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Thursday, July 14, 2011
Chat wrap: Paging James Harrison, or not

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Lots and lots of San Francisco 49ers questions in the NFC West chat this week. That is fairly typical. I searched specifically for questions and comments referencing other teams. There were quite a few, but 49ers fans are running away with the offseason chat championship.

Go ahead, non-49ers fans. Crack wise on the 49ers winning another offseason. Go ahead, 49ers fans. Fire back about how many championships your team has collected over the years. Lather, rinse and repeat as desired.

Just don't pull a James Harrison on anyone. Harrison, whose inflammatory comments made him a page-views leader Wednesday, surfaced during the chat. Let's get to the highlights.
Shane from Los Angeles asked whether Harrison had talked his way out of Pittsburgh, suggesting Arizona as a logical destination for him.

Mike Sando: That would be a sensational scenario for the Cardinals. Yes, Ray Horton's presence in Arizona would make the Cardinals a natural fit. Ken Whisenhunt's presence would be another factor. I just have a hard time believing a team would part with such a productive player under these circumstances. It's not like Harrison ran afoul of the law. He ran his mouth. Big difference.

Bones from Minneapolis wonders whether 2011 might become Frank Gore's final season with the 49ers. He also asked about Anthony Dixon adding weight and possibly projecting as a fullback, a question I forgot to answer during the chat, but will address at the bottom of this blog entry.

Mike Sando: Gore is entering the final season of his contract with the 49ers. There are no guarantees the team will bring him back. Gore is at that point in his career where running backs tend to begin declining. He has had some injury problems. The team drafted Kendall Hunter in the fourth round this season, identifying him as more than just a change-of-pace guy. The writing is on the wall for Gore heading into this season. I have a hard time envisioning the 49ers giving him a lucrative extension based on the likelihood of an older running back producing at a high level consistently.

Steve from Raleigh, N.C., asks whether Marshawn Lynch will top 1,000 yards in 2011, and whether Matt Hasselbeck will have a strong season.

Mike Sando: Lynch averaged 71.8 yards per game over a six-game stretch ending with the Seahawks' victory over New Orleans in the wild-card round. That type of production would project to about 1,150 yards over a 16-game season. I think it's reasonable to expect improved play from the offensive line and a strong commitment to the run in a post-Jeremy Bates offense (I am not faulting Bates for his approach, but rather acknowledging Pete Carroll's intent to run the ball more as one reason the team changed coordinators). Justin Forsett will command some touches, too, so that could affect Lynch's totals. I think Lynch has a decent shot at 1,000 this season, but I'd take the under if forced to bet. Matt Hasselbeck has not had a good year in some time. I don't expect him to suddenly start having good years, based on his age and supporting cast. But the new offensive system would suit him.

MattC from Dallas wants to know whether Mark Clayton projects as the St. Louis Rams' No. 1 receiver in 2011.

Mike Sando: That's a little bit of a stretch based on Clayton's injury and the numbers at receiver. I don't see a true No. 1 receiver on the roster. I'd give Clayton a decent shot at reemerging as the threat he instantly became last season, but the Rams will probably be healthier at the position. They'll have more options. That could dilute the opportunities for Clayton, who faces challenges of his own.

Back to Bones' question about Dixon gaining weight and possibly projecting at fullback. I'm skeptical. The 49ers are indeed open to converting players to fullback. Bruce Miller played defense in college, but the 49ers will try him at fullback. I'm just skeptical about a runner suddenly having the mindset of a blocker. That isn't a natural conversion for everyone. Miller played defense, so he's more apt to have the sledgehammer mentality. If I were the 49ers, I'd rather shift Nate Byham into the backfield from tight end on occasion. The team did that with him periodically last season. Byham is a strong blocker.