PHOENIX – John Harbaugh may have lost that brotherly connection to the San Francisco 49ers with Jim Harbaugh having departed for Michigan. But the Baltimore Ravens coach still has his finger on the pulse of the Niners’ passing game.
Torrey Smith leaving the Ravens for the 49ers all but ensured that for Harbaugh.
“He’s a deep threat at all times,” Harbaugh said of Smith at the AFC coaches breakfast Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “He’s very fast. He’s big. He can go up and make a play on the ball, so much so that teams interfere with him more than anybody in the league, to keep him from making those plays.
“He’s definitely going to be a guy who opens things up for underneath guys.”
Guys like another former Ravens receiver in Anquan Boldin, who will be entering his third season with the Niners.
But Smith was signed to that five-year, $40 million free-agent contract, with $22 million guaranteed, to be the deep threat the Niners need, even if, as CSNBayArea.com reported, the Niners are “interested” in re-signing Michael Crabtree, who has taken only one visit, to Miami.
Smith had 213 receptions with 30 touchdowns and averaged a franchise-record 16.9 yards per catch in four seasons with the Ravens, including 11 TDs and the league-leading 12 PIs drawn for 261 yards last season. He has had 44 catches of at least 25 yards or more since coming to the league as a second-round draft choice out of Maryland and, per Pro Football Focus, his 51 receptions on targets of at least 20 yards since 2011 are just two fewer than than the 49ers had as a team in that same period.
“I can turn the simple play into a huge gain,” Smith said when he signed with the Niners.
Consistency has been an issue for Smith – he had a career-low 49 catches last year with 11 drops –though Harbaugh said Smith has improved in running routes.
“When he can run comebacks and stop-9’s and in-breaking routes off that deep vertical stem,” Harbaugh said, “he can get open that way, too.”