San Francisco 49ers: Russell Wilson

The big news Vernon Davis made Monday while pinch hitting for Peter King in Sports Illustrated's MMQB was his thoughts on his contract. Davis also had some other interesting thoughts in the column.

Let’s take a look:

Davis
On NFC title-game loss in Seattle: "It was, and remains, a devastating finish. But I think it made (Michael) Crabtree and (Colin) Kaepernick stronger. Anytime you fall into a situation where stuff doesn’t go the way you expected, where you know you should’ve made a play but you didn’t, it makes you go correct it. With experience comes growth.

"It’s exhausting to make it two years in a row and not finish. I hope my younger teammates realize that you can’t take the opportunity for granted. Whenever you get to play in a Super Bowl or a championship game, you have to win because you might not ever get it again. The window of opportunity is as small as a pea. Teams start to break up, players get old. You just have to seize the moment.

"Going forward, we have to hold each other accountable and grow closer as a team. We have to love each other. We’ve got to develop better trust between the receivers and the QB. We need to lean on our coaches for knowledge and get every ounce that they have. If we can do that, we’ll get over the hump."

On Russell Wilson: "I think among the 31 NFL quarterbacks who don’t throw me passes, Russell Wilson is the best. He’s got all the tools; he has the ability to keep the play alive, and he’s very accurate with a strong arm. He exemplifies what it takes to be a winning QB in the NFL. If you asked me to choose based on record and experience, I’d take Tom Brady or Peyton Manning -- but in terms of right now, my pick is Wilson."

On Aldon Smith: "I think the only thing we can do for Aldon Smith is support him and have his back and be there for him when he needs to talk. We don’t live with him, and we don’t see him on a daily basis. He has to take control and focus on doing everything the right way. He has to want it. He has to take charge."

On being a 49er: "I think I’m grateful to have been drafted in San Francisco. There’s nothing better than these fans, the atmosphere and the weather. You enjoy life in San Francisco when you see what you’re surrounded by. I couldn’t have been drafted in a better place."

Davis wrote strongly about the offense and Smith. He fancies himself as a leader on this team. Leaders don’t miss mandatory minicamps. It will be interesting to see the approach Davis takes when it comes to playing football and not writing about it.

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

May, 29, 2014
May 29
10:00
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By almost everyone’s estimation, the rough and rugged NFC West was the best division in the NFL in 2013. It had the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, two teams in the NFC Championship Game (Seattle and the San Francisco 49ers) and another 10-game winner in the Arizona Cardinals. The St. Louis Rams were 7-9 but likely would have had a winning season in any other division.

And now? Other than adding Godzilla and three superheroes to the four teams, they could not get much better. It looks like the big boys on the NFC block will remain out west.

Most experts believe the Rams had one of the best drafts in the NFL, adding Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson and Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, giving St. Louis four first-round picks on what is arguably the best defensive line in football.

The 49ers had 12 draft picks, including seven in the first four rounds, and made a trade during the draft for talented Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson.

The Cardinals signed gigantic left tackle Jared Veldheer and blazing kick returner Ted Ginn in free agency. They also added a vicious hitter, Washington State safety Deone Bucannon, with their first draft pick.

As always happens with Super Bowl champs, the Seahawks lost a few key players to free agency, but they kept the man they really wanted to keep in defensive end Michael Bennett and locked up "Legion of Boom" stars Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to long-term deals.

Believe it or not, the best division in the NFL just got better.

First Down

As usual, the Seahawks drafted some players other teams would have taken later, if at all. Should people question their choices, or have they earned the benefit of the doubt?



Terry Blount: Have we learned nothing from the past? Questioning Seattle's draft strategy, along with undrafted signees, now seems a little foolish. Shall I name a few who stand out that other teams passed up or the experts questioned? Sherman, Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Malcolm Smith, for starters. The Seahawks bring in players with specific traits -- unusual athleticism, driving competitiveness and obvious intelligence. Where those players rank on another team's draft board means nothing to them. And at first glance from rookie camp, they found some winners in receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood, along with defensive end Cassius Marsh.

Nick Wagoner: At this point, it's hard to argue with the results the Seahawks are getting from the players they draft. It is interesting that it seems like the first-round picks (such as James Carpenter and Bruce Irvin) are the ones who seem to struggle most relative to draft position. But the thing Seattle does so well is find players who fit the confines of who they want to be on both sides of the ball. Then they develop them and have them ready to go. It is why they never seem to miss a beat when injuries hit or a player is suspended. The results speak for themselves.

Josh Weinfuss: A little leeway should be given to the Seahawks because, first, they are the reigning NFL champions, and second, their personnel department has been able to piece together a pretty good roster with players who were not highly rated. With that being said, good will should only go so far. Sometimes a general manager and coach think they have the secret recipe and get cocky about their ability to find talent. When that happens, bad decisions are made. Obviously, the Seahawks have a reputation for picking good players, but they won't be right every time. Every team has an off draft and picks who don't pan out. It is also too early for us to know if some of their "rogue" picks will do anything. Their picks should definitely be questioned until they have a chance to show us their stuff.

Bill Williamson: The glue to the Seahawks is general manager John Schneider. Yes, coach Pete Carroll is a tremendous fit for the franchise and is a big part of the team's success. But Schneider is the architect of this franchise. He built this roster. There is little doubting the way he has drafted. Look at the core of the team -- they were all great value choices by Schneider. The tie goes to Schneider. You can doubt him if you choose, but it would be a lousy idea. Expect these Seattle rookies to develop into players. Schneider always wins.


Second Down

Do the additions of Johnson and Carlos Hyde give the 49ers the most dangerous offense in the division?



Blount: Both players will help, but the real key for the 49ers is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Having enough weapons wasn't really the problem. Using them effectively on a consistent basis and cutting down on mistakes is the issue. Kaepernick's extraordinary talent is unquestioned. But can he be the same type of team leader that Wilson is and make the big play in the most difficult moments? He couldn't do it last year in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game. If he shows he can do that consistently when the big game is on the line, watch out.

Wagoner: Well, the competition for that crown isn't exactly daunting in a division known mostly for grinding it out offensively and dominating defensively. But the 49ers probably do have the most dangerous offense in the division. I don't personally think Johnson or Hyde will be a major difference-maker right away, but they don't have to be. Putting Johnson with a healthy Michael Crabtree at receiver and tight end Vernon Davis should allow Johnson to operate free of the pressure of being a No. 1 wideout. Hyde can learn from Frank Gore before taking over the reins. In terms of top-to-bottom talent across the roster, yes, the 49ers look to have the most dangerous offense in the NFC West.

Weinfuss: It is certainly looking like the 49ers have one of the most dangerous offenses in the division, if not the most dangerous. San Francisco has the right pieces at every position, from quarterback to running back to wide receiver to tight end. But the first question that came to mind when going through San Francisco's offensive depth chart is this: Will one football be enough to go around? This might turn into a case of the 49ers being better on paper than they are on the field, which has happened many times throughout the NFL. The Cardinals bolstered their skill positions during the offseason, giving themselves a lot of talent at wide receiver and tight end to complement two young running backs and a veteran quarterback who finds ways to win. A team can have all the ammunition in the world, but if the coach doesn't know how to use it, it will be stockpiled for naught.

Williamson: I think so. There is nothing missing from this offense. We saw how dynamic it can be when Crabtree returned from a torn Achilles last December. Put Crabtree, the clutch Anquan Boldin and Johnson together and that is a great veteran group of receivers. Someone is always going to be open. Rookie Bruce Ellington was added to give the 49ers the ability to take the top off of defenses, an aspect they didn't possess last season. We didn't even mention Davis at tight end. Really, how is this offense going to be stopped? Kaepernick looked like a completely different quarterback when Crabtree played last season. Kaepernick with all of these weapons? Oh, and we didn't even mention the bread and butter of the 49ers' offense -- the running game. Hyde, Gore and a healthy Marcus Lattimore? How do you defend this group?


Third Down

After a narrow miss last season, have the Cardinals made enough of the right moves to get into the playoffs?



Blount: I don't think they needed to make many moves to reach the playoffs. Record-wise, they were a playoff team last season, but a victim of circumstances in the playoff structure. So the real question is can the Cardinals catch Seattle and/or San Francisco? And my answer is yes, especially the 49ers. Quarterback Carson Palmer will be better after having a full season in the Arizona offense. Bruce Arians might be the most underrated coach in the NFL. The team clearly is on the rise, while San Francisco's offseason turmoil could come back to bite it.

Wagoner: I like what Arizona did this offseason. The offensive line should be much better with the addition of Veldheer and the return of Jonathan Cooper. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie was a nice pickup, and first-round safety Bucannon should be a good complement to the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu. But it is still going to be difficult for them to make the playoffs. The Seahawks and 49ers remain at the top of the heap, and until we see otherwise, it's hard to see how they fall from that perch unless injuries strike. That would still leave one playoff spot for the Cardinals. Three teams from the same division can make the playoffs, and it just happened last season, but I expect Arizona to take a small step back and just miss the cut again.

Weinfuss: The Cardinals have made enough moves to make the playoffs this season. They missed the postseason a year ago by a game, which might have been different if Arizona had been stocked with a better kick returner, left tackle, second cornerback and safety. The Cards addressed those issues in the offseason, which should make them better in 2014. Adding left tackle Veldheer to anchor the offensive line should ease Arians' concerns about Palmer's blind side. One thing Ginn has shown throughout his career is that he can return kicks with the best. But the biggest difference for the Cards will be their improved secondary. Signing talented veteran Cromartie gives the Cardinals two lockdown cornerbacks (along with Patrick Peterson) and drafting Bucannon gave Arizona an instant upgrade against tight ends and big receivers -- which there are plenty of in NFC West.

Williamson: I really like how well the Cardinals are coached. I think Arians is on to something. His players seem to respond to him. So the program will continue to rise under Arians. Also, I love the defense; it is nasty, aggressive and ball-hawking. Add great defense and a well-respected coaching staff and a team is going to win a lot of games. I think the bottom line with the Cardinals is quarterback play. Palmer had his moments last season, but I'm not a big believer in him. I think he will cost the Cardinals at some point. Maybe this is a playoff team, but I think the Cardinals are a couple of steps behind the Seahawks and the 49ers. The deficit starts at quarterback.


Fourth Down

The Rams decided not to draft help at wide receiver and waited until the sixth round to add a young quarterback. Will their offense score enough to make up ground in the NFC West?



Blount: Sure, it would have helped to add a top receiver, but is there a bigger unknown in the entire division than Sam Bradford? What the Rams, and everyone else, have to find out is whether Bradford is an elite quarterback. Frankly, I have my doubts, but he did play well last season before his injury. Bradford's situation is much different than that of Kaepernick, who is as gifted a player physically as you will ever see. In Bradford's case, it's hard to know how good he really is or can be, because he hasn't had top talent around him. And it doesn't help that he has to play six games against three of the of the best defenses in the NFL. It's time for Bradford to step up, no matter whom he is throwing the ball to each week.

Wagoner: The Rams are clearly hoping they will be able to win games in classic heavyweight slugfests by playing good defense and running the ball. The Rams did put up points against playoff teams like New Orleans and Indianapolis without Bradford, and most of the same cast of characters returns this season. The question is if they can score enough to overcome teams following a similar blueprint within the division? Adding Robinson and running back Tre Mason and having a full season of Rodger Saffold at guard should certainly help the run game. But until one or more of the young receivers proves himself and Bradford can consistently take advantage of play-action opportunities down the field, I don't see the offense being able to do enough to win games without the help of a special-teams or defensive score from week to week. The Rams should be better against division foes than they were a year ago and might be able to push Arizona, but it still seems unlikely it will be enough to overtake Seattle or San Francisco.

Weinfuss: The depth of the NFC West makes this the toughest question of the four. The Rams' additions weren't significant improvements to their offense, but will help. Bradford will come back with a vengeance and try to light up the scoreboard. He will have a talented group of receivers, but can they score enough to close the gap from the bottom of the West? Not sure that can happen. Rookie Robinson will take his lumps and bruises and might not come into his own until the second half of the season, so the Rams have to be hoping it's not too late by then. Points will be at a premium in the West, especially considering how good the three other defenses are, so the Rams will have to be even better than expected to make up ground, and I'm not sure they are ready for that just yet.

Williamson: Points scored? Who needs points with that defense. Man, the Rams' defense is getting silly good. Adding Donald to that defensive front should have been banned. It's simply unfair. The Rams are not going to allow many points this season. So the offense won't have to be overly dynamic. With that said, I am not a big Bradford fan. I don't think he is the answer. Until the Rams upgrade at quarterback, I don't think they will reach their full potential or be able to hang in the division race. But they will dangerous every week because of the defense.

 

SEATTLE -- Two bitter rivals in one division, two teams with vitriol among players, coaches and fans. It comes down to a rubber-match showdown to decide which NFC West team will reach the Super Bowl.

It doesn't get any better in the NFC Championship Game: the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson take a detailed look at some of the key issues entering a game in which emotions are bound to be sky-high.

Blount: Bill, clearly there is no love lost between these two teams, although I do think they respect each other. How much of a factor do you think players' emotions will play in the outcome, if any?

Williamson: The 49ers are coming off a highly emotional game against the Carolina Panthers, and San Francisco handled it way better than the Carolina players did. The Panthers were called for several silly penalties spurred by their emotion. Some 49ers players said they thought their playoff experience was a factor and the Panthers might have been too emotional. The Seahawks have playoff experience, so it will be interesting. I think the key will be Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman and San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin. Both of these guys can get chippy and can get on the nerves of opponents. So I'd start there.

Terry, do you think Sherman can control himself this week? We all know how he can get and how facing Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers amps him up.

Blount: We'll see, Bill, but I think Sherman understands the significance of this game. He can be brash, obviously, but he's also an extremely intelligent guy who knows when and where to pick his fights and his comments. Now, if the game ends in a Seattle victory, you'll want to have a microphone in his face because he's likely to let it fly.

Bill, how much of a difference has Michael Crabtree made in the 49ers offense since his return?

Williamson: It's been incredible. We knew Crabtree would give this offense life when he returned Dec. 1 from a torn Achilles he suffered in May, but I don't think we knew the effect would be this dramatic. It is simply a different offense with Crabtree.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is much more confident because he has more weapons. It has also made Boldin much more dangerous. Before, he was being double- and triple-teamed. That is no longer the case with Crabtree on the field. Now, it seems every game Crabtree, Boldin or tight end Vernon Davis makes a huge impact.

Terry, we all know the Seahawks' secondary is elite, but do you think it can account for all three weapons?

Blount: This is the best secondary I've ever seen, but no secondary can completely shut down the trio of Davis, Boldin and Crabtree. I've been amazed at some of the catches Crabtree has made in the playoffs the past two weeks. It's clearly pick your poison with these three. Sherman did a phenomenal job on Boldin in the game here in September, but Crabtree didn't play. That's a big difference. What it could come down to is whether the Seattle defensive backs can come up with a key interception or if they take too many chances and one of these guys beats them for a big play. Actually, both things could happen, but the point when they happen could decide the outcome.

Bill, after losing back-to-back games in November, the 49ers have won eight in a row. Besides Crabtree, what are some of the things that contributed to their impressive run?

Williamson: Well, it's related to Crabtree, but Kaepernick has been outstanding. He has thrown one interception in his last 146 passes. The team has one turnover in the past five games. Defensively, the 49ers have been dominant. This is just a clutch, timely, well-coached team that is playing at a high level.

Terry, do you think the Seahawks might have peaked earlier this season?

Blount: That's the prevailing logic nationally -- especially with the issues Seattle has had throwing the football in recent weeks -- but I'm not buying it. The Seahawks lost by two points on a late field goal at San Francisco and lost by a touchdown to an Arizona Cardinals team that is much better than people realized earlier in the season. They have faced four top-10 defenses over that five-week span, and the Seattle defense has continued to play lights out. All season long, this has been a team that finds a way to win without putting up big offensive stats. It's who they are. Now, we'll find out if that's good enough in a game of this magnitude against a tough opponent.

Bill, the 49ers seemed to start a trend in the game at Candlestick Park last month by stopping Russell Wilson on runs around the end. He had only one rushing attempt for two yards. Since that game, other teams have copied that formula to keep Wilson in the pocket. How were they able to make it work, and can they do it again?

Williamson: The 49ers defense is supremely athletic. The four linebackers are tone-setters, and they can keep up with Wilson athletically. I think the 49ers will certainly keep the same game plan. They know their best chance to win this game is with big plays on defense.

Terry, is the Seattle offense ready for what the 49ers bring defensively?

Blount: I think Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle running game showed last week against the New Orleans Saints they can get the job done against a quality defensive front that loaded the box to stop them. And Lynch has played well against the 49ers over the past three seasons. The passing game, however, is another story. The Seahawks need to step it up and hit a few big plays through the air if they hope to win this game. Tight end Zach Miller could be a key guy here. If Lynch is running well, they should use play-action to find Miller over the middle or in the flat.

Bill, the 49ers haven't played well in their past two games at CenturyLink Field, losing by a combined score of 71-16. The noise level Sunday may be at an all-time high. Can the San Francisco offense perform effectively in that environment against the best defense in the league?

Williamson: That is the story of this game. I keep going back to Week 2 and remembering the trouble the 49ers had on offense. They had no chance. Now, Kaepernick is a much more seasoned player than he was then. That was just his 12th NFL start. He's more poised. But you bring up a great point: This place is going to be extra noisy. The 49ers simply can't afford to make any mistakes because of it, and I don't know if that is possible.

Terry, don't you sense the entire state of Washington is counting the minutes until the 49ers offense steps onto the field?

Blount: I've never seen anything quite like it, Bill. The entire Pacific Northwest is in a Seahawks frenzy that's amped up even more because of the fans' deep-seeded hatred for everything 49ers. CenturyLink will go seismic again, and that could be the difference in the game.

Quick Take: 49ers at Seahawks

January, 12, 2014
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Three things to know about next Sunday's San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field:

1. Inevitable meeting: The matchup has been brewing since the offseason. This is one of the most heated rivalries in the NFL. The players have gotten chippy. The coaches have gotten chippy. The teams have poached each other’s rosters. It only makes sense that a Super Bowl berth comes down to these two NFC West adversaries.

2. The quarterbacks: San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson are two of the most dynamic young quarterbacks in the NFL. They have similar games and are great leaders for their teams. This game likely will come down to which quarterback makes the most plays with his arm and legs. Kaepernick has been to this stage before; Wilson hasn’t. Will Kaepernick's championship game experience give him the edge?

3. Can 49ers figure out how to win at Seattle? The 49ers were hammered in Seattle 29-3 in Week 2 and have been outscored 71-16 in their past two games at CenturyLink Field. The 49ers were greatly affected by the infamous noise level in those two games. Sunday, after beating the Panthers, several 49ers said the key will be to play as perfect as possible to take the crowd out of the game.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It appears the San Francisco 49ers will travel to Tampa Bay at near full health.

The biggest injury question is whether left guard Mike Iupati will return from a sprained knee. He’s missed the past three games. He has practiced on a limited basis all week. 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Friday it’s possible that Iupati can play Sunday. If he can’t, Adam Snyder will make his fourth straight start.

Receiver Michael Crabtree is probable with an ankle injury that he tweaked against Seattle last week. Crabtree suffered the injury early and he finished the game. He practiced all week.

In other notes:

49ers CEO Jed York playfully tries to budge Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to the diamond.

In an Insider piece, Pro Football Focus ranksInsider the 49ers as the 12th-deepest roster. I disagree. This team is loaded. It’s a top-five roster, in my opinion.
SeahawksAP Photo/Ben MargotFrank Gore's 51-yard run in the fourth quarter set up the 49ers' winning field goal.

SAN FRANCISCO -- As players dispersed onto the field Sunday afternoon after a physical battle that cemented this as one of the NFL's finest rivalries, many San Francisco 49ers had a message for the Seattle Seahawks.

“We told them on the field that we will see them again,” San Francisco guard Alex Boone said after his 49ers won 19-17 on Phil Dawson's 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining. “We said, 'See you up there.' And it's going to be another battle."

Did the Seahawks agree with the 49ers' plans for a future meeting?

“Yes, they said, ‘See you again,'" Boone said.

Yes, the 49ers and the Seahawks both have business to do before a potential postseason meeting, but the players are on to something. These two teams are on a collision course for the playoffs.

So the 49ers have about a month to figure out how to win in Seattle.

There is no doubt that San Francisco's win Sunday was important and impressive.

But whether the 49ers won or lost Sunday, what truly matters is whether they can win in Seattle, where it is tough for any team to beat the Seahawks. And at 11-2, Seattle is on pace to have the home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

The 49ers know this: In losses at Seattle last December and in Week 2 this season, they were outscored by a combined 71-16 margin. However, if these teams meet again, the 49ers will focus on the success they had Sunday.

They 49ers were the better team and deserved to win on Sunday. They made more plays.

“The way they've beaten us the last two times up in their place, this kind of felt like a must-win for us,” San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said.

This type of victory has been a long time coming for the 49ers, who are now 9-4. Entering the day, they were 1-4 against teams with winning records and 7-0 against teams with losing records or .500 records. Last month, when the 49ers went from 6-2 to 6-4, they lost to Carolina and to New Orleans by a total of four points. They could have easily won both games.

Had this game gone Seattle's way and ended in a one-point loss for the 49ers, that would have stuck with San Francisco heading into the postseason. The 49ers now know they can beat a good team and get out of a close game with a win.

Perhaps that's why the San Francisco locker room was so raucous afterward. It was, by far, the most boisterous this group has been after a win this season.

“We knew this was going down to the last second,” Boone said. “They just had to stay calm and get it done.”

The 49ers had started talking about this game as soon as the St. Louis game was over last week. That's unusual. But the 49ers have been looking forward to the chance of redemption since they were crushed in Seattle in September. Boone had said the 49ers couldn't “overthink” the matchup. Tight end Vernon Davis said the 49ers couldn't be “overwhelmed” by the task.

Throughout the week, San Francisco appeared relaxed and focused. It paid off Sunday.

The Seahawks took a 17-16 lead with 6:25 to go. Memories of the losses to the Panthers and Saints came rushing back.

However, the 49ers, who were held scoreless in the second half to that point, embarked on a long drive -- fueled by a 51-yard run by Frank Gore -- to set up Dawson's game winner.

While the team reveled in the win, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was clearly drained. He was asked whether he enjoys this rivalry.

"'Enjoy' is not the word I'd use,” Harbaugh said. “It's like going to dentist's chair and getting three hours of root canal … this is only for the tough.”

San Francisco is definitely tough. Once again, the 49ers' defense played at a high level. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was harassed all game and never got comfortable. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson was just 2-of-8 on passes 10 yards or longer.

“They might have a better record than us,” San Francisco safety Donte Whitner said. “But when playoff time comes, you have to look out for the 49ers.”

The 49ers are on pace to be the sixth and final seed in the playoffs. They hold a one-game lead in the chase. San Francisco will play at Tampa Bay in Week 15, then close Candlestick Park against Atlanta on a Monday night before traveling to Arizona for what could be a playoffs-or-bust game.

Although the 49ers are not certain to make the playoffs, another date with Seattle seems inevitable.

video

Morning 49ers nuggets

December, 6, 2013
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said cornerback Tarell Brown will be eased back in to the playing rotation when he returns from the rib injury he suffered at New Orleans on Nov. 17. Brown has been practicing on a limited basis this week. Tramaine Brock took his place.

There is a chance Brock, who recently signed a four-year contract extension, will stay the starter, since he is in the team’s long-term plans and has played well in Brown’s spot.

Rookie tight end Vance McDonald practiced on a limited basis Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s workout with an ankle injury. He should be able to play Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said receiver Michael Crabtree has no soreness from his Achilles injury and has looked good in practice this week. Crabtree made his season debut Sunday and played 42 snaps against St. Louis.

Are the 49ers uptight going into a big game against Seattle? It didn’t look like it Thursday. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, linebacker NaVorro Bowman and receiver Quinton Patton had a punting contest before practice. On my unofficial scorer’s card, it was Kaepernick in a landslide.

Speaking of Kaepernick, Roman had this to say about the quarterback's performance against the Rams: “I thought last week’s game against the Rams was one of the best games, if not the best, he’s played big-picture-wise. Everything from soup to nuts, A to Z, I thought it was a magnificent performance on a lot of levels.”

Kaepernick wasn’t the only quarterback getting praise. Seattle's Russell Wilson got a strong endorsement from Fangio: “Everybody thinks this guy’s a freak quarterback. This guy’s just a really good quarterback who happens to be very fast, very quick and very elusive. He’s not just a guy that runs around. He’s a passer, too. He can run any offense and be a confident quarterback.”

Finally, 49ers fans may not want to look up Sunday when the Seahawks come to town.

Rivalry? What rivalry?

December, 4, 2013
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- We all know about the heated rivalry between the San Francisco and Seattle Seahawks.

We know about the roster poaching, allegations of the postgame shenanigans and as Vernon Davis reminded us this week, "they don't like us and we don't like them."

One of the men in the center of the rivalry, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, however, had nothing but glowing things to say about the Seahawks in preparation of Sunday's game against visiting Seattle.

Here's a sampling of Harbaugh's niceties:

On Seattle quarterback on Russell Wilson: "He's a fantastic player. A wonderful, wonderful player, competitor. Skills of arm talent, mobility. Great field awareness. Understands the scrambling lanes, the escape routes out of the pocket. And then that feel that only so many quarterbacks have had that have ever really played the game to extend plays. So, a lot of great qualities. A lot of wonderful qualities about him."

On the 11-1 Seahawks in general: "They're a great football team. A tremendous challenge. Like I said, we're very excited so far in our preparation and we expect really good days leading up to the game."

On safety Earl Thomas: "He can cover a lot of ground. He's like Willie Mays. He's a five-tool player. He can do it all."

How's that for being good-natured? Don't get used to it. Sunday is coming.
Here are some notes from the media session held by San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio on Thursday:

A lot of NFL teams dinged Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson for being 5-foot-11. He wasn’t drafted until the third round because of his height -- despite possessing all the other high-caliber NFL quarterbacking qualities. However, Fangio doesn't think Wilson’s stature is a detriment.

“His lack of height actually helps him, I think, in that he’s less of a target to get to,” Fangio said. “He’s a tough assignment.”

Fangio said San Francisco third-stringer B.J. Daniels can help this week as a scout-team quarterback. Fangio said Daniels' quickness and size are similar to Wilson, though the rookie is not as fast as Wilson. Still, Fangio said, Daniels offers the 49ers’ defense a “good look.”

Fangio’s assessment of No. 3 cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha against Green Bay on Sunday: “He had some good plays. He had some big plays for us on a couple third downs. He also missed a tackle or two there that hurt us. So, he had some good and some bad and we need to eliminate the missed tackles.”

The 49ers had seven missed tackles, a high number.

Asked whether rookie linebacker Corey Lemonier is ready to play, Fangio said he was and could spell the starters in Seattle.

Fangio said defensive linemen Ray McDonald and Justin Smith probably rotated out more than usual against Green Bay because of a combination of the warm weather and the fact that San Francisco was playing its nickel defense extensively.

Colin Kaepernick's MVP push

September, 11, 2013
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Could Colin Kaepernick make an MVP run in his first full season as a starter?

So far, so good.

In his MVP Watch, Dan Graziano ranked Kaepernick second behind Denver’s Peyton Manning. There was no way Manning wasn’t going to be ranked first after that seven-touchdown showing against Baltimore.

However, Kaepernick is off to a nice start as well. He threw for a career-high 412 yards in a 34-28 San Francisco win over Green Bay on Sunday.

I have a feeling Graziano will be writing about Kaepernick a lot this season. This kid is not going to get any worse. So, as we stand now, yes, I fully expect Kaepernick to be a serious MVP threat.

In ESPN.com’s Hot Read, Jeffri Chadiha looks at five young quarterbacks who could be big stars. Chadiha ranks Andrew Luck, Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. He looks at several different aspects.

His conclusion that Kaepernick will be the fourth best player in the group behind Luck, Griffin and Wilson. I would rank Kaepernick just behind Luck.

I think Kaepernick has huge potential and his ability to win with his legs and arms make his difficult to beat. Still, this is a power group. So, being ranked fourth here isn’t terrible.
Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are likely going to be on-field rivals for the next decade.

They better pace themselves on bodily bets.

As part of their EA partnership, the two players have bet an eyebrow- -- yes, an eyebrow –- on the outcome of Sunday’s game in Seattle. My thoughts? Well, they both seem like fun-loving guys who enjoy each other’s company. But I’m not keeping my eye out on this angle.

It’s a fun gag fueled by a mutual business venture. But come Sunday night, neither player is going to worry about eyebrows. But whatever gets them talking, right?

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee reported the 49ers worked out tackle Jason Smith. The No. 2 overall pick in 2009 has often tried out and has often been cut. The 49ers are strong on the offensive line, but could be looking to have a strong tackle backup option. Smith has not shown the capacity to be a reliable option.

The Bee is also reporting defensive lineman Will Tukuafu is being released to make room for fellow defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs. He is returning from a one-game suspension. It’s no surprise as Tukuafu was inactive Sunday.

#NFLRank: A full NFC West accounting

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
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Fifteen San Francisco 49ers and 13 Seattle Seahawks helped the NFC West account for a disproportionate number of players listed in the #NFLRank project from ESPN.

Sixty-three voters helped rank 100 top players on each side of the ball. NFC West teams accounted for 20 players on defense and 16 on offense. The 36-player total works out to 18 percent representation for the NFC West, above the 12.5 percent expectation for any division.

The chart shows where NFC West players ranked on each list. I shaded offensive players in gray to better distinguish the rankings.

The 49ers' Patrick Willis and the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald have long been perceived as the best players in the division. They've got additional competition, but those two ranked higher than anyone else in the NFC West.

There were sure to be oversights in a project of this scope. Defensive end Calais Campbell of the Cardinals stands out to me as the most glaring one. I might have placed him between Patrick Peterson and Chris Long in defensive rankings as they stood for this project.

Three Seahawks cornerbacks earned spots on the list even though one of them, Antoine Winfield, reportedly could be released by the team Saturday in the reduction to 53 players Saturday.

A quick look at ranked players by team:

San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis (3), Aldon Smith (10), Justin Smith (11), Vernon Davis (18), NaVorro Bowman (18), Joe Staley (25), Mike Iupati (32), Frank Gore (37), Colin Kaepernick (42), Ahmad Brooks (56), Anthony Davis (60), Donte Whitner (64), Michael Crabtree (78), Anquan Boldin (83) and Jonathan Goodwin (92).

Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman (8), Earl Thomas (17), Percy Harvin (26), Marshawn Lynch (27), Brandon Browner (46), Russell Wilson (47), Russell Okung (49), Kam Chancellor (49), Max Unger (57), Bobby Wagner (67), Winfield (70), Cliff Avril (74) and Chris Clemons (85).

St. Louis Rams: Long (40), James Laurinaitis (57), Jake Long (61), Cortland Finnegan (63).

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald (7), Patrick Peterson (19), Daryl Washington (59) and Darnell Dockett (79).

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

August, 30, 2013
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Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.

With an assist from @CSN49ers, I'm passing along the "Madden 25" commercial featuring NFC West quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.

The ad shows them training for this moment since a chance meeting at a summer camp for kids. It peaks with Wilson seeking approval from Kaepernick for his "Kaepernicking" technique while the two sit in an NFL locker room. This is fun stuff and it'll have to hold us til Week 2, when these players and their teams will compete for real at CenturyLink Field.

ESPN's Ron Jaworski ranked San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick No. 11 when ranking the 32 projected NFL starting quarterbacks for 2013.

Jaworski now says he thinks Kaepernick can become an all-time great. Jaworski, speaking in the video atop this item, pointed to Kaepernick's arm strength, accuracy and mobility. He also pointed to the coaching Kaepernick is receiving from Jim Harbaugh and staff.


Early returns are indeed promising. Kaepernick ranked second to Peyton Manning in Total QBR as a starter for the regular season and playoffs. Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees and Eli Manning rounded out the top 10.

Smith's presence on that list stands out, because he hadn't produced at that level previously. I do think the offense in San Francisco forces teams to account for the run, setting up quarterbacks for success on early downs. That is when Smith in particular flourished. As Jaworski points out, there is no denying the physical ability Kaepernick brings to the position. Put him in the 49ers' system and the potential is there, no doubt.

Now that we've begun work on that Hall of Fame bust, let's revisit what Jaworski said when ranking Kaepernick 11th among starters earlier this offseason:
"Normally 10 NFL starts is not enough for me to evaluate a player so highly, but this kid has special talent, is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback with a power arm and outstanding athleticism.

"Remember this? It was a signature play of the 2012 season. It was Kaepernick’s first touchdown run against Green Bay that really caught my attention. You see the press man coverage with two deep safeties. It turned out the Packers doubled Michael Crabtree. But the point is the same. This is what mobile, athletic quarterbacks can do versus man-to-man coverage, especially on third down. It forces defenses to rethink their concepts, it limits their tactical options.

"I remember Kaepernick’s first start against the Bears. It was immediately evident that he gave the 49ers every dimension in the passing game. And I love the way Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman set up Kaepernick with defined reads through the use of shifts and formations.

"Watch what happened here from the coaching tape. All that pre-snap movement was designed to get Vernon Davis matched on linebacker Lance Briggs. As favorable as the matchup was, that was still not an easy throw.

"That’s why Kaepernick has a chance to be very special. He has a complete throwing skill-set with a powerful arm that I absolutely put at gun level. His ball comes out with a lot of energy and velocity. And Kaepernick can drive the ball down the field, on the move, with accuracy.

"Kaepernick is one of the four or five most physically talented quarterbacks in the entire NFL. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to the loss of Michael Crabtree, but the elite skill-set is still there."

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