NFC West: Jason Michael

Finding next home for 49ers' Alex Smith

February, 19, 2013
In eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith has played for three head coaches, seven offensive coordinators and six quarterbacks coaches (seven if you count Pep Hamilton, who helped Jim Hostler coach the position in 2006).

These many associations would seem to increase exponentially the number of likely landing spots for Smith as a free agent or trade candidate this offseason.

A closer look suggests that might not be the case.

Smith's connections with former head coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary would actually deter reunions. Neither would be in position to push for landing Smith, anyway. Nolan's Atlanta Falcons don't need a quarterback.

Former 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner could potentially need a quarterback in Cleveland. The team's other former Smith-era coordinators wouldn't be in position to help. Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers are obviously set at the position. Mike Martz is a color commentator for Fox. Hostler coaches wide receivers for the Joe Flacco-led Baltimore Ravens. Jimmy Raye worked last season as a senior offensive assistant with Tampa Bay. Michael Johnson was out of the NFL.

Hostler and Johnson were also among the Smith-era quarterbacks coaches in San Francisco. Another, Frank Cignetti, coaches the position for the Sam Bradford-led St. Louis Rams. Another, Ted Tollner, is no longer coaching. Another, Jason Michael, coaches tight ends for the Philip Rivers-led San Diego Chargers. Hamilton, meanwhile, is offensive coordinator for the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts.

Even a run through former position coaches for the 49ers' receivers, tight ends and offensive line turns up more dead ends than fresh leads. Former tight ends coach Pete Hoener coaches the position for the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. Former line coach Chris Foerster coaches the position for the Robert Griffin III-led Washington Redskins. Another former line coach, George Warhop, is with Turner in Cleveland.

The 49ers' longtime former receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, coaches the same position for Jacksonville. New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley would be familiar with Smith from his days coordinating the Seattle Seahawks' defense. But Jacksonville would make much greater sense as a landing spot for Smith if the 49ers' current offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, had become the Jaguars' head coach. That had been the expectation until the 49ers' deep playoff run complicated efforts to hire Roman.

There still could be a market for Smith, of course. But in a league built on connections and relationships, it's tough to find many likely to influence where Smith winds up next season. That is partly because the 49ers have kept together their current staff under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The coaches most closely associated with Smith's recent revival remain under contract to the team. That was great for Smith when he was starting, but it won't help him find his next job.

Around the NFC West: Faneca shows value

September, 15, 2010
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic credits Alan Faneca for much of the Cardinals' success running the ball against the Rams in Week 1. Somers: "At 33, he proved he's still agile enough to pull and be an effective lead blocker. By my count, Faneca pulled on 9 of the 20 called runs (Derek Anderson scrambled once). He pulled both right and left. When he pulled left, the tight end and tackle Levi Brown blocked down. On those nine plays, the Cardinals gained 78 yards and scored a touchdown. A disclaimer: I'm not saying Faneca was responsible for all those yards. Other good blocks were made, and running backs Tim Hightower and LaRod Stephens-Howling made good reads. But Faneca hit someone on almost every one of those plays." Meanwhile, right tackle Brandon Keith struggled against Chris Long.

Also from Somers: Arizona is vastly different at receiver. How different? Practice-squad wideout Tim Brown occupies Anquan Boldin's old locker.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic offers a Q-and-A transcript featuring Steve Breaston. Breaston on the Cardinals' sharpest dresser: "Adrian Wilson. He looks like he's in a Grey Poupon commercial every time he walks into a place. . . . He can pull off the suit thing and still style it up in a T-shirt. He looks fresh." Breaston on pregame meals: "In the morning, I go with the sausage-egg McMuffin from McDonald's. If we have a later game, I go with the double cheeseburger meal. It's not on the menu, but it's there. It's about $4.58."

Darren Urban of explains the origins of Breaston's inclusion in the "Backpack Boys" club.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have had trade talks in their efforts to acquire a backup running back. Also: "The Rams signed former New York Giants tight end Darcy Johnson to the active roster, releasing defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo to free up a roster spot."

Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says ratings were up for the Rams' opener, presumably thanks to Sam Bradford. Looks like attendance was down, however.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts Bradford's 55-attempt debut in perspective by pointing out that 21 of those attempts came during two-minute situations.

Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports says the 49ers' communication problems stem from procedural changes the team made since last season. Cole: "In Singletary’s first full season last year, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye, one of the more respected veteran coaches in the league, was calling plays from the coach’s box upstairs. Raye would call plays down to offensive assistant Jason Michael, who would then send the play into the quarterback. That system worked effectively even at times when Raye struggled to find exactly the right play or say it exactly the right way. Michael, who worked closely with Raye, was good at filling the gaps in communication. However, one of the problems created by the Raye-Michael relationship was that it began to alienate quarterback coach Mike Johnson, whose involvement in building the game plan had diminished. In addition, some players began to resent Raye’s tendency to blame them if things went wrong. As a result, several players went to Singletary this offseason to complain about Raye and the overall situation. Singletary’s solution was to change the mechanics of how the plays were sent in. He replaced Michael, who is still on staff, with Johnson in the play-calling process. On Sunday, that became a problem because Johnson couldn’t decipher what Raye was saying during tense moments when the Seattle crowd was making noise. Singletary was seen several times yelling at Johnson on the sideline when plays didn’t get relayed in a timely fashion." There's no excuse for having the sorts of problems the 49ers are having. This is basic stuff. Either the 49ers fix this problem by Week 2 or the coaching staff is going to have a hard time recouping credibility.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at the 49ers' receiver situation now that Ted Ginn Jr. is injured.

Clare Farnsworth of says coach Pete Carroll is looking forward to the challenge of performing in a hostile environment. Carroll on playing at Denver: "It will be very difficult for us. The thing that we want to learn how to do is how to carry our game on the road. That’s important for us. We need a game like this at this time. We need to figure this part out. And it might as well be as tough as it gets, like it is in Denver."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Max Unger finished the regular-season opener despite a toe injury, but he's finished for the season. O'Neil: "Mansfield Wrotto took Unger's spot on the roster. Wrotto was re-signed Tuesday a little more than one week after Seattle cut him. Wrotto was a fourth-round draft choice of Seattle in 2007, and though he played tackle in training camp, he is expected to be a guard." Losing Unger hurts depth, but it's not a crushing blow, in my view. Getting Chester Pitts back from knee surgery remains important for the long term, however.

Also from O'Neil: Raheem Brock is still finding his bearings in Seattle (the former Colts lineman couldn't find the team hotel Saturday night).

Greg Johns of says Brock was a factor against the 49ers.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks are plus-one in turnover differential. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck: "It’s a huge emphasis. I'm really just following Pete’s lead on that. That’s what is most sacred to him. So all of us that get to touch the ball, that’s got to be what’s most sacred to us."
David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says Ted Ginn Jr. showed good ability in practice Tuesday, a reminder why the 49ers acquired him. White: "Seventy-four percent of quarterback Alex Smith's pass attempts were for 10 or fewer yards. His 6.3 yards per attempt ranked 24th in the NFL. He simply had no deep help outside of tight end Vernon Davis. It hasn't come from Jason Hill, the 40-yard-dash wonder with 40 catches over three seasons. And it didn't come from Ashley Lelie or Bryant Johnson during their stints with the Niners. Johnson enjoyed mild success, but only as a No. 3-type role player."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat profiles 49ers fullback Brit Miller, who is trying to unseat veteran Moran Norris. Overwhelmed as a rookie trying to attain standards set by running backs coach Tom Rathman, Miller says he's more comfortable in his second training camp. Miller: "When you're not used to Rathman, I mean he can do that to you. Because he expects perfection. But now I already know what he's gonna say before he says it. ... And it's a little more comforting coming into camp having an idea what to do, and not guessing, not getting nervous in the huddle, and just going out and playing ball."

Also from Barber: 49ers camp notes, including one about tight end Vernon Davis challenging defensive teammates to "come and get some" after he dispatched linebacker Ahmad Brooks in the nutcracker drill.

Matt Maiocco of says Davis struggled some in pass protection. He was referring to rookie tackle Anthony Davis, not tight end Vernon Davis, who ranks among the better pass protectors on the team.

Also from Maiocco: a new role for quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson. Maiocco: "Quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson is getting his first taste of relaying the plays, via radio, to the quarterbacks. Last season, offensive assistant Jason Michael handled those duties because he and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye worked together previously for three seasons with the New York Jets and Raiders. Raye said he is trying to figure out which system works best. Raye said he will likely decide which assistant will be on the radio hookup with himself and the quarterbacks after the second exhibition game."

More from Maiocco: Glen Coffee laments his 2.7-yard rookie rushing average.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says some of the 49ers' younger players benefit when the team gives veterans practices off. Barrows: "The 49ers also must groom several young players at safety, primarily Reggie Smith, Curtis Taylor and Taylor Mays. Smith has been getting all of Lewis' first-team repetitions the last two practices while Mays and Taylor have composed the second-string group. Taylor and Chris Maragos have made up the third-string safety tandem. Again, Lewis doesn't need the repetitions, so the coaching staff is giving them to younger players."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says rookie guard Mike Iupati is well-suited for nutcracker drills. Kawakami: "Generally, Iupati wreaked havoc whenever he was out there, except in one pass-block drill, when veteran defensive end Justin Smith got the jump off the outside edge and sent Iupati twisting backward."

Taylor Price of passes along this Ginn-related quote from Raye: "His presence on the field demands that you have to make a decision about how many you want to commit to the run, from a coverage standpoint. We certainly think that he gives us something defensively that you have to figure out when he’s on the field."

Also from Price: Chilo Rachal was treated for dehydration after collapsing at practice.

Note: I'm giving each team its own Around the NFC West post given the volume of material early in camps. More to come.

Sizing up NFC West coaching staffs

February, 4, 2010
MIAMI -- With the Seahawks announcing their 2010 coaching staff, I went through every NFC West team's staff to produce a chart allowing for easy comparison.

It's pretty clear the Cardinals do more with less than the other teams in the division. They have fewer assistants than the other teams in the NFC West.

In most cases, I have recreated official titles for each assistant coach. That explains why the Cardinals have no offensive coordinator listed (Russ Grimm coordinates the running game, Mike Miller coordinates the passing game and Ken Whisenhunt calls the plays). I did not create a special category for 49ers receivers coach Jerry Sullivan (he also carries the title senior assistant). Seattle's Carroll is also executive vice president. I did not create an extra category to reflect that title.

I have listed no offensive line coach for the Cardinals. Grimm handles those duties. The 49ers do not list a defensive quality control coach, but clearly someone must break down the upcoming opponents' offensive video (I am checking to see which assistant handles those duties). Update: Outside linebackers coach Jason Tarver handles those duties. Also, I updated the chart to reflect Curtis Modkins' departure from the Cardinals to become Buffalo's offensive coordinator. Ray Brown is the new assistant offensive line coach in San Francisco.

The Rams are expected to hire a receivers coach after Charlie Baggett left. They could hire an assistant offensive line coach to replace Art Valero, who took the same job with Seattle. The 49ers might need to find a new offensive quality-control coach (Shane Day is interviewing with the Bears to coach quarterbacks for Mike Martz).

The Rams and Seahawks list special assistants to the head coach. These are largely administrative positions.