Posts Tagged ‘Jim Harbaugh’

Well, Trent Baalke and the 49ers have done it again…

In the this year’s NFL Draft, they managed to pull two draft picks out of their sleeve that no one saw coming.  This was not much unlike the 2011 draft when  Baalke and then first year NFL head coach, Jim Harbaugh, put their heads together to find two key pieces in building a foundation for the 49ers defense in years to come: Aldon Smith and Chris Culliver.

Both players paid dividends in their first season.  Smith’s efforts (14 sacks) won him NFL Rookie of the Year award and Culliver developed into the teams nickel cornerback and a valuable contributor for one of the league’s top special teams units.  Coach and General Manager have earned instant credibility with their ability to evaluate and select players that will have a lasting future on their roster.

This year they decided to go on the offensive with their first two selections.

With the 3oth overall pick in the 2012 draft, they selected wide receiver AJ Jenkins from the University of Illinois.  Like many others, I was rooting for the Niners to pick Coby Fleener, a versatile 6’6″ tigt end from Harbaugh’s last coaching stop, Stanford University.  When I heard the name AJ Jenkins, my response was, “who?”

But, after watching some game film on Jenkins, I can see that he is a vertical threat, has excellent hands, and he is involved in all levels of the passing game.  He catches the ball on all types of routes including the post, fade, slant, shallow cross, deep out and corner.  He also lines up in multiple positions, in the slot, on and off the ball and is deployed in motion to take advantage of his speed.

Watch the clips of his Big Ten game against Northwestern and see what Harbaugh was talking about when he described Jenkins as being “very versatile … we probably would start him out at one position and teach him that. Then we’ll transition with him. He’s a very smart guy, very bright guy. I don’t think it will be a problem for him to pick up and learn multiple positions.”

If you are intrigued and you want to see more of Jenkins and the versatility he will bring to the 49er offense, watch his highlight reel.  Some people [bloggers] have compared him to New York Giants all-pro wide receiver, Hakeem Nicks.  And, upon closer review, Jenkins’ long arms and great catch range make that a fair comparison.

In the 2nd round, the 49ers stayed with the theme of speed and added Pac-12 standout running back LaMichael James with the 61st overall pick.  When asked about LaMichael James’ ability to fit into the 49ers, there were a number of areas that Harbaugh felt his second round pick could make an impact.

“I’ve seen him play up close. I’ve seen all the things he can do and lost games to his team, large degree of his efforts,” said Harbaugh.

When he faced him as head coach at Stanford, Harbaugh described James as an overall “explosive” player and that the characteristics that stood out to him in James’ game – “change of direction, speed, playmaking ability, durability, number of carries, number of yards, number of touchdowns” – were all elements that make him a special player.

In reaction to the suggestion that the selection of James indicated an indictment of Frank Gore, Harbaugh insisted that, “he will come in to compete with solid football players … winning football players … it’s gonna get real real, real fast.”

Regarding both Jenkins’ and James’ opportunity to compete on the team, Harbaugh explained that “they definitely have great ability, and speed … a lot more to their game than just speed, both of those youngsters that we’ve added in this draft. They’ll get opportunity and they’ll have the license to go out and compete and find their role. Whether that’s a contributor, starter, how much of a contributor if they are a starter. That will unfold.”

He went on to compare James “favorably” to all-pro running back Ray Rice and confirmed that someday he could see James handling a similar type of workload as Rice in Baltimore.  Not only has Rice has averaged 240 carries and 1095 yards per year since he was a rookie in 2008, but he has also amassed an average of 63 receptions and 559 receiving yards per year as well.

For now, I’ll settle for James’ presence on the field providing a constant threat to beat the defense to the edge with fly sweeps, outside zone plays, or screens.  They are also getting a durable one-cut runner and a weapon in the passing game as both a primary and check down receiver.  Watch James’ snaps against in state rival, Oregon State University, to get a feel for his playmaking ability.

James should factor in as an explosive playmaker in more ways then one.

When addressing criticism that James would project to be nothing more then a third down back, Harbaugh said that he “doesn’t think that he’ll be limited to just a third down back. You have to take into consideration fourth down, too. This is somebody that has a chance to evolve into a punt returner, a kickoff returner …  He’s proven that he’s a multi-down back in our eyes.”

Finally, Trent Baalke offered his thoughts on poker and the 49ers backfield: “We’ve got a full house … that’s a good hand, right?”

Watch some more James highlights to let it sink in that the Niners just added one of the best college football players in recent years.

I just watched the last 4 minutes of the 49ers-Saints Divisional playoff game from this last weekend on NFL Network’s NFL Replay.  To say that this was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been witness to seems like an understatement.  This game had it all: a hard hitting affair with offensive fireworks and a raucous home stadium providing the ultimate backdrop for the unfolding drama on the field.  The redemption of Alex Smith was apparent as he was not to be denied in those last 4 minutes.

Steve Young would say that Alex Smith finally grabbed that “over [his] dead body” quality.  According to Young, this is when a great quarterback takes a stand and says, “it’s going down a certain way and you’re going to have to kill me if it doesn’t go down my way.”  That’s what I saw at the end of the game on Saturday, and throughout, as well.  Even though there were moments when many 49er fans could have thought, “here we go again,” Smith maintained his composure and kept making the plays when he needed to.

In his last drive, starting with 1:32 on the clock and only one timeout left, just after Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham had delivered a dagger of a score – an impressive 66 yard pass and run to re-take the lead, 32-29 – Smith lead the 49ers on a 7 play 85 yard drive, capped off by a game winning strike to Vernon Davis, leaving only 9 seconds on the clock. Smith calmly got his team lined up at the line of scrimmage and commanded the offense without panic.  He was calculated and patient in the way that he dropped the ball off to Gore as the Saints dropped into deep coverage, inviting Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to bring pressure, as he had done so routinely all game long.  Then, Smith saw his opening and did not flinch when he found Davis running away from single coverage, setting the scene for the dramatic victory.

The way this game ended for 49er fans brought to life an Oliver Stone-like image of the rise of ghost’s of 49ers past: Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and “The Catch”; Steve Young, Terrell Owens and “The Catch II”; a maligned 49ers quarterback getting the “monkey off [his] back,” a la Steve Young after the 1994 season’s Super Bowl; the 1981 49ers coming out of nowhere – with a 13-3 record, a genius-in-the-making head coach, and an NFL 2nd ranked defense to boot … all swelling up into one moment of history invoking action, attacking our sensibilities as to where the 49ers have been and what they are to become once again – a 10 year siege of ineptitude, failure and frustration wiped away with awe inspiring execution – bringing back shades of a dominant era and one of football’s original dynasties.

49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh, said of the final offensive play, “I know there was ‘The Catch’ … I don’t know what you’re going to call this one … ‘The throw? The throw and catch?'”

Here is what Harbaugh’s “Throw and Catch” breaks down to on paper – notice the tight windows Smith had to get the ball through in order to give Davis a chance:

In typical Harbaugh fashion, the head coach was quick to praise multiple players when prompted about the game winning effort – reemphasizing this year’s 49er doctrine that it is always about the team, the team, the team.

“These guys are my heroes.  All of them.  Alex was heroic in this game.  So was Justin, so was Donte, so was Aldon, so was Vernon Davis.  You take your play to the heroic.  That’s what he did.  That’s what all our guys did.  Just the way they all fight.  It’s a wicked, competitive fight that’s in our guys,” said the steely coach as he reflected on what was, what has been and what will be as the 49ers push on in their run to grab the organizations sixth Lombardi Trophy.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Recently, I came across a scathing article by Jeff Pearlman, a columnist for SI.com, in a feature he did for Esquire.  If you are an Alex Smith “hater”, you will revel in it’s repugnant nature.   However, if you are anything like me, you are excited about the efforts of this year’s squad, and in particular, the back story concerning how much hardship Smith has undergone in order to reach the level of play he has attained today.

There is so much that goes into putting together a winning team, let alone a successful offense that doesn’t detract from your efforts to win games by turning the ball over or squandering scoring opportunities.  It just seems that, with the evolution of fantasy football, the 400 yard, 3 touchdown performance is the only thing that people value anymore.

Here are a few jabs from the author.  First, in regards to Smith’s transformation this season:

In the best season of his seven-year career, the 49ers quarterback has been repeatedly — and enthusiastically — praised as “smart,” “adaptive,” “instinctive,” and “an excellent game manager.” All of which are ear-friendly descriptions, and all of which mean the exact same thing: For a crap player, this guy hasn’t fully embarrassed himself. In other words, that Alex Smith kid really can’t throw or run, but the Niners sure have found ways around it!

Then on to his performance on Monday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Smith delivered what Smith has all season, a series of dinks, dunks, and dils (a word I just invented — Definition: to throw a ball in the manner of former Vikings quarterback Steve Dils). Blessed with Davis, as well as receivers Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn and the otherworldly running of Frank Gore (as well as a coveted position in the NFC West, the most dreadful division in the recent history of organized sports), Smith doesn’t have to accomplish much to win. And that’s important, because he’s incapable of accomplishing much.

Save another time – my argument against the fallacious reasoning supported by arguments (like this one) that the NFC West is some downtrodden version of what everyone believes is true competition.  Finally, he trivializes Smith’s role as a player who simply does what is asked of him:

Though a nation’s longing eyes turn toward Tebow, they should be focused upon Smith, an average man doing average things for an excellent team. When Coach Jim Harbaugh tells Smith to roll out and throw a three-yard screen to Gore, he does so. When Harbaugh tells Smith to hit Crabtree five yards out on a slant, he does so, too. The whole thing is uncomplicated and precisely scripted, the updated version of NFL Quarterbacking for Dummies.

You can read the entire article here.

Really, Pearlman?

That final line … “The whole thing is uncomplicated and precisely scripted, the updated version of NFL Quarterbacking for Dummies” … it really doesn’t sit well with me.  It’s like he is holding in contempt the whole idea of quarterbacking and team oriented football that we, as 49ers fans, have been trying to get back to for years.

I prefer to look to someone a bit more knowledgeable on the subject than Pearlman for inspiration.  In fact, I’ll go straight to the God Father of modern offensive football, and the architect of this once proud 49ers franchise – Bill Walsh – to decide if Smith and the 49ers apparently should be doing more than what the coaches ask them to do.

In his book, Finding the Winning Edge, Coach Walsh described how the impetus for the West Coast Offense came about when he was a coach with the Cincinnati Bengals:

“We decided that our best chance to win football games was to somehow control the ball. As a result, we devised a ball-control passing game in hopes that if we could make 25 first downs in a given game and if we also had good special teams play, we would have a reasonable chance to stay competitive in the ball game, In the process, hopefully something good would happen”

Hmm? … sounds like a game manager is exactly what this system calls for … and this sure sounds like the blueprint for Jim Harbaugh’s overall philosophy this year.

I remember when Joe Montana was labeled as a “system quarterback” who was only able to flourish due to the dink and dunk style, which ultimately led to the “finesse” label.

Who knows what Joe would have been without Walsh and his “system”?

4 Super Bowl Championships say that it doesn’t matter.

The strides that the 49ers offense makes this year to next will speak volumes about whether or not Smith will become the next “system quarterback” to flourish in the West Coast Offense.

For now, I think the only thing that will quell some of the intense criticism of a man that simply, “does what is asked of him”, is a trip to, and victory in Super Bowl XLVI.

And that is what I am rooting for…

After all, the “West Coast Offense amounts to nothing more than a total attention to detail and an appreciation for every facet of offensive football and refinement of those things that are needed to provide an environment that allows people to perform at their maximum levels of self-actualization” (Walsh ’98).

I don’t know, but it seems that most of these players (this TEAM) have encountered that environment that Walsh describes – here and now – with Harbaugh and this staff (who will throw all the credit back to the players).

I would say that many players are realizing their full potential and I am excited to see more as the season unfolds.  And, I hope to see more players doing simply what is asked of them.

It was tough going watching the 49ers lose against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

I’ll leave the armchair analysis for the bloggers and know-it-alls.  It’s amusing to reflect back on some of the early criticisms of this year’s squad.  Remember when they were “winning ugly” by forcing the running game, playing smart field position football and relying on the defense? All I remember hearing was, “oh, the 49ers can’t win if a team takes away the run and forces Alex Smith to beat you,” and then Smith effectively “managed” the offense to a victory against the surging Giants.  It still wasn’t enough.  Steve Young went on local radio and lamented that they needed to “just throw the ball 40 times to see what happens … open up the offense.”  The team continued to win, but often not in spectacular enough fashion, for some self important critics, err, journalists.  Smith’s stats weren’t good enough, Crabtree wasn’t getting the ball enough, Davis was misused … they relied too much on the defense, they didn’t protect the passer.  The venerable Lowell Cohn of the Press Democrat, after the loss to the Ravens, asserted that the 49ers could not take anything positive from a loss.  He must know because of all the experience he has in coaching and leading men the way Harbaugh and his staff have this year.  And then this week after the Cardinals game, some were upset when Harbaugh was not buddy/buddy with the media and their probes about red zone woes, go-to players, and play-calling in crucial situations.  For me, Harbaugh said exactly what I expected him to say.  He addressed his team’s issues as exactly that.  The team’s issues.  It was more important for him to communicate that the 49ers would take accountability from within.  The message was clear when the only player to speak with the media was punter, Andy Lee.  They are going to get to work on fixing their problems so they can continue to improve as they approach the playoffs rather than sit around the locker room answering the same questions over and over.  They key is doing versus talking.  And I would much rather see them do then talk any day.  Unfortunately, for some, that’s just not good enough.

It’s refreshing to see good reporting when you do see it, however.  Instead of complaining about the lack of information, and spewing out negativity about how the 49ers season is doomed, one long time beat writer, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, did some actual reporting.  He got outside the box and went back to 49er roots to get some perspective on this week’s loss and this year’s team in his article titled, “Eddie DeBartolo likes this San Francisco 49ers team — a lot.”

Reading his article reinforced my feeling that the 49ers are still on the right track during this turn-around season, despite the pride swallowing loss to the Cards this weekend.  To keep things in perspective and provide some compelling parallels to the dynasties that were the 49ers of the ’80’s and ’90’s , Kawakami reached out to the one and only Eddie DeBartolo Jr, the former 49er architect of those momentous years.

The good part of regular talks with Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is that every time I call him, it’s like picking up right in the middle of a crackling conversation.

The entertaining and challenging part is that occasionally it’s like picking up in the middle of a conversation he started on his own 20 minutes earlier.

Take Monday for example, when he said hello, paused for about .2 seconds, then launched into his feelings about the 49ers’ surprising loss to Arizona on Sunday.

“What happened yesterday is the same thing that happened to me, Bill (Walsh), Steve (Young) and Joe (Montana) — just exactly like that,” DeBartolo said by phone from his office in Tampa, Fla.

“That happened to us so many times in Phoenix, it’s unbelievable. We’d go down there, and we had the better team, and they’d just pop up and come up with games.”

For example, the 49ers lost in Arizona in 1988, which didn’t derail their march to a Super Bowl title, the third of five won in the Eddie D era.

The important point, DeBartolo said, is that his nephew Jed York hired Jim Harbaugh and now the 2011 49ers are set up to win tough playoff games.

“They are so much better than our 1981 team,” DeBartolo said of the first, epic 49ers Super Bowl team.

“Now, in ’84, and ’88 and ’89, and ’94, we had really good football teams. Defensively and offensively. I can’t compare (this year’s team) to that.

“But this year didn’t surprise me a bit. I told you last year they were going to be good.”

Indeed, a year ago almost exactly, DeBartolo told me that the 49ers had a strong roster but that his nephew had to make some important decisions.

Back then, Eddie D said he knew Jed York could do it. Now, DeBartolo is a proud uncle and pleased football patriarch.

Despite the issues with the league and the law that pushed him to sell the 49ers to his sister Denise DeBartolo York, Eddie D will always be an important voice in sports.

And recently he made it for a second year as a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But more to the point, because he’s close to Jed and is the only 49ers owner to win the Lombardi Trophy, when it comes to his views of this 49ers generation, DeBartolo is essential.

“Jed’s done a good job. He’s stood back; he did what he had to do in hiring the coach,” DeBartolo said. “Gave (general manager Trent) Baalke the responsibility.

“And he kept his father (John York) the hell out of the picture.”

OK, let’s backtrack a bit. This team, which has clinched the NFC West but hasn’t won a playoff game, is already better than the 1981 49ers, maybe the most beloved team in Bay Area history?

“Hell yeah,” DeBartolo said. “All in all, they’re a better team than ’81.

“Our ’81 team, Joe was just a kid then. Ronnie (Lott) and those guys, they were good, but they didn’t have the experience that this defense has. And the offense, too.

“This team has Frank Gore. We had Lenvil Elliott, we had Earl Cooper — good solid players but nowhere near Frank Gore. My god, he just broke the (franchise all-time rushing) record.”

Now to the obvious linkage from 2011 to 1981 …

In 1979, after a fitful start to his tenure, young owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. hired Bill Walsh after Walsh’s short, successful run at Stanford, and a few years later the 49ers were champions.

Now, after overseeing some tough 49ers seasons, young Jed York hired Jim Harbaugh from Stanford and has a 10-3 team.

“Of course, it’s reminiscent,” DeBartolo said. “(But) I think that Coach Harbaugh is different than Bill in a lot of ways. He’s way more intense.

“Bill kept a lot inside of him. Bill’s intensity, he kept to himself. He was an inner-intense man. But they’re alike in a lot of ways, too.”

So make no mistake, Eddie D believes this team has a shot at a Super Bowl run. And he’s definitely paying attention to the way the 49ers measure up against Green Bay, New Orleans and the other NFC contenders.

“If any team has the makeup to go in there in adverse weather conditions and play that Green Bay machine and beat them, I think the 49ers can,” DeBartolo said.

But the 49ers need the first-round bye, DeBartolo emphasized. Which brings us back to Sunday’s loss.

“Yesterday’s game, eh,” DeBartolo said. “They clinched the division (the week before). Come on, you know as well as I do it was a down position to be in.

“Now they should’ve won the game. But believe me, that doesn’t have a whole lot of effect on the team.”

He should know. In fact, he’s still thinking about it.

That’s what made him the owner he was, and why he has such credibility now when he says the 49ers are close to getting back to what they were.

49ers: NFC West Champs

Posted: December 10, 2011 in 49ers, Pro Football
Tags: ,

Trying to get caught up with the 49ers…

Just now getting back into posting more…

Enjoy the video from 49ers.com of their clinching the NFC West against the St. Louis Rams last weekend…

49ers GM, Trent Baalke, talks in detail to the local media about QB Colin Kaepernick’s ability to grow at the next level.  Give it a watch, and if you are a fan of offensive football in general (let alone a 49er fan), the part where he talks about Kaepernick bringing a QB driven run game to the 49ers offense is quite exciting.  You can’t help but conjure up images of Michael Vick related to the strain that he puts on a defense because of the threat that he poses in the run game.

Baalke also mentions something interesting when he alludes to the fact that they may tailor some of their offensive attack to include Kaepernick early on.  “Who’s to say that we’re not going to have him in the pistol … having some variation of that working for him,” Baalke said.

(See also: Matt Bowen’s take from the National Football Post on the 49ers ability to run the read option with Kaepernick)

Another entertaining video from 49ers.com is the following preview of their ‘Coach ’em up’ series.  Linebackers coach Jim Leavitt, quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, secondary coach Ed Donatell, and special teams coordinator Brad Seely are among those featured in this clip.  Between Donatell and Seely, the staff can draw from the experience of six (6) Super Bowl Championships.  Donatell earned three (3) during his time with the Denver Broncos and Seely also accumulated three (3) under New England Patriots Head Coach, Bill Belichick.

Geep Chryst’s synopsis of Jim Harbaugh‘s coaching career and potential with the 49ers hints toward what many 49er fans may be hoping – that he is able to recreate the success he has had at each of his previous two head coaching posts.

Chryst explains what he expects based on trends Harbaugh built at the University of San Diego and Stanford:

“I knew in no short order, when he took the University of San Diego head job, that it wasn’t going to be a typical bus stop to bus stop type trip for Jim.  And, sure enough, from the University of San Diego he got hired at Stanford, which for a lot of people was quite a dramatic leap, but for Jim I think he was doing the same thing that he was doing from day one at the University of San Diego, and he’s doing the same thing here [with the 49ers], that he did day one at Stanford.”

In 2004, Harbaugh was named head coach at the University of San Diego.  There, he promptly led the Toreros to records of 7-4, 11-1, 11-1.  His first season at Stanford (2007) brought a major upset victory over 41 point favored University of Southern California, initiating a surge in the changing of the guard in the Pacific-10 Conference.  After showing moderate improvement and overachieving in his first two seasons, finishing 4-8 (2007) and 5-7 (2008), the Cardinal made a dramatic improvement in 2009, going 8-5 and being narrowly defeated by Oklahoma University in the Sun Bowl.  The improvement continued into 2010 when Harbaugh and the Cardinal finished with a school record twelve (12) victories.  His final campaign included a strong performance in a win versus Virgina Tech in the Orange Bowl, notching the school’s first ever BCS bowl victory, and finishing the year ranked 4th in both the Coaches and AP rankings (Source).

Still jonesing for more 49er breakdown and analysis?

Enjoy the following video links to catch up with Harbaugh, Baalke, and new 49er coaching staff and roster additions:

– Jim Harbaugh is featured on NFL’s Total Access in 32 Teams in 32 Days-49ers.

– Trent Baalke breaks down the latest additions to the 49er roster in Aldon Smith, Kendall Hunter and Ronald Johnson

– 49ers.com ‘Coach ’em up’ series focus on Secondary Coach Ed Donatell and  Quarterbacks Coach Geep Chryst.

– Official 49ers press conferences with Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, and Special Teams Coordinator Brad Seely

– NFL Network’s feature on brothers Jim and John Harbaughs’ Thanksgiving matchup between the 49ers and Ravens.

Still want more?

– Check out 49ers.com’s list of news headlines here.

– Get The Bleacher Report’s stream of 49er headlines here

After making waves in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft by trading up to select University of Nevada quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers GM, Trent Baalke, and HC, Jim Harbaugh, looked to add players with “versatility” in the later rounds.

The 49ers bolstered their roster with Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter and University of Southern California WR Ronald Johnson.  Both players look to bring added value to the offense and in the kick return game, fitting directly into the category that Baalke and Harbaugh are looking for.

The first of the two picks came in the 4th round when the 49ers selected Hunter.  A promising replacement pick for free agent Bryan Westbrook, Hunter adds some much needed depth behind the aging but still productive (and recently, oft-injured) Frank Gore.  A Big-12 Conference standout, Hunter finished fifth in conference history with 4,181 rushing yards, earning more yards rushing than former OSU Cowboy and Detroit Lions Hall of Fame RB Barry Sanders.

Baalke said the 49ers envision Hunter as a “four-down contributor,” who gives the team another option in the kick return game.

In the 6th round the 49ers picked up a solid WR in Johnson.  The WR and Kick Returner looks to be a great fit for the team and should need little time getting comfortable with the coaching staff.  49ers WR’s coach, John Morton, was Johnson’s collegiate coach at USC.  Johnson is a good football player who’s potential has yet to be reached.  He stays low in his breaks, runs precise routes, plays with enthusiasm and should push Josh Morgan and Tedd Ginn for significant playing time early, both offensively and on special teams.

Johnson’s best day receiving for the 2010 season came against Washington when he hauled in 6 passes for 109 yards.  One of his more spectacular plays though came in a game against Hawaii when he fielded a punt, broke a tackle and raced down the sideline on his way to a 3 TD performance on the day.