NFC West: Anquan Boldin

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When Anquan Boldin took that hard hit to the helmet from Ryan Clark during the San Francisco 49ers' game-winning fourth-quarter drive against Washington on Sunday, it harkened memories of the blow he absorbed six years earlier.

Boldin
It was on Sept. 28, 2008, when Boldin, then a member of the Arizona Cardinals, went up for a pass in the end zone and was hit by a pair of New York Jets in Kerry Rhodes and Eric Smith. Rhodes got Boldin from behind while Smith caught him just under the facemask on a helmet-to-helmet blow.

Boldin suffered a sinus fracture as well as having wires inserted in his lower jaw to correct his bite and had a concussion. He only missed two games as a result.

Sunday, Boldin had a 23-yard catch down the right seam and Clark launched himself into Boldin’s head. This time, though, it was the defender who crumpled to the ground as Boldin bounced off and ran for six more yards.

"At that point, the game’s on the line," Boldin said. "There’s no way that I cannot go for the ball at that point. You’re called upon in that moment, and your teammates are expecting you to come through for them. It’s part of football."

Clark was flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and, after the game, was asked just how special Boldin is after he eclipsed Derrick Mason, Hines Ward and Charlie Joiner on the day for 20th place on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list.

"He’s always been," special, Clark said. "He’s a guy I’ve always admired. He always plays good football everywhere he’s been. He’s made plays everywhere he’s been, and he’s made his team better. He did that today. He came in, made plays, broke tackles, made big catches. That’s the type of guy he is."

Boldin, who had nine catches for 137 yards with a 30-yard touchdown against Washington, has also had to have a short memory when it comes to that devastating hit he absorbed in 2008.

"For me, if I changed the way I play the game, then I don’t need to play this game anymore if I’m thinking about a hit that happened five, six, however long it was," he said. "If I’m thinking about that, then I really don’t need to play this game. I’d rather not be cautious, that’s not the way that I play football. I’m an all-out type of guy, and I just see that hit as just a once-in-a-lifetime incident.

"I’ve been in that situation hundreds of times, and out of those hundreds of times, it’s only happened one time. It’s no big deal to me."
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Eleven games in and the San Francisco 49ers have yet to put together a complete game, one in which the offense, defense and special teams all show up on the same day.

There was a significant development Sunday, though, in the Niners’ 17-13 victory over Washington. One that gives the team faith for the last five games of the season and, the Niners hope, into the playoffs.

That is, the first-team offense finally, mercifully scored a fourth-quarter touchdown. And the first such score of the year proved to be the difference when rookie running back Carlos Hyde rumbled into the end zone from 4 yards out with 2:59 to play. And yes, it's understood that technically Hyde is a second-stringer, but the point remains (No. 2 QB Blaine Gabbert led the backups to a TD late in the blowout loss at Denver).

“Now is a good time to have it,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “So, we’re going to need more of those moving forward.”

Things looked bleak for the 49ers earlier in the quarter, considering their final-quarter offensive travails, after Kai Forbath's 46-yard field goal gave Washington a 13-10 lead.

And when the Niners faced fourth-and-1 at their own 34-yard line with just over five minutes to play, the game was on the line. Enter Frank Gore, who gained 3 yards to extend the drive.

Then came the key catch and run of the game.

Kaepernick found Anquan Boldin down the right seam for a 23-yard pickup, the ball arriving just before Washington safety Ryan Clark, who launched his head into Boldin’s helmet. But while Clark fell to the grass, where yellow flags littered the field, Boldin bounced off and ran for another 6 yards.

“I knew I was going to get hit ... I saw the safety cheating to that side before the play even started,” Boldin said. “So Kaep made a real nice throw, which allowed me to catch the ball and protect myself as much as possible at that point.”

Clark was called for unnecessary roughness, a 15-yard penalty, so by the time the Niners lined up for their next play, they were at Washington’s 19-yard line -- two plays after facing fourth-and-1.

“Valiant effort,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Anquan Boldin with that catch in traffic. Great throw by Colin. Our guys did what they needed to do when they needed to do it. Good teams win those kind of games. Proud of our guys.

“By any means necessary. That’s how we’re looking for wins.”

It took the Niners only three more plays to find the end zone -- a Hyde run up the gut for 5 yards, a Kaepernick pass to Boldin on the left that picked up 10 yards and Hyde’s game-winning charge.

It was particularly satisfying for Hyde in that he lost a fumble on the first play of the second quarter.

“I fumbled and they put the ball back in my hands,” Hyde said.

“It took me a minute to get over that play.”

But he did. And the Niners' offense got over its fourth-quarter case of the yips as it extended the team’s winning streak to three games.

Was it for just one game, though, or is it the springboard this team needs to really get going?

“That’s big-time stuff,” Harbaugh said. “Good team doing what it has to do to win the football game.

“They play their hearts out. Valiant effort, individual effort and team effort. What more could you want if you’re a coach?”

Maybe more fourth-quarter touchdowns by the offense to ease the anxiety.

The Film Don't Lie: 49ers

October, 21, 2014
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A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix:

The 49ers enter their bye week licking their wounds, physical and mental, after Sunday night's 42-17 thumping at the Denver Broncos.

The Niners receivers should spend their time off standing in front of a JUGS passing machine, catching ball after ball after ball. Or track down Lester Hayes or Fred Biletnikoff across the bay and borrow some old-school Stickum in time for their next game, Nov. 2 against the St. Louis Rams at Levi's Stadium.

Of course, Stickum is now illegal, but the 49ers' pass-catchers were dropping passes nonetheless.

Especially receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. The trio combined for four drops, per Pro Football Focus, with Crabtree clanging two.

Particularly galling was the normally sure-handed Boldin, quarterback Colin Kaepernick's Mr. Dependable, dropping one in the end zone that hit him in the hands on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line midway through the second quarter.

If Boldin holds on to the ball, the 49ers creep to within 14-7. Instead, they had to settle for a 22-yard Phil Dawson field goal, and the rout was on.

Asked specifically about the drops after the game, coach Jim Harbaugh evaded the question.

"The Broncos played a great game," Harbaugh said. "They really were good and better at every phase and played a heck of a ballgame."

And if you're scratching your head over that particular answer to that specific of a question, imagine Harbaugh's reaction watching his receivers drop catchable passes.

49ers vs. Broncos preview

October, 17, 2014
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Prime time is the right time for a game between teams that entered the season at the front of the Super Bowl conversation.

At least that is how Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. sees it.

"You face any other top teams in the league, you always want to get up for them," Harris Jr. said. "It’s Sunday night prime time, so we want to have a good showing. We want to go out there and show we’re definitely a contender, definitely one of the top teams. ... They have a great team; they’ve been together for a while, so they know how to play together in these big games."

The San Francisco 49ers will be the fifth team the Broncos (4-1) have played this season that won at least 10 games in 2013 -- "we’ve had a salty schedule," is how Broncos coach John Fox has put it -- and the 49ers (4-2) own the only win against the Dallas Cowboys this season and have won three in a row.

ESPN's 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss the matchup:

Legwold: Paul, it seems, at least from the outside, like there has been plenty of turmoil this season with reports 49ers players are tuning Jim Harbaugh out and that Harbaugh won’t return after this season. What’s the mood in the locker room? And how do you think Harbaugh interacts with the team?

Gutierrez: It’s important to note that most, if not all, of these reports have come from national reporters, particularly from a certain league-owned media outlet. And to the conspiracy theorist in me, that means the leaks are coming from within the 49ers and above Harbaugh’s pay grade. As I’ve said before, Harbaugh likes to make his players uncomfortable because he believes that brings out the best in them. I wonder if that same mentality is being thrust upon Harbaugh’s coaching skills. As far as the locker room goes, to a man and on the record, the players say they have Harbaugh’s back, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick saying he would go to "war" with his coach. And technically, Harbaugh still has a year left on his deal. It’s just that talks of extension have been tabled until after the season. It has made for a wild ride thus far, no doubt, and Harbaugh has made a point to wander through the locker room to chat with players during media access periods during the week.

Speaking of bedside manner, Fox has been seen as a folksy players' coach from yesteryear, at least, to the outsider. How much of his personality has rubbed off on the players, and is that a reason the Broncos have been able to shake off the sting of last February’s Super Bowl disaster?

Legwold: When Fox missed four games last season because of heart valve surgery, the word most of the players, as well as the coaches on Fox’s staff, used to describe what was missing while Fox was away was "energy." Those who have worked with him say Fox’s greatest attribute, beyond the on-field work, is giving those in the organization the belief their job is an important part of the process, no matter where the job fits within the organization. Yes, the Broncos have won plenty of games along the way, and having Peyton Manning at quarterback is a spectacular starting point for any head coach, but Fox has support in the locker room, in the executive offices, and a contract extension signed this past offseason. That said, he has also been the guy in charge when the Broncos have come up short, and in the case of the Super Bowl, 35 points short.

Moving toward the field, how have the 49ers' wide receivers helped Kaepernick?

Gutierrez: At first, it was a hot mess. The 49ers seemed to forget they were a team built on a power running game, and Kaepernick looked out of sorts with all of the shiny toys at his disposal, with Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd joining Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin as wideouts, and tight end Vernon Davis. Then, about Week 4, the 49ers rediscovered their identity behind running back Frank Gore and, voila, the passing game blossomed. This past week, Kaepernick threw three touchdown passes to three different wideouts without an interception. Crabtree might be his favorite receiver, and Lloyd has become his most explosive down the left sideline, but Boldin is his Mr. Dependable underneath. It is, without a doubt, helping Kaepernick’s maturation process. Especially since there does not seem to be any selfishness going on with the receivers. Just healthy competition. At least, that’s how it looks when the team is winning.

Manning, meanwhile, does not seem to have missed a beat after losing receivers Eric Decker to the New York Jets and Wes Welker to injury. Is Manning simply so good that he elevates the play of those around him, or is it a scheme thing in Denver?

Legwold: In all that Manning has done in his career, the fact he has lifted his play to its current level following spinal fusion surgery in 2011 -- his fourth neck surgery -- is a remarkable achievement. The guy has started 37 games for the Broncos and thrown 107 touchdown passes in those games. The offense was built for him; he runs it with complete freedom to change any call to any play at any time. And at this stage of his career, with his work habits, he might think the game better than anyone who has played the position. But all of that said, there is a perfect-storm effect in Denver as well. Adam Gase is an innovative risk-taker as an offensive coordinator who paid his coaching dues to earn his spot. Receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are elite players, Welker is routinely called the best slot receiver in the NFL by opposing coaches, and in his time with Manning, Emmanuel Sanders will go from a player folks thought was pretty good to Pro Bowl worthy. So Manning has been very good for the Broncos, and the Broncos, with Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway calling the personnel shots for the team, have built a quality landing spot for Manning.

Some teams have been aggressive coming after Manning with the blitz, like the Cardinals, while the Jets consistently dropped eight into coverage last weekend. How do you think the 49ers will approach it?

Gutierrez: Let’s just say, both ways. Yes, the 49ers brought the house against the St. Louis Rams’ Austin Davis, sacking him five times (the total doubled the 49ers’ season sack total to 10) and pressuring him on 44 percent of his dropbacks (a season high for the 49ers), but, as you know, Manning loves it when teams blitz him. His 2.25-second release is the second best in the league, again, per our friends at ESPN Stats & Info. Yet, his 92.8 total rating when not pressured since joining Denver in 2012 is the league’s best, and the 49ers rank 23rd in pressure percentage. So yeah, the best way to affect Manning is by bringing pressure. Just pick your poison in doses, I guess, right? What might make it all a moot point is the potential loss of All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who injured a toe Monday night. We’re talking about a linebacker corps already missing the suspended Aldon Smith and the recuperating NaVorro Bowman.

Manning, who needs two touchdown passes to tie Brett Favre's career record (508), always comes across as disinterested in records and his legacy. But surely, holding the passing touchdown record would mean something to him, right? How important do you think holding the mark would be to him?

Legwold: This is all something he will have to get used to as many of these records approach, especially if he plays one or two more seasons following this one. Certainly his legacy is important to him, but it gets lost sometimes because he is so competitive. People talk about his intellect and his ability to digest information and recall things he has seen in his career. But it would be impossible to play as many consecutive games as he played before his spinal fusion surgery kept him out of the 2011 season (208 consecutive regular-season games) and to push himself as hard as he does if he were not one of the most competitive people in the game. So, in that vein he wants Super Bowls and knows his career clock is winding down. So, though the records will be something he respects, and at some point enjoys, his desire to play for a Super Bowl champion trumps everything right now, including the touchdown mark.

Frank Gore: 'I can't talk right now'

September, 21, 2014
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the San Francisco 49ers 23-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium:
  • Gore
    Amid a stunned and silent locker room, running back Frank Gore, the 49ers’ longest-tenured position player, had little to say after the loss. He paused for up to 10 seconds between questions before offering no answers. Finally, he waved off the media horde and said, "I can’t talk right now. Sorry." Then he buried his head in his hands. Gore had 10 yards rushing on six carries, and rookie Carlos Hyde carried the ball three times for 13 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown.
  • Receiver Anquan Boldin owned his unnecessary roughness penalty for head-butting Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (Boldin got away with a similar action in the playoffs the past season against Carolina’s Mike Mitchell), but was quite steamed at the disparity and timing of penalties -- San Francisco was flagged nine times for 107 yards; the Cardinals drew five flags for 36 yards. "If you look at it, it’s unbelievable," he said. "We’ll send the tape into the league, and they’ll say, 'We made a mistake.' But [Arizona] got 30 yards down the field (on those calls), and some were coming at crucial times ... if you’re going to call it, call it both ways." Boldin can probably expect a FedEx folder with a letter for a fine at his locker this week.
  • Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, again rocking his big-lens sunglasses inside, shifted his stance again in the wake of a report that he used the "N-word" last week, which got him a penalty for "inappropriate language" and a fine of $11,025. After saying last week, "I didn’t say anything," he said he did not say anything "racially deragotory" to Lamarr Houston. Pressed on the issue, Kaepernick then said, "I talk on the football field -- yes, I do." It cast a pall over an already dour locker room.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh broke out his thesaurus on Wednesday when talking about 12th-year receiver Anquan Boldin.

"Stalwart," Harbaugh offered.

Boldin
Wait, what?

Yes, Boldin, who has come back from a fractured face on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Eric Smith in 2008, is considered one of the toughest pass catchers in the game today. And you could say he has become quarterback Colin Kaepernick's most dependable target.

In the 49ers' 28-17 season-opening victory at the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, Boldin caught eight of the nine passes thrown his way by Kaepernick, for 99 yards.

So how, again, did Harbaugh come up with "stalwart" to describe Boldin?

"Strong," Harbaugh said. "Brave. I know there are a lot of definitions. It's a medieval term, but I like all of the definitions. I like all of the words that define ‘stalwart.'"

Indeed, the 6-foot-1, 220-pound second-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2003, thrives in the slot as he begins his second year with the 49ers after spending the previous three seasons with Harbaugh's brother John in Baltimore.

And Kaepernick by the way, was more succinct in describing Boldin.

"Great," he said. And that was it.

But Boldin had his own thoughts on how the 49ers offense in general performed last week after an offseason of drama.

"It felt really good to get back to what we love to do and just play the game of football," he said after the game. "We played OK. We didn't play our best football. But that's part of it when you have a lot of different pieces in for guys that are injured and a lot of new faces."

Maybe that's what Harbaugh meant when he pulled the "stalwart" card.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Three San Francisco 49ers players appear in the #ESPNRank project between Nos. 60 and 51 among offensive players. That part of the rankings was released Friday.

Crabtree
Iupati
Boldin
Receiver Anquan Boldin was No. 54, a year after being No. 83.

“Boldin led the NFL in third-down receptions (33), receiving yards (529) and first downs (529) last season,” according to ESPN Stats & Info. “His 1,179 receiving yards in 2013 were the most by a 49er since Terrell Owens in 2002.”

Left guard Mike Iupati was No. 53 (he was 32nd last year) and receiver Michael Crabtree was No. 51, improving from No. 78.

“Crabtree’s drop percentage has gone down each year of his career (3.2 percent last season),” ESPN Stats & Information wrote. “He averaged a career-high 7.0 yards after the catch (per reception) last season despite coming off an Achilles injury.”

Other 49ers players already listed: right tackle Anthony Davis, who was No. 81 among offensive players. Strong safety Antoine Bethea (No. 97), linebacker Ahmad Brooks (No. 74) and free safety Eric Reid (No. 71) are in the rankings of defensive players so far.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With his résumé and skill set, Stevie Johnson has the credentials to be a No. 1 receiver on many teams in the NFL. So yeah, there's a reason the San Francisco 49ers acquired him in a draft-day trade.

It's just that with Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin already on the roster, Johnson being Colin Kaepernick's go-to guy was not the team's motive when it shipped a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft to the Buffalo Bills for him.

Johnson
Rather, Johnson was brought in for depth and he is competing with Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton and fourth-round draft pick Bruce Ellington to be the 49ers' third receiver, even if they seldom used three-wideout sets last season.

“I'm pretty sure everybody already knows the bulk of it will be with Crab and Boldin,” Johnson said Wednesday. “So we're just fitting in right after them.”

In fact, to make his case more appealing, Johnson has worked at all three receiver spots in camp.

“[I'm] not necessarily thinking who's going to be out there in certain personnel [groups],” he said, “just, whenever you get your opportunity, let's make it work. Because that's what we're all thinking. We have a lot of great players, a lot of good players that can make plays.

“Everybody can't be on the field at once. So there's going to be times when you're called upon and just, hopefully, you show up.”

That's exactly what Johnson, a seventh-round draft choice of the Bills out of Kentucky in 2008, did with three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons from 2010 to 2012. That's something not even Hall of Famer Andre Reed did in 15 years with the Bills.

Johnson averaged 79 catches, 1,041 yards and eight TD catches in those years, before missing four games last season and finishing with 52 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think we definitely understand how he can fit in," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said of Johnson. “I really believe ... that we just need to keep working to develop the level of chemistry that we want.

“Really happy to have Stevie and I think he'll bring a lot to the table. Have a good feel for his skill set. I love his energy out there and just us as a unit need to continue to work every day to develop that chemistry.”

49ers practice report

August, 20, 2014
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Before being pulled off Levi’s Stadium’s loose grass field less than an hour after practice began by coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers did go through the paces for a bit in front of a couple thousand fans.

A few highlights, then, of the 49ers' final public practice.
  • Wide receiver Michael Crabtree was still not in attendance, as he was in Texas the day before for the birth of his son Michael III.
  • Even before the public practice was cut short, the poor condition of the field was obvious, from divots flying out when players made cuts to the discolored spots in the middle of the field. And if Bruce Ellington tweaking his right ankle in a one-on-one drill with cornerback Chris Culliver was not proof enough, then Stevie Johnson taking a spill untouched on an out pattern at the goal line and jerking his left leg sealed it.
  • Phil Dawson, one of the more accurate kickers in NFL history, continued to work on his craft after missing a pair of field goals in Sunday’s 34-0 exhibition loss to the Denver Broncos by kicking numerous field goals. If Andy Lee was not holding, then Dawson had a metal holder in his place so he could work solo.
  • Ellington, LaMichael James and veteran Anquan Boldin were the three players fielding punts.
  • Cornerback Tramaine Brock picked off McLeod Bethel-Thompson on a pass intended for David Reed on the right sideline and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown.
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Bill Williamson examines the three biggest issues facing the San Francisco 49ers heading into training camp.

The holdouts: The 49ers, fresh off three straight trips to the NFC title game and seemingly poised for another long postseason run, have the weathered many storms this offseason.

Yes, there are some issues that still linger. The 49ers do not know if tight end Vernon Davis and/or guard Alex Boone will continue their holdouts into training camp.

Both players stayed away from voluntary workouts, and then became official holdouts when they did not report to mandatory minicamp last month.

Both Davis and Boone want a new deal. There are indications Boone will stay away until he gets a new contract. Davis has wavered, but he could also miss a chunk of camp.

Both players are key to the offense and would be missed. The 49ers would have to rely on youth at both spots if the holdouts linger. Vance McDonald would play for Davis and Joe Looney would play for Boone. Neither player is the caliber of the player they’d replace.

Aldon Smith: The 49ers head to training camp not completely sure of the future of the standout pass-rusher. The 49ers are set to start training camp next Wednesday. Two days later, Smith is set to be sentenced for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face some jail time.

He could also be facing an NFL suspension. If Smith is out, the 49ers will need to find some more pass-rush help, and that’s what training camp will be for. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier helped the 49ers go 5-0 last season when Smith was in a treatment center. The team also drafted Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. If these players show a pass-rush burst in camp, that will make the 49ers feel better about the prospect of playing a long chunk without Smith.

New firepower: The 49ers have big potential on offense. Training camp and the preseason will be a time for the unit to gel and figure out the best approach to use all of the talent. The receiving crew is beefed up with addition of Stevie Johnson, through a trade with Buffalo, veteran Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington.

The depth of this season’s receiving group is light years ahead of last year’s unit. The thought of Johnson being the No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree is silly. Ellington, a South Carolina product, gives the 49ers an element they missed last season -- a burner who can take the top of the defense.

At running back -- the heart of the 49ers’ offense is still the ground attack -- Frank Gore will have second-round pick Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore, who appears to be healthy after missing last season while recovering from a 2012 torn ACL.

Hyde has looked great as a runner and receiver in the offseason. The second-round pick from Ohio State has a chance to make a big impact.

All of these new weapons of course, should help the overall game of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is entering his second full season as a starter.

The 49ers have big capabilities on offense, but the real work begins now.

49ers offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the San Francisco 49ers' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeStevie Johnson
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThe 49ers added depth to their receiving corps by acquiring Stevie Johnson.
Best move: Making offense a priority. The 49ers' re-signed receiver Anquan Boldin and kicker Phil Dawson in a free agency in which they signed only two outside veterans. During the draft, they added veteran receiver Stevie Johnson in a trade with the Buffalo Bills, then drafted a tumbling Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the second round. This offense now has a lot of firepower. These moves really solidified the unit.

Riskiest move: Change in the secondary. The 49ers will have three new starters in the secondary after seeing safety Donte Whitner and cornerback Tarell Brown leave in free agency and after cutting Carlos Rogers. Whitner was the only one the 49ers had interest in keeping, but he was too pricey. The 49ers made a nice move of bringing in a comparable player -- safety Antoine Bethea from the Colts. Chris Culliver, who was injured in 2013, and first-round pick Jimmie Ward will play in the nickel. I think these changes should work well, especially since the meat of the 49ers' defense is the front seven. But when there are such wholesale changes, it's a question mark.

Most surprising move: Making 12 draft picks. The 49ers entered the draft with 11 picks, but with few needs. Yet the 49ers ended up with 12, which was tied for most in the NFL. I don't think more than seven or eight of the draft picks have a chance to make this stacked roster. Of course, the 49ers took a few injured players to stash, which only helps the entire program. It's difficult to imagine a deeper team than San Francisco in the league.

Receiver depth: I cannot emphasize this enough -- it's stunning how much depth the 49ers now have at receiver when compared to last season. With Michael Crabtree hurt for much of the year, the 49ers received virtually no production from the position other than from Boldin. Now, the 49ers are loaded at with Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson, second-year player Quinton Patton (who missed much of the season with a broken foot) and speedy fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington. This is the biggest difference on the team.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Many thought heading the San Francisco 49ers would trade way up in the first round of the draft to acquire a stud receiver.

Events did not unfold that way but the 49ers receiving crew is now loaded.

After trading a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick to Buffalo for veteran Stevie Johnson on Friday, the 49ers took South Carolina speedster Bruce Ellington with the sixth pick of the fourth round.

Just as running back Carlos Hyde, center Marcus Martin and linebacker Chris Borland were Friday, Ellington was considered a high value choice. Some scouts thought he’d go in the second round.

Ellington gives the 49ers blazing speed from a receiver, the one thing they appeared to be lacking.

With Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, the 49ers have plenty of veterans who will get open. Now, they can design packages to leverage Ellington’s speed. Second-year receiver Quinton Patton also came on strong late in the season.

It now appears highly unlikely Brandon Lloyd, who signed earlier this offseason with a team-friendly deal, will make the team. He doesn’t play special teams. If the team keeps six receivers, special teams ace Kassim Osgood should stick.

The Ellington pick could also affect running back LaMichael James. Ellington can return kicks and punts, the main ability James offered. General manager Trent Baalke reiterated Friday night that the team wanted to keep James, but Ellington's selection may have changed that situation.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers -- the power brokers of the 2014 draft as they entered with a league-high six picks in the first three rounds -- did their thing Friday night. It was one big, messy, impossible-to-follow cluster of picks.

But once the second day screeched to a stop, some clarity was achieved: The 49ers’ offense has gotten a lot more powerful.

After shocking the league by taking hard-hitting safety Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois at No. 30 to play nickel cornerback (their biggest need), the 49ers acquired veteran receiver Stevie Johnson from Buffalo in the hours before the draft. That move clearly warmed up general manager Trent Baalke. After making three trades in the second round, Baalke landed one of the premier skill-position players available in the second round in Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.

In all, Baalke made four trades Friday and acquired Johnson from Buffalo for a conditional fourth-round pick. Baalke’s moves Friday night netted the 49ers a fourth-round pick from Denver, so they essentially got Johnson for free.

The 49ers added Johnson and Hyde to an offense that seemed to be missing just one extra ingredient in 2013.

San Francisco, riding one of the NFL’s most rugged defenses to become an elite franchise again, struggled on offense before Michael Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles last December. His return made quarterback Colin Kaepernick, in his first full season as a starter, a much more confident, dangerous player down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Last season ended in Seattle with Kaepernick's intended pass to Crabtree in the end zone in the final seconds of a wild NFC title game being deflected and intercepted. The year before, the 49ers’ offense was just yards away from a Super Bowl victory.

San Francisco hopes the addition of the steady Johnson and the rugged Hyde will be enough to get them those last few yards to their first Super Bowl title in 20 years.

Instead of dipping into a deep receiver class, the 49ers jumped at Johnson, who became expendable after Buffalo selected Sammy Watkins on Thursday.

Add Johnson to an arsenal that includes Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis and Kaepernick should always have someone open. It should also help free Kaepernick to run.

The Hyde pick was a reminder the 49ers are run-first operation. The 49ers’ blueprint is to grind down opposing defenses with a mauling offensive line. The engine of that attack has been the venerable Frank Gore, who quietly has strung together a potential Hall of Fame career in San Francisco. But Gore turns 31 next week and he’s entering the final season of his contract.

The 49ers are paying Gore $6.4 million in 2014. They still believe in him. But Hyde and 2013 four-round pick Marcus Lattimore are the future. Hyde will get a chance to play now.

Hyde fits the Gore mold. He is 6 feet, 230 pounds. Hyde, who averaged 7.3 yards a carry and 3.1 yards after contact last season, described his running style as “violent.”

“He was the highest-rated player on our board,” Baalke said. “He’s more than just a power back.”

The 49ers are counting on Johnson and Hyde to propel the 49ers’ offense past Seattle’s Super Bowl defense.
It’s no secret that the San Francisco 49ers are a strong candidate to draft a wide receiver early.

The position is one of the team’s few needs. They have looked at receivers throughout free agency, and there is a report that the team is trying to arrange a visit with receiver DeSean Jackson, who is, by far, the best receiver currently on the market.

So, it’s not a surprise that, in this Insider piece, ESPN draft analyst Kevin Weidl identifies the 49ers Insider as one of the teams who most need to address the receiver position in the draft. Here is what Weidl had to say about the 49ers’ needs:
[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesThe 49ers would offer a low-pressure environment for Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant.
The Niners were able to work out a two-year deal to keep WR Anquan Boldin in San Francisco. Combined with Michael Crabtree, San Francisco has a pair of strong, reliable pass-catchers on the perimeter. However, there is a need to add a receiver who can pose a legitimate vertical threat outside the hashes. This not only would take pressure off Boldin and Crabtree but also free up TE Vernon Davis, who is one of the top pass-catchers at the position in the league.

With six picks within the top 100, general manager Trent Baalke will have plenty of draft options in May. Baalke can address the depth along the defensive line or take a cornerback with the 30th pick in the first round and still have plenty of ammunition to find a receiver on Day 2.

San Francisco has three picks in the third round, and Clemson's Martavis Bryant is an intriguing fit at that point. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound receiver has a loose, flexible frame and the speed to stretch the field vertically. He wasn't an ideal fit within Clemson's offense, has dealt with drops and comes with some immaturity concerns. However, his flashes on tape and upside are hard to ignore.

I've said for a few months that Bryant compares favorably to the late Chris Henry, who was a receiver for the Bengals. Much like Henry, who was a vertical complement to Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the late 2000s, Bryant could serve in a similar role to Boldin and Crabtree.

This would be an ideal situation for Bryant to land. He won't have the pressure of stepping in as a No. 2 receiver right away, which could end in him disappointing a team that drafts him earlier with those types of expectations. In this scenario, Bryant would have time to develop and mature while providing strong-armed quarterback Colin Kaepernick with a vertical threat on the perimeter.

Other Day 2 options for San Francisco could include Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin (should he fall), Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews and Rutgers' Brandon Coleman, who currently sits with a fringe Day 2 grade.

Weidl is right. The position is stacked and the 49ers have options. Somewhere early, they will be able to address the position. In another Insider piece, Todd McShay looks at some draft prospects who could fit on the 49ers’ defensive line. Insider

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