player on the board.  None of the positions we would have said were need picks had any standout players available.  There is a reason no one picked a wide receiver in the first round.  None of the Outside pass-rushers were game changers in college.  There were no All-American stalwarts out there like Patrick Willis.  Kentwan Balmer is big, strong, quick, versatile, has a great attitude, has the love for the Red and Gold, and immediately comes in as a serious contender to start at the Nose Tackle or End.

2nd Rd #39 – Chilo Rachal, OG Southern California
I’ll admit I knew nothing about Chilo Rachal when I saw his name, but the fact that he’s a Trojan made me happy.  He’s a smash mouth guard from a program that gave up few sacks, if any.  He’s smart, well-spoken, and is an absolute bruiser on the field.  For a team that thrives on locker room leadership from the biggest men in there, this is a great pick.  Had Sam Baker not gone so early, I think maybe he could have been the pick here.

3rd Rd #75 – Reggie Smith, CB Oklahoma
Reggie Smith is quite nearly a clone of Nate Clements.  He has great size for a corner, with the strength to jam receivers at the line.  One thing I noticed watching clips of him, and the thing that reminded me of Clements, is his open-field tackling ability.  He is very instinctive about his body position when he goes in to make the hit.  If Walt Harris needs spelling, I think Smith may be more capable on the outside than even Shawntae Spencer.  Regardless, he will raise the level of competition in the defensive backfield, and I project him as a starter at the nickel spot eventually in 2008.  This guy is also extremely well-spoken and sounds like a pro.

4th Rd #107 – Cody Wallace, C Texas A&M
I know virtually nothing about Cody Wallace.  I only know what the scouting reports say, and they are very positive.  I get the sense he is very intelligent–he has to be as a center–and that he has good technique.  I also called this a little in my draft needs post, when I said that I’d like to see the 49ers get a center because we still don’t really know how much of the problem in the middle of the line was due to Heitmann’s leg injury.  It could have been all on Smiley, but I doubt it.  I thought taking a center was a good insurance policy.

6th Rd #174 – Josh Morgan, WR Virginia Tech
I won’t bother going into the off-the-field “issues.”  I know that he’s talented and played on a team with a solid passing game.  He is a decent player who has a chance to make the team if he works hard.  He’s rather softspoken, and resembles Isaac Bruce in his demeanor.  If he follows in the footsteps of the sure-fire hall of famer he ought to do well.  The Niners felt like they could take a flier in this round, based on previous experience with first-day wide receiver selections.

7th Rd #214 – Larry Grant, OLB Ohio State
Grant had experience on a great college program, in a conference known for producing hard-nosed defensive players.  People project him as a third-string linebacker and special-teams guy, and Special Teams Coordinator Al Everest liked the kid so much, he kept trying to sell Nolan on the pick after they made it!

Truth be told, though, the scouting report on Grant praises his leverage, his effort, and his timing and quickness on blitzes.  He could stand to bulk up a little and work on his technique, but I believe he could challenge for a lot of time rushing the passer in certain situations.  He grew up in the Sacramento area as a 49ers fan.  I love it when the team drafts guys with a love for the red and gold, because it means they’re more likely to care about team success, and be more inclined to stay.  This bodes well for long-term success of this team.

Overall Impression
I like the draft considering the quality of players in it.  I don’t really think they could have done anything much better.  There really was no consensus pass-rushing stud in this draft, and I think the next couple of seasons will bear that out.  I believe Parys Haralson is going to be the starter opposite Manny Lawson, and everything we hear suggests the team is very happy with his improvement.  We’ll see how that plays out.

Offensively, Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson both are 1,000 yard-caliber players.  With Arnaz Battle, Ashley Lelie, and an emerging Jason Hill, they didn’t need to draft a wide receiver, especially since there were no absolute burners out there.  Bruce had nearly 1,000 yards last season in a horrible year for the team.  He is still quick and able to get open.  Bryant Johnson was a very capable third option behind Boldin and Fitzgerald, and I believe we’re going to see a breakout for him here.

Optimistic 2008 Season Predictions

April 18, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason 6 Comments →

The NFL schedule is out, and I have compiled my optimistic predictions for the upcoming season.  I think it’s reasonable for an optimist.  Next installment will be the Pessimistic Predictions.  For now, let’s dream, shall we?

Week One – Arizona Cardinals 4:15 p.m.  Win
With the newly revamped and confident offense, the Niners take charge at home right out of the gate.  The reporting runs along the line of “well they did this against Arizona last season, too.”

Week Two – at Seattle Seahawks 4:05 p.m.  Win
The Seattle Seahawks’ aging defense cannot counter Mike Martz’ gameplanning.  The Seattle secondary struggles to cover Bruce, Johnson, and Davis, and can’t stop Frank Gore.

Week Three – Detroit Lions 4:05 p.m.  Win
The Lions were bad before Mike Martz got there, and they’re worse now that he’s gone.  Nolan starts off with a three-game win streak, and at home, Alex Smith has the biggest game of his career.

Week Four – at New Orleans Saints 1 p.m.  Loss
I’m going to assume the streak of losses against the Saints continues, mostly because I don’t think the team is ready to mount a four-game streak.  I don’t think it will be a blowout, and if the pass rush is improved significantly, that would be the thing that changes the matchup.

Week Five – New England Patriots 4:15 p.m.  Loss
The only way the Niners win this game is if Tom Brady gets hurt, or if they lose their left tackle AND the pass rush is better.  The whole “curse of the Super Bowl participant not making the playoffs” thing could come into play.  Local boy comes home and makes good.

Week Six – Philadelphia Eagles 4:15 p.m.  Win
The team bounces back from two straight losses to beat this fading NFC stalwart.  They still don’t have good enough receivers to beat the 49ers’ secondary, and our linebackers keep Bryant Westbrook out of the superhuman level.  The run game is prominent in this one.

Week Seven – at New York Giants 1 p.m.  Loss
Just because these Giants won the Super Bowl doesn’t mean they are going to be amazing.  If the Super Bowl Participant curse affects anyone, it’s more likely to be the Giants this season.  Going with a loss just because that’s my gut feeling.

Week Eight – Seattle Seahawks 4:15 p.m.  Win
Niners get revenge for last season’s embarrasing sweep.

9 Nov. 2 Bye  
10 Nov. 10 (Mon.) at Arizona Cardinals 8:30 p.m.  Win
Monday Night.  The star performers in this game are Frank Gore, Alex Smith and Vernon Davis.  The young core of the Mike Nolan Era finally asserts themselves.  Leinart and Smith have a classic Monday Night QB duel.

Week Eleven – St. Louis Rams 4:05 p.m.  Win
Niners take the division by the throat in this one.

Week Twelve – at Dallas Cowboys 1 p.m.  Loss
Cowboys are just too strong a team, and there’s not a whole lot more you can say about that.

Week Thirteen – at Buffalo Bills 1 p.m.  Loss
Late November, cold weather, I don’t really know how the team will react.  They haven’t had a game like this in a while, except for last season’s road game in Cleveland.  Alex Smith shouldn’t be bothered since he played in the cold at Utah, and Vernon Davis played in the Eastern Seaboard wind at Maryland.  But overall I think the weather impacts the team in general.

Week Fourteen – New York Jets 4:05 p.m.  Win
I just don’t think the Jets improve enough to match the 49ers’ improvements.  Likely to see a rookie Quarterback in this contest.

Week Fifteen – at Miami Dolphins 1 p.m.  Win
See above.

Week Sixteen – at St. Louis Rams 1 p.m.  Loss
One team keeps the 49ers from sweeping the division, and that is the resurgent Rams with Jake Long at the Left Tackle position.  Bulger is still deadly accurate, and Stephen Jackson resumes his steamrolling ways.

Week Seventeen – Washington Redskins 4:15 p.m.  Win
NBC executes the option to broadcast this final game between two teams looking to make the playoffs.  It could come down to a Wildcard chance for both teams, or else the Niners are looking to lock up the Division title.  I think this is a great Prime-Time finish.

End of Regular Season
Niners finish 10-6 and go to the playoffs as Division Champs.  Team MVP is Frank Gore, going over 2,000 total yards from scrimmage.  How do they fare in the playoffs?  Who knows?

Is Ocho-Cinco the Next Great 49er Receiver?

April 17, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason 9 Comments →

Chad Johnson recently came out and demanded he be traded from the Bengals, and immediate speculation ensued among 49er fans, who long for the days of top-flight recievers in San Francisco.  Could the 49ers acquire Johnson?  What could the 49ers have that the Bengals would want?

Chad the Distraction
I am as close to Cincinnati as I am to Indianapolis, and I see a lot of Chad Johnson.  He is nowhere close to the kind of locker room problems of, say, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, or even Antonio Bryant.  What Chad is reacting to is the complacency of the Bengals ownership group.  For years their only concern has been selling tickets, not buliding a consistent winner.  Where 49er fans are accustomed to Hall of Famers and Super Bowls, Cincinnati fans are accustomed to losing.  The owners know they are going to sell tickets whether the team wins or loses.

Chad Johnson has done nothing but perform consistently on the field.  He is a fabulous possession reciever, as his primary contribution is catches and yards.  The TD celebrations are the only thing that really puts him in the public eye, but it’s entertainment.  He doesn’t score touchdowns all that often.  The media ALWAYS overhypes players like this, to make you believe all they do is whine.  Chad merely recognizes that win or lose, Marvin Lewis will have his job for as long as he wants it, and Chad will continue to labor without a real shot at a Super Bowl.

If I had to qualify him as a distraction, I would say he’s more like Deion Sanders.  Yes, he is flamboyant for the sake of entertainment, but when he’s on the field he is nothing less than a Pro Bowler, and he gets along with fellow players.  Don’t talk to me about this “rift” between him and Carson Palmer.  Carson is asserting himself as the leader of this team, but also making assumptions.  Johnson didn’t want anyone putting words in his mouth.  They’ve been playing together for years now with nothing to show for it, and Chad wants something to play for.

What Would the 49ers Trade?
First up is pick #29 in this year’s draft.  This is an absolute no-brainer.  There are no players in this year’s class that are good enough that we can’t pass them up.  There are solid Outside Linebackers valued in Round Two (Avril).  There are solid Offensive Linemen valued in Round Three (McGlynn).

But Cincinnati won’t part for just #29.  Chad is worth more than that.  Who would we trade to them?  I imagine that they covet Defensive Line depth, and everyone knows they absolutely need a Defensive Linemen in this draft.  We happen to have several young, capable players in that area.  I could see us unloading #29 and perhaps Melvin Oliver or Joe Cohen.

Would they take a trade for that?  Sure.  They have #9, they’d have #29, and they’d have a good young DT.  That’s three first-day values right there.

What About the Financials for the 49ers?
I’ll relay a conversation I had with my good friend and Cincinnati Bengals fan, Kevin Willis.  He’s also my cohost on The Fanboy Sportscast, still on hiatus.

Me: Well admittedly I’d love to see Chad in a 49er uniform.  However, we’ve only got 18 mil of cap space, and if we brought Chad in we’d have to let someone else go.  I know Scot McCloughan and the Yorks are not about to take a down-the-road cap hit for the guy.  However, it is possible (however unlikely) that Chad would agree to a less than market value contract for a chance to play with Martz and have a couple years of great numbers to boost said value.
Kevin: He makes about six million. You’d be giving up the #1 pick, so that leaves you $12 million to sign picks 2-7.  Should be plenty.
Me: But I’m considering the typical contract ballooning in the latter years.
Kevin: It doesn’t balloon.  We eat the signing bonus.  It is a good deal.
Me: How does it not balloon?  Cincinnati eats the signing bonus?
Kevin: The team that paid the signing bonus eats it.  It goes against our cap.  You just pay his salary.  You can cut him whenever you want without fear of the signing bonus accelerating against your cap.  It accelerates a little, but nothing major.  It stays in the $6 mil range.
Me: What’s the remaining term of his contract?
Kevin: Four years I think.  Don’t quote me.
Me: I just did.

So here’s the skinny:  Chad’s got four years left on his contract ( I looked it up, he was right).  This keeps him in San Francisco.  His signing bonus counts against Cincinnati’s cap, and we can cut him whenever we want.  He comes in, we tell him to cheer up and behave, and have Mike Martz use him to his full potential.  I think this would be an outstanding move for us, and we can still address our O-Line and Pass Rusher needs in the draft.

Much Ado About Manny (Or, the Evil Pro Football Weekly)

April 14, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason, Editorial 7 Comments →

I am sick and tired of hearing crap about Manny Lawson.  In fact, despite my continued confidence in Alex Smith, criticism of Manny Lawson pushes me past the brink of annoying, and into pissed off world.

Anyone who knows me understands that I have no love for Pro Football Weekly, the website.  The publication might be nice, but they’re just another throw-out-a-prediction-and-hope-it-sticks kind of rag.  This is the place that continues to recycle old opinion on players and put it out in its “Whispers” column as though it is news.  Just in case you doubt the fact that Vernon Davis has to learn Mike Martz’ offense, just ask them.  Wow.  Big revelations.  Oh right, EVERYONE has to learn Mike Martz’ offense.

If you’ve read my commentary on Alex Smith, you know I think he did not have a good chance to build on his improvements in 2006.  Now if I think that way about Alex Smith, then you know Manny Lawson does not deserve to be prematurely judged. Manny has played in 18 games in two seasons, having started 14.  Fourteen starts!  That’s less than a full season of a solid workload.  So I read Pro Football Weekly’s latest “Whispers” column, and I read this:

“Word is there is a concern among some close to the Niners that the team might be putting too much stock in former first-round pick Manny Lawson, who missed most of his second season with a knee injury, to the detriment of other players on the roster. Lawson has plenty of raw talent, but his development as a pass rusher has been disappointing.”

Now excuse me for being… I don’t know… REASONABLE, but is 57 tackles in a rookie campaign disappointing?  He finished eighth on the team in 2006, and the distance between that and 3rd was only five tackles.  How often does a late first-round defensive player make a huge contribution in his rookie season?  About as often as a Patrick Willis comes along.

So Manny starts two games last season and goes down with a torn ACL, having literally no chance to build on last season.  In 2006 he came in rail thin, raw and inexperienced.  In 2007 he came in bigger, faster, and smarter.  Lest you deny the impact he had on that defense, Matt Leinart found himself just as pressured as Alex Smith did in that first game, while Marc Bulger found himself on the ground–a lot–and had broken ribs, to boot!  Now Manny didn’t get any sacks, but he was key in adding that pressure.  Also, remember how Heath Miller of the Steelers killed the 49ers in week three, because Hannibal Navies couldn’t keep up with him?

Now I understand all the journalistic tricks of rhetoric.  First in the blurb comes this extremely passive attempt at making you think they have a source.  If they had said “Some coaches,” “Some players,” or “Team Management,” they might have a credible opinion in there.  Who is it spreading this “word,” how strong is this “concern,” who are these “some close,” and how many are there, and what is this “might” business?  Either they are or they aren’t!  So there’s four instances of passive language, indicating to me this blurb has zero legs to stand on.

Then comes the most brilliant, yet easy to spot, hook-line-and-sinker of the rhetorical fisherman.  Put up something that fools the reader into thinking it’s mildly credible, then tag it on the end with your own opinion, fooling the reader into giving you further credibility.  It’s amateurish, high-school paper stuff.  These people get hits by posting things that generate controversy.  It’s not news, it’s rumor-mongering, and it sickens me.  But back to the point.

They write, “Lawson has plenty of raw talent,” note the statement of fact.  Well big deal.  That’s like saying Peyton Manning has plenty of raw talent.  More to the point, it’s like saying Mike Vick has plenty of raw talent.  So they pull you in with a statement of fact, then give you this: “But his development as a pass rusher has been disappointing.”  Actually, that would be “tearing his ACL was disappointing,” but making another statement of fact wouldn’t suit their purpose.  Stating a weak opinion does.

How can any legitimate football publication, which purports to have a reputation for journalistic integrity and highly-coveted football analysis, possibly expect a guy who has played in only 18 NFL games to be a stud?  Javon Kearse didn’t break out until his second season.  Those players who stand out as the greatest sack-masters of the game (or are hyped as such) are defensive linemen:  Michael Strahan, Reggie White,  Charles Haley, Dwight Freeney, Javon Kearse, just to name a few, and Kearse and Freeney have never tallied more than 41 tackles in a season.

The fact is that Manny Lawson has barely played more than a rookie season in the NFL, and Pro Football Weekly stands to tell 49er fans that there is doubt about one of the more beloved, missed, and highly anticipated players.

And just in case you were wondering, they think Vernon Davis still has something to prove.

(Editor’s Note: The last line was a trick of rhetoric called “sarcasm,” intended to drive home the point that Pro Football Weekly rarely reports news of any kind.)

(Editor’s Note #2: The first Editor’s Note was also sarcasm)

49ers Fanboy Mock Draft

April 11, 2008 By: Indiana Jim Category: 2008 Offseason 11 Comments →

Okay, so, I’m not usually the one to jump in where everyone else has already gone, but I thought what the heck, my opinions are usually far afield from everyone else.  Very few mocks had us taking Patrick Willis last year, and very few mocks have me duplicating their picks.  On two of these, I find myself seeing another guy down the list and thinking, “well he’s much better than this guy.”

I’ve already pointed out what I think we need, and the priority.  Now I’ll look at who I think they’ll take in the first four rounds.  Six and Seven don’t really matter much as they are just depth plugs.  I see maybe a corner in there, and possibly a running back.

I really don’t like Groves of Auburn.  I think he is way too small for the kind of guy we need, and certainly not worth 1st round money.  I don’t see them taking Dan Connor, because he’s no Patrick Willis, and we’ve already got Dontarrious Thomas to play next to him.  We need an OLB if anything. 

Round 1, #29: Sam Baker OT USC 6’5″ 305
Looking at who will likely be available, I actually think Sam Baker of USC warrants a pick at 29.  I believe offensive tackle has the best value at this spot, as far as what we’ll end up paying the player.  He very strong and commits to his blocks.  He’s very good at turning the initial defender while keeping his body low, so that when he gets to the second-level guy, his motor and center of gravity are virtually unchanged.

Round 2, #39: Cliff Avril OLB Purdue, 6’3″ 253
With the widouts we have, and Martz’ ability to make them good, I think a WR pick is wasted here.  Cliff Avril here would be a surprise to some, but in the ranks of DE/OLB that are available, not too shabby.  He led the team with 6.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a total loss of 56 yards.  He’s got solid and compact size for an OLB, and he’s very athletic with a 37-1/2″ vertical.  From NFL Draft Scout.com: “Avril played linebacker earlier in his career and displayed those attributes during drills, showing a bit more power driving out of his plants. His 6.90-second three-cone drill, which tests agility necessary to play in space, was the best for linemen and also in the top six for linebackers.”

This agility and “power driving out of his plants” is a common theme lately with people discussing why Manny Lawson doesn’t get good presure on the QB.  I think his solid, compact frame coupled with his agility gives him a unique advantage coming around the weak side.

Round 3, #75: Mike McGlynn OG/OT Pitt, 6’4″ 311
Here is another undervalued lineman, which I see as fitting a real need we have: A guy who can play anywhere, including Center.  I think we really need to consider a replacement for Eric Heitmann in case that leg injury was a major factor in the sieve that was the middle of our line last season.   Here’s another Senior Bowl alumn that I can’t see the Niners passing up.

I’ll let Rob Rang speak for me again:  “Conversations I’ve had with offensive line coaches at the Senior Bowl just confirmed what I already suspected about the former Pitt star — he is the most versatile offensive lineman to enter the draft in years. A veteran of 47 games for the Panthers, McGlynn saw most of his time at right guard, but at 6-4, 311 pounds he has the size and lateral quickness to move outside to tackle and the deep-snapping skills to be groomed as a center.”

Round 4: Harry Douglas WR Louisville, 5’11″ 176
This Senior Bowl South-Teamer is one of those kind of guys Nolan and McCloughan praise for doing better in pads than in shorts.  I’ve watched Harry Douglas for four years at Louisville, and while 2007 saw his number slope off due to an ankle injury, 2006 was one of his best seasons, where he was a favorite target of Brian Brohm.  What Douglas brings to the table is an outstanding work ethic and great hands. 

Route running may be a bit suspect, but Martz and Sullivan can fix that with Douglas’ willingness to learn, much unlike Ashley Lelie.  He gives outstanding value at this spot, and someone to groom alongside Jason Hill.   He may not see immediate action this season, but fills a spot very well.