San Francisco 49ers: Matt Williamson

With organized team activities in full swing for the San Francisco 49ers, the biggest on-field question the team must answer is at cornerback.

The team is undergoing a major transformation at the position. Two of their top three cornerbacks last season -- Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown -- departed this offseason. Rogers was cut and Brown left in free agency. Both signed are now with Oakland.

Tramaine Brock, who was superb last season after starting camp as a special teamer, has emerged as the team's best cornerback. Chris Culliver, who could be subject to an NFL suspension after a felony arrest this offseason, is set to start. He played well in 2012, but missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Jimmie Ward, the team's first-round pick, is a safety, but he will play the nickel cornerback spot this year. He has experience there. Veterans Eric Wright and newly signed Chris Cook and second-year player Darryl Morris are among those who also have a chance at playing time. ESPN's Matt Williamson believes Cook, a former second-round pick who failed to live up to expectations with the Vikings, can improve as a 49er. He is big and physical and a good fit for the defense.

While there are question marks, the truth is, the 49ers were looking to move away from Rogers and Brown and think this can be an upgraded spot. The 49ers are very confident with their defensive coaching staff. Brock developed quickly and their cornerbacks this year can thrive as well.

In the long-term, this position is still a work in progress. Culliver is a free agent after the season and Ward is a long-term safety. The 49ers will likely add to this position next year and hope recent draft picks, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Ken Acker can help next year. Johnson could even figure in this year's plan.

Again, this position will be a storyline all summer, but the 49ers are comfortable with it at this point.

Scout lauds Hyde selection

May, 13, 2014
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The San Francisco 49ers has been roundly applauded for their draft class. One of the players who stands out is Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, who the 49ers took with the No. 57 overall pick in the second round.

The rugged Hyde is considered a perfect fit for the 49ers, who are one of the few NFL teams that still relies on the ground game. Longtime star Frank Gore is turning 31 this week and he is in the final year of his contract. The team will slowly bring along 2013 fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore, who is recovering from a 2012 major knee injury. Lattimore will not be rushed.

ESPN scout Matt Williamson said the 49ers’ selection of Hyde was an exceptional choice.

“It shocks me that he was still available that late in the draft and I assume that San Francisco just thought he was just too good to pass up, so I am all in favor of it,” Williamson said. “This offense just got much better. The running game and offensive line should be exceptional for years to come.”

No Pro Bowl in Santa Clara

April, 9, 2014
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While NFC West rival Arizona is scheduled to host a Pro Bowl-Super Bowl doubleheader next year, the San Francisco 49ers very likely will not do the same in 2016.

The NFL announced Wednesday that the Pro Bowl will be in Arizona next January, a week before the Super Bowl is held there. The league has a tentative agreement to bring back the Pro Bowl to Hawaii, the most frequent host for the All-Star game, in 2016. It will be held a week before the Super Bowl is held in Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the 49ers in Santa Clara, Calif.

In other 49ers notes:

The 49ers’ Super Bowl odds haven’t changed since the beginning of the offseason.

In an Insider piece, Matt Williamson has high praise Insider for 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree.

Nike is planning a Jerry Rice tribute shoe.

In an Insider piece, Kevin Weidl looks at some of the bigger cornerbacks available in the draft.Insider The 49ers will likely show interest in all of these players because it’s a big need.
It's probably not accurate to believe the San Francisco 49ers are going all in with Chris Cook and the one-high safety scheme.

Cook
After all, Cook signed a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum with no guaranteed money. If he was going to be the centerpiece of a new scheme, he’d get paid like it.

However, the addition of Cook is a sign the 49ers would like to do more press coverage and work in some one-high safety coverage, which Seattle Seahawks have executed so well. Cook is 6-foot-2, which makes him a nice fit for the scheme.

Cook, a second-round pick by Minnesota in 2010, made it clear in his introductory conference call what the 49ers want him to do.

"They want me to be the press guy," Cook said. "And that's what I like to do. I feel like I'll fit in well with the one-high scheme that they like to run. I came from a two-high scheme. And I feel like a one-high scheme and a man-to-man scheme fits me well."

ESPN scout Matt Williamson doesn’t believe the 49ers will adopt the one-high safety attack full time and instead thinks it will be a “wrinkle.” Despite the fact he doesn’t have an interception in four NFL seasons, Cook could help the 49ers.

“They want him to be their Richard Sherman with (safety Eric) Reid over the top. Cook is big and physical in press and does have a lot of ability,” Williamson said. “Not saying he is Sherman, but I do think that best uses Cook's skill set.”

Williamson said if the 49ers use Cook in press coverage, they can move new starting strong safety Antoine Bethea closer to the line of scrimmage than they played former starter Donte Whitner. Williamson said that can help compensate for playing without injured inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman early in the season. Bowman could miss up to half the season as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered at Seattle in the NFC title game Jan. 19.

So, perhaps, the acquisition of Cook could have multiple benefits.
Let’s look deeper into the San Francisco 49ers’ interest in free-agent receivers Julian Edelman of New England and Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants.

Odds of landing them: There is competition. The Patriots want Edelman back and Cleveland has been connected to him as well. Nicks is visiting Indianapolis on Friday. Carolina is also interested. The 49ers don’t have a ton of salary-cap room, so they have to get creative in a deal with either player.

Nicks
Edelman
Who else is out there if Edelman and Nicks don’t end up with 49ers: The top available receivers include Steve Smith, James Jones, Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerome Simpson.

Who is the best fit? Probably Nicks because he is an outside receiver. Landing him on a short-term deal to see if he can become a top-notch player again could be smart. Don’t get me wrong; Edelman is good as well. You don’t catch 105 balls in a season if you’re not talented. But Anquan Boldin is essentially a slot guy as well. Still, I’m sure the 49ers could find ways to make it work.

How Crabtree, Boldin and the draft figure: Crabtree is a free agent next year and Boldin is 33. So, even if the 49ers sign Edelman or Nicks, I can still see them taking a receiver early in the draft.

Kaepernick factor: I’m sure quarterback Colin Kaepernick is paying attention. This passing offense could be nasty with Boldin, Crabtree, tight end Vernon Davis and Nicks or Edelman. It would open it up. It could also behoove Kaepernick to wait to get his contract done until next year. He could put up big numbers with another top weapon.

Should Seattle worry? Yes. The 49ers must get better on offense to beat Seattle. That was the reason why the 49ers couldn’t overtake Seattle in 2013. A big-time offensive weapon could even the playing field.

Scout's thoughts: “I was a little surprised to be honest, especially after the re-signing of Boldin. Quinton Patton also shows some promise, but this would be a heck of a receiver corps if is Patton is your No. 4. I would think if they were in the market for WR though, that they would be looking for a pure speed guy, which isn't Nicks or Edelman.” -- ESPN analyst Matt Williamson
Tuesday night, after news broke of the 49ers trade for embattled offensive lineman Jonathan Martin from Miami, I lauded the deal for being perfect.

Martin
The trade put Martin, the center of a bizarre bullying case with Dolphin offensive linemates last season, in the best possible situation. He is playing for Jim Harbaugh, who coached him at Stanford. He will have a built-in support system. Plus, the 49ers could use him as a swing offensive linemen. He will be a solid sixth man.

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson concurs. He also thinks it’s a good fit, especially at the cost. The Dolphins will get a seventh-round pick in 2015 if Martin is on the opening day roster this season. Williamson thinks the label that Martin is soft is accurate, but he thinks he has ability and can help in the 49ers’ system as an extra lineman.

“There is a huge shortage of offensive linemen in the NFL, in my opinion, so why not add a guy that you are familiar with that was an early second-round pick based on his talent?” Williamson said. “Will he ever eat nails on the field? No, but San Francisco is the most physical running game in the league, and he will adhere or go away. Plus, they play so many six-man O-line sets (used to be Daniel Kilgore's job, who is now poised to start at center), so they need another quality sixth man.”
Don't blink, free agency moves fast -- and it hasn't even started yet.

Tuesday morning we looked at potential replacements for the San Francisco 49ers' top options. In the meantime, the alternatives should kicker Phil Dawson go elsewhere have begun to dry up. The Colts agreed to bring back Adam Vinatieri, there have been reports Josh Brown is close to re-signing with the Giants and Dan Carpenter is about to head back to Buffalo.

That means there may not be many good options left for the 49ers if Dawson leaves. I’ve long thought Dawson will return to the 49ers. There is mutual love there and he had a great 2013 season.

As for safety Donte Whitner, NFL Network is reporting the Cleveland native is close to a deal with the Browns. He cannot sign until 1 p.m. PT. If Whitner leaves, the 49ers could make a play for Carolina safety Mike Mitchell. He’s not as good as Whitner, but he’s better than what the team has in-house as a potential replacement for Whitner.

Meanwhile, ESPN analyst Matt Williamson thinks the 49ers are among the teams that could consider pursuing recently released receivers Sidney Rice and Santonio Holmes. In my opinion, I’d think the team could have more interest in Rice.
The San Francisco 49ers took a step Thursday that will signal change on their starting offensive line for the first time since 2011.

Kilgore
The team extended the contract of backup Daniel Kilgore through 2017. His deal was set to expire next season. It is a sign Kilgore will be the favorite to be the starting center in 2014. Jonathan Goodwin, the starting center for the past three seasons, is 35 and is a free agent. The 49ers have been looking to replace him.

It appears Kilgore will get that chance. The team also has Joe Looney, and could sign a veteran or draft a rookie at the position. But it seems Kilgore, who has played some at guard, is set to anchor one of the NFL’s better offensive lines.

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said the timing might be right for a switch to Kilgore.

“I know the 49ers like Kilgore and would get him involved in six-offensive lineman sets. He is young and I haven't been super impressed with Goodwin of late,” Williamson said. “Kilgore is a tough guy, though, that fits their mold in that regard, and is better run-blocking than in protection, which again, fits.”

Kilgore will have to cement his role in training camp. But Thursday’s move means the team believes he can handle it.
With the San Francisco 49ers facing the possibility of playing half the season without star inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman as he recovers from a torn ACL, the team could look for a veteran addition to compete for playing time.

General manager Trent Baalke said last week that the team could bring in competition for Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody. I don't see the 49ers using a high draft choice on an inside linebacker because Bowman is expected to recover fully. But adding an inexpensive veteran could be an appealing avenue.

I asked ESPN scout Matt Williamson to indentify some inside linebacker who will be affordable free agents who can play in a 3-4 defense.

Williamson identified Akeem Jordan of Kansas City and Dan Connor of the Carolina as solid run stuffers who could compete with Wilhoite and help on special teams. Neither of these players will be priority additions, but they could possibly attract interest as short-term help.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- As he dressed alongside NaVorro Bowman, after another dominant San Francisco 49ers defensive performance that propelled the team to its third straight NFC Championship Game, Patrick Willis looked up.

“This is the greatest sport there is,” the perennial Pro Bowl linebacker said. Bowman smiled and nodded.

[+] EnlargeNaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLinebackers NaVorro Bowman (53) and Patrick Willis anchor a 49ers defense that has the team competing for the NFC championship on Sunday.
They are arguably the greatest pair of position players in the NFL.

As the 49ers have revisited their glorified past this season under coach Jim Harbaugh, it has been cemented by fierce, take-over defensive play. The team's five Super Bowl trophies may have been won by players like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young, yet their latest run at a dynasty is being paved on the other side of the ball.

It starts with Willis and Bowman.

“They are like two machines in the middle of our defense,” San Francisco rookie safety Eric Reid said.

The two inside linebackers are the heartbeat of the 49ers’ defense, which has shut out opponents in an NFL-high 35 of 78 quarters this season.

The defense is loaded with stalwarts such as outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, defensive tackle Justin Smith, and safety Donte Whitner, but the personality of this unit starts with Willis and Bowman.

In fact, some believe the duo might be among the best linebacker tandems ever to play.

“They are historically good,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said. “They are there with [Jack] Ham/[Jack] Lambert, [Brian] Urlacher/[Lance] Briggs, [Willie] Lanier/[Bobby] Bell. [Willis and Bowman] are a truly rare and elite pairing.”

The 49ers came across this historic pairing unexpectedly. They drafted Willis, who will turn 29 later this month, with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He was considered a can’t-miss prospect out of Mississippi and has been first- or second-team All-Pro in his first six NFL seasons.

When the 49ers drafted Bowman three years later, they were just hoping to get a capable potential starter. He was taken in the third round out of Penn State in 2010. Running back Frank Gore recalls seeing Bowman as a rookie in camp and knowing the 49ers might have found the perfect complement to Willis.

“Even in training camp, OTAs, I just saw how fast he was,” Gore said. “How he could read and get to the ball. We have the same agent (Drew Rosenhaus) and I called my agent and I said, 'Man, you've got somebody right here, man. That’s a good pickup for you to represent.' "

Still, Bowman’s success was not instant. Harbaugh's staff came in 2011. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio told his new defense that only Willis and Justin Smith were guaranteed a spot. Everyone else had to go earn it. Bowman listened.

“No, because he really didn’t play much the year before,” Fangio said, when asked if he had big expectations for Bowman in 2011. "And all through that offseason, that was the lockout year, there was kind of an assumption that Takeo Spikes was going to come back here. And NaVorro probably would have been in the same role. In retrospect, it’s a good thing that Takeo didn't come back here because he would have been beaten out by NaVorro.”

Once Bowman, 25, got on the field, he and Willis instantly clicked. Both have been among the league leaders in tackles, and they have a unique chemistry. While Bowman was an All-Pro last season, he has taken his game to the next level as Willis dealt with hand and hamstring injuries early in the season.

Bowman, who came up with the 49ers' play of the year when he saved the final game at Candlestick Park in Week 16 by returning an interception 89 yards for a touchdown against Atlanta, is a candidate for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award. Willis fully supports his younger teammate. Asked about Bowman's candidacy, Willis said “he has my vote.”

Perhaps what makes this combination so strong is that they are as in sync off the field as they are on it. They each had 11 tackles, tying for a team-high (Willis also had an interception), in the 23-10 win Sunday against Carolina that sent the 49ers to the NFC title game against Seattle. They conducted their postgame news conference together. Willis, a country kid from Tennessee, and Bowman, who hails from a high-crime area in Maryland just outside Washington, D.C., both are quiet by nature, and neither is overly flashy off the field. Bowman said the key to their success is discipline in the study room.

“We are students, we are in school,” Bowman said. “We learn every day.”

The 49ers will be counting on them for the long haul. Willis is signed through 2016 and Bowman through 2018, and Harbaugh knows these two are a key to the team’s success.

“The teamwork, the respect that they have for each other, the love, is shared by many people on the team,” Harbaugh said. "And that, as a coach, there’s nothing that makes you feel as good as to hear that. That’s the team, the team, the team. And it’s genuine. It’s not talk."

Neither is the impact of Willis and Bowman on the 49ers' success.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It would be a bit of a stretch to say the personality of the San Francisco 49ers will be ruined by the loss of their fullback.

However, there is no discounting it; the loss of the versatile, valuable Bruce Miller will hurt the 49ers.

Miller
The team is expecting Miller will miss the rest of the season with a broken scapula. He suffered it in the fourth quarter of the win at Tampa Bay on Sunday. After the game, Miller said he didn't think it was serious. Monday told a different story.

“Very significant” 49ers' coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday of Miller's loss. “He does so many things in the protection and the run game. Receiving out of the backfield. He is a multi-talented, multi-use player. Special teams contributor on two, three phases, so it's a loss.”

The 49ers are one of the few teams to use a fullback in a major role. They are still mulling what to do. The top in-house options are backup running back Anthony Dixon. He is athletic, versatile and tough. He could be the first player the 49ers look at.

Another interesting possibility is reserve inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite. A special teams maven and a strong injury replacement for the great Patrick Willis earlier in the season, Wilhoite played some fullback in the training camp. He is more than willing to play offense while Miller is out.

Harbaugh said Monday the team was bringing in Owen Marecic for a look. He played for Harbaugh at Stanford and he spent a short time with the 49ers earlier this season. There were indications Monday evening that the 49ers weren't sure if Marecic was up to playing a huge role. So, replacing Miller is still a work in progress.

He played nearly 60 percent of the snaps. His presence will be missed.

“That is kind of a big under the radar loss,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said. “He is a bit of a fullback/tight end tweener to me, but a real hammer as a blocker. They really stress physicality and want to use a very wide variety of personnel groupings, which he was perfect for. I don't know what they plan to do as a backup plan, but lead blocking fullbacks generally are not hard to find, but few do as much as him.”

It would be overstating it a bit to say the loss of a fullback will devastate any NFL offense in today's game. But the 49ers liked what Miller brought, so it will be an adjustment.

The good thing is receiver Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are playing after being out with injuries. So, the 49ers will likely do more three-receiver sets. Expect to see a lot of double tight end sets as well.

There are plenty of things the 49ers can do to mask this loss, but the point is they were very comfortable with Miller being a big part of the offense. In the meantime, they will have to hope his replacement -- whether it is Dixon or Wilhoite or someone else -- can raise his game when he is on the field. Miller was an enthusiastic player who fit with this group. His energy will be missed as well.

The Miller loss also means the 49ers will go the entire season without having their top 11 offensive players on the field for a snap. The 49ers have adjusted along the way and now will have to do it again without their feisty backfield security blanket for the stretch run.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- There is a chance the San Francisco 49ers will have one of their standout offensive linemen back for a crucial game against visiting Seattle on Sunday.
Iupati
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday left guard Mike Iupati, who is undergoing an exam on Monday, could play in the game. Harbaugh said Iupati, who has missed the past two games with a sprained MCL, will likely be monitored throughout the week and the final determination whether he plays will likely be made closer to game day. He has been replaced by Adam Snyder.

Harbaugh did not have an update on star left tackle Joe Staley on Monday. Staley left Sunday's win against St. Louis with a knee injury. Sources said, after the game, the initial diagnosis was Staley sprained his right MCL. He could miss a couple of games. Harbaugh said Monday the team was hopeful it is not more serious.

Update: The word on Staley on Monday evening is he’s week-to-week. How he responds to treatment will determine how long he will be out, but it likely won’t be for an extended period.

With Staley out, right guard Alex Boone moved to left tackle and the inexperienced Joe Looney took over at right guard. Harbaugh said Monday the makeshift unit played well.

If Iupati misses Sunday's game, the 49ers will have three replacements playing. The 49ers' offense has yet to play a down this season with the starting 11 and that may not happen until Week 16.

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said playing without so many offensive linemen at their natural spot will catch up to the 49ers if the situation lingers.

“I think Staley is one of the top three or four LTs in the NFL and is especially great in the run game and yes, he will be missed for sure,” Williamson said. “But Boone was a LT at Ohio State and came to the NFL as an OT prospect. He certainly has that body type. He might be a better 'band aid' player there for the short term than most teams have if their starting LT were to fall, but still, San Francisco is now weaker at three offensive line spots than when the starters are available."

What losing Iupati would mean

November, 18, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers’ offense doesn’t need any more challenges right about now.

Yet, it may be dealt one. The team is awaiting word on the severity of a left knee injury suffered by standout guard Mike Iupati. He was carted off to the locker room during the 49ers’ 23-20 loss at New Orleans on Sunday. He was seen leaving the locker room on crutches and with his knee in a brace.

During the game, Iupati was replaced by Adam Snyder, who will play if Iupati has to miss significant time.

No doubt, the 49ers’ offense is struggling. It has not been able to cross the 200-total yard plateau in two straight games, and it had five three-and-outs Sunday.

I asked ESPN analyst Matt Williamson how damaging he thinks the loss of Iupati would be.

“I wouldn’t say it is one of the worst offensive lines in the league or anything,” Williamson said. “But this offense doesn’t have much room for error and if the run blocking falters, they could be in further trouble.”

The 49ers' offensive line has been strong in run blocking this season, but has struggled some, particularly in the past couple of weeks, in pass protection. Williamson said Iupati hasn’t been up to his usual high standards. Still, if he has to miss major time, the 49ers will likely feel it.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Cam Newton was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft. The San Francisco 49ers had no chance to move up and get him. They happily took quarterback Colin Kaepernick 35 picks later.

On Sunday, the two dynamic young quarterbacks will play against each other in the NFL for the first time as the Carolina Panthers visit San Francisco.

Jones
Kaepernick
Newton
Newton
The two were roommates at the NFL combine, and life has been good for both since. Kaepernick has had more tangible success even though, unlike Newton, he didn’t become a starter until midway through his second season. Kaepernick has been to a Super Bowl. He has playoff wins on his résumé despite starting only 18 NFL games.

Newton, spectacular as a rookie and helter-skelter last season, has settled down and has the look of quarterback who may soon see postseason success. He has led the Panthers to four straight wins after a rough 1-3 start. Kaepernick is also rolling, leading his team to five straight wins.

“Everything’s a competition, from being at the combine to being at practice to being in a game,” Kaepernick said. “Everything’s a competition.”

Kaepernick plays with a chip on his shoulder. He enjoyed beating the Titans in Week 7 and the Jaguars in Week 8. Like Carolina, those teams took quarterbacks in the first round in 2011.

It’s difficult to argue the Panthers blew it when they took Newton over Kaepernick. Newton has a big future, and Kaepernick was considered more of a project. But it is clear the 49ers are pleased the way it went down. Kaepernick is perfect athletically and emotionally to run Jim Harbaugh’s offense.

While Harbaugh called Newton’s talents “plutonium grade,” he would surely roll with Kaepernick. Harbaugh played along when a reporter suggested Kaepernick should be the 49ers’ scout-team quarterback this week to help prepare to face Newton.

“That’s a good idea. That’s a very good idea because they are so similar. And in ability, and makeup, and confidence, and in so many ways, talent,” Harbaugh said. “They’re both great. And that’s not a bad idea at all.”

I asked ESPN analyst Matt Williamson who he would rather have, Newton or Kaepernick?

“I will say that Newton is playing better [against some suspect teams] than CK right now, but I still take CK, as he is just a better pure passer,” Williamson said. “Newton has taken a lot more snaps in the NFL than CK. Just wait until CK has that experience under his belt.”

The numbers suggest a team couldn’t go wrong with either Newton or Kaepernick these days. They have been the top two rated quarterbacks in the NFL in the past month. Kaepernick’s Total QBR since Week 6 is a league-leading 94.1. Newton is second at 83.5.

Ted Ginn is an authority on both. He played with Kaepernick the past two years and is now teammates with Newton.

"They both have something a lot people don’t have, and they use it,” Ginn said Wednesday. “Speed. They can run."

On Sunday, the two young quarterbacks will try to outrun, outthrow and outscore each other.

49ers getting major reinforcements

November, 6, 2013
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' practice field is an amazingly talented place these days.

In what has a chance to be one of the more compelling stories in the NFL in the second half, the 49ers are getting several reinforcements.

The 49ers (6-2) had their bye in Week 9 following a five-game winning streak, and the off week was not a quiet one.

[+] EnlargeAldon Smith
AP Photo/Greg TrottAldon Smith, who has 38 sacks since entering the NFL in 2011, has been activated by the 49ers.
They activated four players who could have an impact: pass-rusher Aldon Smith, receiver Mario Manningham, cornerback Eric Wright and rookie defensive lineman Tank Carradine. Also, standout receiver Michael Crabtree was cleared to practice this week, and barring a setback from a torn Achilles, he will be ready to play by the end of the month.

Has a contender ever had this type of firepower come back to a team for the stretch run? Barring setbacks, they will all have major roles. The additions will deepen every aspect of a team that was already hot, one that outscored its opponents by a combined score of 174-61 during its win streak.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks said Tuesday it's special to get all the players back and that it will allow the team to hit its stride when it counts most.

“I think San Francisco has weathered the storm, and right now, they would be my pick to come out of the NFC,” ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said.

Williamson and fellow ESPN analyst Louis Riddick said the key additions will be the receivers and Smith. Getting more out of the receiving crew beyond Anquan Boldin is paramount.

“Most importantly, the big-play weapons on the outside,” Riddick said. “[It's] going to make them more multiple in what they can do, which they will need ultimately to deal with the divisional nemesis Seattle.”

Smith brings serious pass-rush presence. His 38 sacks since entering the league in 2011 is second in the NFL.

ESPN analyst Gary Horton said the additions will have an effect on the entire team.

“It makes them so deep,” Horton said. “Their 45th-53rd players are strong. You won't see that around the league, but that's what you have in San Francisco.”

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