NFC West: Randy Moss

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- One of the most intriguing players currently on the San Francisco 49ers' roster is third-year receiver Jon Baldwin.

It appears Baldwin is getting his chance to play significant minutes and perhaps start. Baldwin made his San Francisco debut in Week 4 at St. Louis, when he had two catches for 19 yards. Baldwin will be at the top of the rotation with rookie Quinton Patton out 4-6 weeks with a broken foot. Patton was the No. 2 receiver before getting hurt at St. Louis.

With Mario Manningham out with an injury for another month or so and Michael Crabtree likely out until December, the 49ers need some help and Baldwin will get a chance. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was complimentary of Baldwin after the Rams’ game.

Baldwin was acquired by the 49ers in August from Kansas City in exchange for fellow former first-round pick A.J. Jenkins. Baldwin, the No. 26 overall pick in 2011, had a total of 41 catches for the Chiefs.

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said he thinks Baldwin could develop in this system if he can improve his consistency. That was his biggest issue in Kansas City. He was terrific in practice, but often disappeared in games. Now that he is getting his chance in San Francisco, Baldwin has to show he came be a factor in the NFL.

“If the light is going to come on for Baldwin, I will say that it is likely under Harbaugh and in this offense,” Williamson said. “I thought Harbaugh wanted a big-time deep threat (he acquired Moss and then Jenkins last year), but he seems to have gotten away from that mold. I do know that he wants physicality at the position, including being an able run blocker. Baldwin could be effective as a big bodied guy that can do something after the catch and block.”

Baldwin’s opportunity is now. We will see if he can capitalize.

SAN FRANCISCO --– A look at the San Francisco 49ers' 34-28 win over the Green Bay Packers, a Week 1 game which featured playoff intensity.

What it means: It was all about Colin Kaepernick the runner in the pregame hype, but Kaepernick showed he is a passer first. With the read-option in the background, Kaepernick, making his 11th NFL start, threw for a career-high 412 yards. He beat the Packers in the playoffs last season with a quarterback record 181 yards rushing. Kaepernick had 22 yards rushing Sunday. He also found a new receiving toy: Anquan Boldin had 13 catches for 208 yards, with nearly every yard seeming to come in the clutch. With Michael Crabtree out, Boldin -- who came over from Super Bowl foe Baltimore for a sixth-round pick -- could be huge for the 49ers. He and Kaepernick had a huge Week 1. It was the 49ers' third straight win over Green Bay.

Stock watch: Kaepernick found tight end Vernon Davis only six times over the final six games of the 2012 regular season. But Davis heated up in the postseason with 12 catches, and he stayed hot Sunday with six catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Last week, former 49er-turned-analyst Randy Moss said he didn’t see a good chemistry between Kaepernick and Davis last season. Sunday, that seemed to change. Elsewhere, the arrow is points down on cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha after he was routinely beaten by Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson. Asomugha was a star in Oakland as recently as 2010. He signed a big deal in Philadelphia two years ago but has fallen off. He was the No. 3 cornerback Sunday, but may not stay in that position long.

Chippy day: Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews joked he and Kaepernick did not go out to lunch when they crossed paths this offseason. I don’t think that will change. Matthews hit Kaepernick on his way out of bounds before 49ers left tackle Joe Staley came up to defend his quarterback. The two started a spirited bout and yellow flags flew. Matthews later got in Kaepernick’s face after a sack. It was great superstar drama and could be a great rivalry for years to come.

What’s next: Another playoff-like matchup. The 49ers travel up to NFC West rival Seattle next Sunday night. This has become one of the best rivalries in football, on and off the field. This season is starting in a hurry for the 49ers.
Earlier in the week, as we discussed how the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game will evolve, ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said that tight end Vernon Davis needs to take on a bigger role.

“Davis has to step up huge and become a true No. 1 receiving option, which he is physically capable of, but few tight ends can make that distinction,” Williamson said.

[+] EnlargeVernon Davis, Colin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertColin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis did not have a good rapport last season, or so says Randy Moss.
Williamson’s thoughts are now shared by Randy Moss. The new Fox Sports analyst – who spent last season in the 49ers' offense – said in a conference call (via Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group) that he didn’t think Davis had a great on-field rapport with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick took over the quarterback job last season and sparked the 49ers all the way to the Super Bowl. Still, Moss, who is astute and opinionated when he wants to be, is skeptical.

“From my time there last year, it didn’t seem Kaepernick and Vernon Davis had a rapport. They haven’t shown that yet,” Moss said.

Kaepernick and Davis did have a strong connection in the playoffs. In the final six games of the regular season, Davis had just six catches. But in three postseason games he caught 12 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown.

Davis addressed the issue Thursday, saying, "I feel like me and Kaepernick are on a different level than where we were last year."

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t need to hear from analysts and former players. He knows the Kaepernick-Davis connection is paramount, especially with the team's injuries at receiver. It has been a focal point during training camp.

Expect the 49ers to quickly establish chemistry between Kaepernick and Davis moving forward.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

What are the three key camp issues facing each NFC West team?


Offense: Top running backs
Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams have combined for one ruptured patella tendon (Williams), one torn ACL (Mendenhall) and one shoulder surgery (Williams) during the past two seasons. Williams has played five games in two seasons. Mendenhall missed 10 games last season (one to suspension) after returning from his knee injury. So while new quarterback Carson Palmer rightly commands much of the attention heading into camp, the running backs deserve our attention as well.

Defense: Coaching change
The coaching change from Ken Whisenhunt to Bruce Arians cost the Cardinals their defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, just as the defense was gaining momentum. Arizona ranked third behind Chicago and Denver in defensive EPA last season. New coordinator Todd Bowles comes to Arizona after a difficult 2012 season with Philadelphia. Can the Cardinals sustain their recent defensive success under new leadership?

Wild card: Kitchens' health
Quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens underwent emergency heart surgery in early June after experiencing chest pain during practice. Last we heard, Kitchens was recuperating and expected to return sometime during camp, perhaps on a limited basis at first. Kitchens' health is a leading issue for the Cardinals even though the team has enough depth on its coaching staff to cover for him.


Offense: Second-year second-rounders
Two second-round picks from 2012 will help determine the Rams' trajectory on offense. Receiver Brian Quick and running back Isaiah Pead each started one game as a rookie. Quick played 174 snaps and caught 11 passes, two for touchdowns. Pead played 39 snaps and had 10 carries. It's time for both to become meaningful contributors. They should have increased opportunities after St. Louis parted with veterans at their positions.

Defense: Rookie safety T.J. McDonald
The Rams will want to get McDonald up to speed quickly. They did sign veteran Matt Giordano for insurance, but McDonald, a third-round choice from USC, is the player they envision in the lineup. Coach Jeff Fisher has experience putting rookie safeties into the lineup right away. Tank Williams started all 16 games as a rookie under Fisher with Tennessee in 2002. Michael Griffin started 10 games as a rookie under Fisher with the Titans in 2007. Williams was a second-round choice. Griffin was a first-rounder.

Wild card: O-line health
The Rams are young just about everywhere except along their offensive line. That's OK as long as those veterans avoid some of the injury troubles they've suffered in recent seasons. Left tackle Jake Long has had two arm surgeries the past two seasons. Right guard Harvey Dahl is coming off a torn biceps. Center Scott Wells has had two surgeries on his right knee, plus a broken foot, in the past year and a half. Tackle Rodger Saffold has had a torn pectoral and a neck injury since late in the 2011 season. The group should be healthy going into camp. Will the good health last?


Offense: Developing wideouts
Eight wide receivers have played in games for the 49ers during two seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh. The list -- Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr., Josh Morgan, Braylon Edwards and Brett Swain -- includes zero players the team drafted and developed under Harbaugh. The team will be looking to develop young wideouts A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette while Crabtree and Manningham recover from serious injuries. Jenkins and Patton were draft choices under Harbaugh. Lockette was signed last season.

Defense: Roles on the D-line
General manager Trent Baalke has suggested the team could stand to expand its rotation on the defensive line. How will that play out once the 49ers are on the field and the coaching staff takes over? What role will newcomer Glenn Dorsey play to that end? Starters Justin Smith and Ray McDonald could benefit from a little more rest now and then. They rank among the NFL leaders in total regular-season and postseason snaps played in the past couple of seasons. Smith, in particular, is hugely important to the defense's success.

Wild card: Eric Mangini
The coaching staff will have a different feel with Mangini as the new senior offensive consultant. Harbaugh has kept together his staff for two seasons, an upset for a team that has enjoyed so much success on the scoreboard and in scheming. We easily could have credited Harbaugh for staying the course in the name of continuity. Adding a coach with Mangini's profile shakes things up. It'll be interesting to see how Mangini assimilates.


Offense: James Carpenter
Carpenter's health is a key variable for the future of the offensive line. Coach Pete Carroll has indicated Carpenter should be available for the start of training camp after missing nine games last season and seven as a rookie. Drafted to play right tackle, Carpenter's future is at guard if he can get healthy, stay healthy and regain quickness. Having Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung and Pro Bowl center Max Unger flanking a healthy Carpenter would give Seattle a line more like the one Carroll envisioned.

Defense: Cliff Avril's transition
Seattle will be looking to see how pass-rushing defensive ends Avril and Bruce Irvin fit at linebacker as the coaching staff promotes versatility through the front seven. Avril is particularly important in the short term because Irvin faces a four-game suspension to open the season while starting defensive end Chris Clemons continues to rehab from the torn ACL he suffered during the wild-card round last season. Carroll has hinted that Clemons could return in time for the season, but that's a best-case scenario.

Wild card: Keep it clean
All NFL players must submit to testing for performance-enhancing drugs when they report for training camp. That's significant for the Seahawks after Irvin became the fifth Seattle player since 2011 to incur a PED-related suspension. What are the chances another player tests positive?

The San Francisco 49ers did not find room on their 2013 payroll for starters such as Delanie Walker, Dashon Goldson and Isaac Sopoaga. They traded away another recently productive player, Alex Smith, and showed no interest in keeping Randy Moss.

Re-signing mainstay defensive lineman Justin Smith in a deal announced Wednesday might carry additional meaning following so many departures. The two-year extension through 2015 came with strong words of appreciation from general manager Trent Baalke. In a way, the 49ers were reassuring their locker room that the team takes care of its best players, even older ones coming off surgery.

Smith, 33, is already bench-pressing more than 400 pounds -- "over four plates" in Smith's vernacular -- a few months after a procedure to repair his torn triceps. He was previously indestructible during a 185-game starting streak.

The 49ers have consistently re-signed their own players, including right tackle Anthony Davis this offseason. However, planning for the long haul meant making some tough choices. Re-signing Smith, a pillar of the locker room, hits the right note just as players are dispersing until training camp.

As for Smith, who apparently negotiated this deal himself, without an agent, he was typically direct and plainspoken about his future.

"I won’t be a guy that’s around for 10 snaps, 20 snaps," he told reporters. "It’s either I’m going [to be a full-time player] or I’m not going. And when it’s time to get my ass out of here, I’m going. I get a ticket like everybody else, so that’s what I’m doing."
The NFL draft becomes a blur on the final day as teams select lesser-known players one after another.

By the end, it's helpful to take a look at the bigger picture.

The chart above shows which general positions NFC West teams targeted. Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are listed as skill players. The other group names are self-explanatory.

Seattle Seahawks seventh-round pick Jared Smith played defensive tackle at New Hampshire. He will play guard for Seattle. The chart reflects that change. There will be other tweaks and distinctions as we learn more about how teams plan to use players.

A few thoughts initially based on available information:
  • RB picture: NFC West teams loaded up on running backs. That position was already evolving with Steven Jackson's departure from the St. Louis Rams and Beanie Wells' departure from the Arizona Cardinals. Spencer Ware, the running back Seattle selected from LSU in the sixth round, projects at fullback to some extent, coach Pete Carroll said.
  • WR shifts: Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Early Doucet, Randy Moss and Ben Obomanu are among the veteran wide receivers to leave NFC West teams this offseason. The division added Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin before selecting five wideouts in the draft, four in the first four rounds.
  • DT focus: Seattle drafted three players listed as defensive tackles, not counting Smith. No other team in the division drafted one. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters the team could address that position in free agency.
  • Safety numbers: Every team in the division but Seattle needed a safety. The 49ers took Eric Reid in the first round. The Rams took T.J. McDonald early in the third. The Cardinals did not take one, but they plan for early third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu to play a hybrid safety-corner role. Mathieu is listed as a cornerback.
  • Front seven: Think the 49ers wanted to help their front seven, which wore down last season and needs to develop players for the line in future seasons? San Francisco drafted three players listed as defensive ends. Tank Carradine is 275 pounds with versatility. Corey Lemonier, at 255 pounds, is more of an outside linebacker type. Quinton Dial is 318 pounds and a pure lineman.
The St. Louis Rams posted a 4-26 record against NFC West opponents over the five seasons preceding Jeff Fisher's arrival as head coach.

They were 4-1-1 against the NFC West under Fisher in 2012.

The Rams from 2007 through 2011 lost by 11.1 points per game in division play. The final scores for those games were 25-14 on average. Those figures flipped to plus-five points per game with a 20-15 average final score under Fisher.

"Fisher is a heckuva coach," ESPN's Matt Williamson said, "but he is behind two of the top five in the league when it comes to ranking head coaches in the NFC West."

Williamson, who scouts the NFL for, ranked the San Francisco 49ers' Jim Harbaugh first and the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll second as part of his predraft positional rankings for NFC West teams.

We pick up the conversation there.

[+] EnlargeJeff Fisher
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceDespite his 4-1-1 record against the rest of the NFC West last season, Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson ranks him as the third-best coach in the division.
Williamson: You have to put Bruce Arians fourth even though Arizona made a good hire. Fisher vs. Carroll is really the only conversation and I think Fisher has done a good job with the Rams, including the team building aspect. You look at the RGIII trade, building this defensive line. And yet I thought Carroll should have been coach of the year last season.

Sando: We could have made that call on the Russell Wilson move alone. General manager John Schneider was the driving force behind drafting Wilson, but Carroll was the one who decided Wilson should be the starter in Week 1 -- a move I'm not even sure Schneider would have made so quickly. Coaches are under so much scrutiny that it's sometimes easy to make the decisions perceived to be "safest" in the short term. Starting Matt Flynn would have been the "safe" decision last year. It also would have been the wrong one. Carroll trusted what he saw from Wilson and made the call.

Williamson: He also gets the most from his guys. His team building has been phenomenal, starting with all the changes they made as soon as he got there. And then he brought along Wilson extremely well -- just did a phenomenal job there.

Sando: Carroll has admitted some shortcomings in the game-management department. He's called it going "hormonal" with some of his decision making. That is one area where I think he can continue to improve. As far as ranking the best coach in the division, it's tough to argue with the results in San Francisco. Harbaugh and staff have gotten more than anyone could have expected they would get from two completely different quarterbacks. The team has won consecutive division titles, reached two NFC Championship Games and gone to a Super Bowl.

Williamson: I think Harbaugh is the second-best coach in the league behind Bill Belichick. He took over a bad team and was competitive immediately. His offensive mind is off the charts. He got so much from Alex Smith, who I don't think is a very good player. He brought along Colin Kaepernick. They have the most physical and diverse offense. His offensive mind rivals anyone's and meanwhile, they've had the best defense in the league. They've been fortunate with so few defensive injuries, but you can't knock him for that. He was in the Super Bowl last year. He saw that day coming with Kaepernick and he planned for that last season. Randy Moss and A.J. Jenkins and Mario Manningham were not for Alex Smith. Those were all for that day when Kaepernick would start. And meanwhile, he did not hurt himself in the short term until Kaepernick was ready.

Sando: Putting Harbaugh up there with Belichick is high praise. It's interesting, I think, that Belichick enjoyed tremendous success after moving away from Drew Bledsoe, who was the safe choice at quarterback, and moving forward with a less-proven Tom Brady.

[+] EnlargePete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Ben MargotJim Harbaugh (right) and Pete Carroll are arguably two of the top five coaches in the NFL right now.
Williamson: The biggest problem for Seattle and San Francisco is what happens when they have expensive quarterbacks. They have such an advantage right now with great quarterback play costing them nothing. The Patriots won the Super Bowl before Brady was making huge money. There are some parallels that way.

Sando: The Patriots have been awfully close to winning it all more recently, but there's no question it's tougher building a dominant team when the quarterback's contract is eating up considerable cap space. Kaepernick is under contract through 2014, with a chance to renegotiate his current deal following the 2013 season. Wilson is signed through 2015 and cannot renegotiate until after the 2014 season.

Williamson: You're really tested two years from now if you win the Super Bowl and get raided like the Baltimore Ravens did and then have to pay your quarterbacks.

Sando: Fisher inherited a quarterback earning $50 million guaranteed under the old labor deal. Arians inherited Kevin Kolb, whose old contract is eating up $6 million in cap space for 2013 even though Kolb is playing for the Buffalo Bills now. Those situations put Fisher and Arians at a disadvantage.

Williamson: No argument there.

Sando: Overall, I'd say the NFC West is in good hands with two head coaches arguably ranked among the top five in the league, plus Fisher and now Arians, who happens to be the reigning NFL Coach of the Year for his work on an interim basis with Indianapolis last season. We'll revisit this one again following the 2013 season.

2013 UFA counts for NFC West teams

March, 12, 2013
The NFL has released its official list of restricted and unrestricted free agents.

The chart breaks down the UFA counts by team in the NFC West.

A quick look at the lists, which include a couple players who have already reached agreement on new contracts:

Arizona Cardinals

UFA offense (4): D'Anthony Batiste, Pat McQuistan, Rich Ohrnberger, LaRod Stephens-Howling

UFA defense (8): Michael Adams, Nick Eason, Quentin Groves, Vonnie Holliday, Rashad Johnson, Paris Lenon, James Sanders, Greg Toler

RFA: Brian Hoyer, tendered to second-round pick.

Note: The Cardinals announced Johnson's agreement to a three-year contract.

St. Louis Rams

UFA offense (8): Danny Amendola, Kellen Clemens, Brandon Gibson, Steven Jackson, Barry Richardson, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Chris Williams

UFA defense (6): Craig Dahl, Bradley Fletcher, Mario Haggan, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Rocky McIntosh

RFA: Darian Stewart, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: The Rams announced Hayes' agreement to a three-year contract.

San Francisco 49ers

UFA offense (4): Leonard Davis, Ted Ginn Jr., Randy Moss, Delanie Walker

UFA defense (6): Dashon Goldson, Tavares Gooden, Larry Grant, Clark Haggans, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga

RFA: Tramaine Brock, tendered to right of first refusal.

Note: Walker has reportedly agreed to terms on a contract with the Tennessee Titans.

Seattle Seahawks

UFA offense (2): Cameron Morrah, Frank Omiyale

UFA defense (5): Alan Branch, Patrick Chukwurah, Leroy Hill, Jason Jones, Marcus Trufant

UFA special teams (2): Steve Hauschka, Ryan Longwell

RFA: Clint Gresham and Chris Maragos, tendered to right of first refusal; and Clinton McDonald, tendered to seventh-round choice.

MossWatch: Time to say goodbye?

March, 3, 2013
NFL players' March musings on Twitter aren't necessarily the gold standard for information, but Randy Moss' comments Saturday line up with expectations the San Francisco 49ers will go with younger players at the position in 2013.

"Wished we could've finished the job!!thanks for the opportunity an good luck in the future 9ers," Moss' Twitter account said.

Moss is 36 years old. He provided value to the 49ers during a transitional season at wide receiver. The team needed him more than anticipated once an injury felled Mario Manningham. Whatever mentoring and veteran leadership Moss provided in 2012 carried value. The 49ers seemed to appreciate it genuinely.

Moss finished the regular season with 28 receptions for 434 yards and three touchdowns. His 15.5-yard average per reception was near the 15.6-yard average for his career. He was a positive factor. He also was willing to block.

But in the longer term, there's something wrong if the 49ers cannot develop younger alternatives at the position, particularly after using the 31st pick of the 2012 draft for receiver A.J. Jenkins. Moss is not the future.

If Moss were to re-sign with San Francisco, the 49ers ideally wouldn't be counting on him. They would be looking at him as a potential insurance policy. But if Moss' tweet is any indication, that policy is about to expire.

NFL big plays: Who and what makes them

February, 25, 2013
NFL teams spent Sunday watching running backs and wide receivers work out at the NFL scouting combine. As always, teams are looking for players with big-play ability.

But what is a big play?

In my experience, NFL teams tend to see them as runs covering 12-plus yards and passes covering 16-plus yards.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch used different measures in a recent piece suggesting the St. Louis Rams need to find a game-breaking player in the draft. But the idea is the same across the board. The longer the play, the better for offenses.

I've put together a couple charts showing where NFC West teams stood last season in big plays, using NFL teams' definition of them. The Rams had 102, which is about the same as they had in 2011 (100) and 2010 (100). They had 89 in 2009.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford led the NFC West with 66 of these 16-plus completed passes. Seattle's Russell Wilson was second with 64. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick (41) and Alex Smith (32) combined for 73. John Skelton (26), Kevin Kolb (20), Ryan Lindley (12) and Brian Hoyer (4) combined for Arizona's total of 62.

The San Francisco 49ers had 126 total big plays, up from 108 in each of the previous two seasons. Seattle had 121, a rise from 95 in 2011, 100 in 2010 and 80 in 2009. Arizona had 84, down from its totals in 2011 (103), 2010 (102) and 2009 (122).

The first chart shows totals for last season. The chart below shows individual NFC West leaders, also from last season.

The Seahawks and 49ers pumped up their totals for rushing with additional quarterback runs covering at least 12 yards. Wilson (14) and Kaepernick (11) combined for 25 of them. Smith added two for the 49ers. Kolb had five. Bradford had three.

We can revisit in the future whether the 12- and 16-yard cutoffs are most meaningful. I just know those are the cutoffs teams cite when evaluating players and offensive production.
The San Francisco 49ers finished the 2012 season with an NFL-high four wide receivers who entered the NFL as first-round draft choices.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Jenkins
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsWill the 49ers utilize receiver A.J. Jenkins more in his second season than they did his rookie year?
One of them, Michael Crabtree, enjoyed a breakout season with 1,105 yards during the regular season, plus 20 receptions for 285 yards and three scores in the playoffs.

It's still fair to wonder whether wide receiver ranks high on the 49ers' list of needs heading into the NFL scouting combine and free agency.

Randy Moss is 36 years old and without a contract. Mario Manningham is coming off season-ending knee surgery. Ted Ginn Jr. projects as a return specialist if he stays with the team. And then there is 2012 first-round draft choice A.J. Jenkins, the No. 1 variable in assessing the 49ers' level of need at the position.

If Jenkins steps into the lineup and produces, the 49ers could feel pretty good about their receiving situation, particularly with tight ends Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker (a potential free agent) expected to factor prominently as targets. But after Jenkins played in only three games and had zero receptions as a rookie, we're left to wonder how much he'll factor in 2013.

"I wasn't sold on him as a first-rounder in the draft and I'm still not sold on him," Bill from Redding, Calif., wrote in the NFC West mailbag.

Bill wanted to know whether I thought the 49ers had made a bad pick, and where I saw Jenkins fitting into the offense in the future.

The chart below shows where Jenkins' first-year production fit relative to other receivers drafted 25th to 35th overall over the past decade. Jenkins (30th overall) and New Orleans' Robert Meachem (27th in 2007) were the only ones without a reception. Meachem missed his rookie season after undergoing knee surgery.

Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers' other coaches have been vague when pressed for specifics on what Jenkins could do to improve his chances for playing time.

The 49ers have some credibility on such matters. Their 2012 draft choices hardly played last season, mostly because they weren't needed.

Second-rounder LaMichael James was very good when injuries pushed him into a prominent role late in the season. However, I would have expected Jenkins to get some reps once the 49ers lost Manningham and Kyle Williams to injuries. That did not happen, and it suggests the staff wasn't convinced Jenkins would be ready.

Better hand Randy Moss a butterfly net

February, 5, 2013
Four-time Super Bowl winner Bill Romanowski blasted San Francisco 49ers receiver Randy Moss for showing "alligator arms" on the pass Baltimore intercepted in the second quarter Sunday. Upon review, I don't think Moss could have caught that pass with a butterfly net.

Camera angles sometimes distort the actual height of a pass, but replays available for this one show the ball sailing over Moss' head by a wide enough margin to render the receiver's reaction irrelevant to the play. The alligator-arms theory breaks down further in the absence of an imminent threat to Moss from an approaching defender. Moss never retracted his arms or flinched as if to protect himself.

Dwight Clark, who retired from the 49ers one year before Romanowski joined the team in 1988, acknowledged this aspect of the play. But in comments Clark made with Romanowski on a Comcast postgame show, the former receiver said he wanted to see at least some effort from Moss for effort's sake.

"He didn't even reach up for it," Clark said. "He watched it sail over his head. Yes, it was high. Kaepernick was a little nervous. ... But make some kind of movement for the ball."

Clark might have a point there. The appearance of effort can positively shape perceptions. But it's not like Moss showed up Kaepernick, either. He didn't shrug or point fingers.

In the big picture, I wouldn't hold this play against Moss to the degree Romanowski and Clark did, even if emotional postgame reactions from players associated with the 49ers' championship history is understandable.

Around the NFC West: Two strong takes

February, 5, 2013
Good morning. The NFL offseason is officially here, but the San Francisco 49ers' experience in Super Bowl XLVII will remain a topic for discussion this week, I am sure.

We've got some strong takes to run through this morning.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune thinks the Super Bowl officials messed up royally by failing to call holding against Baltimore's Jimmy Smith on the 49ers' final offensive play.

"Analysts have argued that the refs won’t make that call in a game-deciding situation, or that the contact was mutual and that sort of thing had been tolerated throughout," he writes. "But when a defender is going Greco-Roman on a receiver, and has such a grasp that the jersey is being pulled, it should be a penalty at any point in the game."

You'll be likely to agree if you watch the play enough times in slow motion. I thought throwing a flag would have been worse than not throwing one, but if the NFL were to study that play outside its dramatic context -- essentially treating it as though it were a play from a preseason game as opposed to one potentially deciding a Super Bowl -- would the league consider that a penalty or not?

I'm also interested in revisiting the interception 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw. Retired linebacker Bill Romanowski called out receiver Randy Moss for failing to make sufficient effort on the play. I saw the play live, but with travel considerations, I wasn't able to watch the game closely on replay. I'll have a chance now.

Linebackers such as Romanowski don't always sympathize with receivers such as Moss. I'll study that play realizing Romanowski probably expects receivers to play the way linebackers play. Most of them do not.

Quick age snapshot for Moss and 49ers

February, 4, 2013
Randy Moss indicated during Super Bowl week that he would like to continue playing in 2013.

The San Francisco 49ers will have to decide whether they want Moss and several other older players to play for them in the future.

The 49ers have 10 players age 30 and older. The chart lists them by when their contracts expire. San Diego has a league-high 20 players age 30 and older. Miami has a league-low five. Arizona has 12, Seattle has nine and St. Louis has six. Those figures count players finishing the season on injured reserve.

Three of the 49ers' 10 oldest players are specialists. Three others -- Carlos Rogers, Jonathan Goodwin and Justin Smith -- played at least 75 percent of the offensive or defensive snaps. Moss and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga were key contributors while playing less than half the snaps. Clark Haggans and Leonard Davis were veteran backups.

The 49ers have a strong core of young players on offense in particular, including four of their offensive linemen, their quarterback and two running backs.

Note: This is probably going to wrap up the day from my end. I'm well into the second and final leg of a flight from Denver to Seattle on the way back from New Orleans. See you Tuesday unless something major happens before then.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 34, 49ers 31

February, 3, 2013

NEW ORLEANS -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII:

What it means: The 49ers came excruciatingly close to a sixth Super Bowl title, but they couldn't draw up or execute the winning plays with four shots from the Baltimore 5-yard line. Overall, they made too many mistakes to win the game. The 49ers' total collapse early in the game raises questions about their readiness for the Super Bowl after a week filled with the usual distractions, plus the one cornerback Chris Culliver created with his derogatory comments during the week.

What I liked: The 49ers again showed an ability to weather a rough start against a playoff team.

Tight end Vernon Davis repeatedly exploited a speed advantage against Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense early in the game. Davis even got in Lewis' face to rub it in at one point early in the second quarter.

Patrick Willis and Darcel McBath saved the 49ers late in the second quarter when they chased down Ravens kicker Justin Tucker short of a first down on a fake field-goal try. The 49ers trailed 14-3 at the time, so the stop was important for them.

Michael Crabtree capped his most impressive season with another mostly impressive performance. He made a tough catch on a high pass early in the game. Crabtree also knocked down Ravens defensive backs Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard on his way to a 31-yard touchdown reception to pull San Francisco within 28-13 midway through the third quarter.

Davis, who topped 100 yards receiving, wasn't the only tight end making an impact in this game. Second tight end Delanie Walker blasted Ravens safety Ed Reed to help free Frank Gore for a touchdown run. Walker also planted Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones as the momentum was turning late in the third quarter.

What I didn't like: The 49ers were sloppy early in the game. A formation penalty wiped out a 20-yard gain on their first play. The 49ers appeared to have a mixup in the backfield later in the drive. That was no way to start the game on offense after having two weeks to prepare. It got worse.

The bad start gave the Ravens good field position on their first possession. And when the defense held on third-and-9, an offsides penalty against Ahmad Brooks gave Baltimore another chance, setting up a touchdown pass on third-and-4.

The 49ers blew it again early in the second quarter when LaMichael James lost a fumble, allowing the Ravens to recover at their own 25-yard line. That led to another Ravens touchdown, and San Francisco gave the ball right back to the Ravens when Colin Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss, finding Reed instead.

Allowing a 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half nearly killed the 49ers' chances for a comeback. They suddenly trailed by a 28-6 margin.

The 49ers let seven of the final 11 seconds run off while the Ravens ran around the end zone with the football before taking a safety. That left only four seconds on the clock when Baltimore executed a free kick. Having a few additional seconds might have given the 49ers a chance to return the ball into field-goal range, or run a play before attempting a field goal.

Early trend continues: The Ravens scored first. They became the fifth consecutive 49ers opponent to score first, joining Atlanta, Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle. San Francisco came back to beat the Falcons, Packers and Cardinals heading into Super Bowl XLVII.

Costly sack: 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis struggled against the Ravens during a 2011 game between the teams. In this game, Davis gave up a third-down sack in the red zone on the 49ers' second possession. Paul Kruger beat him decisively to take down Kaepernick before the quarterback had a chance to throw. The 49ers' pass protection was generally excellent, but not on this critical play.

First-half domination: The 49ers gave up three first-half touchdown passes for the second game in a row. Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards, three scores and a 135.8 NFL passer rating in the first half Sunday. Two weeks earlier, Atlanta's Matt Ryan completed 18 of 24 first-half passes for 271 yards, three scores and a 151.2 rating against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. Flacco and Ryan combined to complete 70.5 pecent of their first-half passes for 463 yards and a 144.2 rating against the 49ers in those two first halves.

What's next: The 49ers head toward the 2013 NFL draft with the 31st overall choice. The Ravens will pick 32nd overall.