49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

May 21, 2014
The 49ers blog has moved

The blog can now be found at: http://www.sacbee.com/sf49ers/

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Please come see us in our new home.

May 21, 2014
Aldon Smith pleads no contest to charges; sentencing in July

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Aldon Smith on Wednesday pleaded no contest to three felony weapons charges as well as misdemeanor DUI charges in Santa Clara County Superior Court. The 49ers' linebacker must appear again on July 25 when he will be sentenced. The 49ers are expected to report for training camp earlier that week.

The case against Smith, 24, had two parts: DUI charges involving an incident in which he drove his pickup truck through and came to rest in the front yard of a San Jose residence, and weapons charges relating to three semi-automatic rifles found in his bedroom following an out-of-control party in 2012. Smith allegedly purchased some of the guns legally during a 49ers road trip to Arizona but did not register or modify them upon his return to California.

Smith faces anything from probation to four years, four months in prison, which is the maximum sentence for the weapons charges.

"We are aware that Aldon entered a plea today in a case that we have closely monitored," the 49ers' general manager, Trent Baalke, said in a statement. "Today was an important step towards bringing that situation to a resolution. Any further questions concerning today's hearing should be directed to his attorney."

May 21, 2014
49ers' Aldon Smith due in court today

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A hearing for Aldon Smith is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today in San Jose, and a plea bargain is a possibility. The case includes two separate events: September DUI charges in which the 49ers linebacker drove his truck through and came to rest in the front yard of a San Jose residence, as well as weapons charges relating to three semi-automatic rifles found in his bedroom following an out-of-control party in 2012. Smith allegedly purchased some of the guns legally during a 49ers road trip to Arizona but did not register or modify them upon his return to California.

The ongoing case does not include April's incident at Los Angeles International Airport in which Smith allegedly said he had a bomb as he went through security. Witnesses said Smith was acting strangely at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter prior to security, and police suspected he had been drinking. The L.A. City Attorney's office is considering the case and has not filed charges at this time. Smith told CSN Bay Area recently that he looked forward to the truth being revealed through the legal process. "A lot of these things are being painted in a picture that's not true," he told the web site.

Smith, who has 42 sacks in 43 games played with the 49ers, could be suspended by the NFL. That suspension, however, likely would not be decided upon until after the LAX case is resolved. The 49ers, meanwhile, recently vowed to stick with Smith, the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft, then followed that up by picking up an option in his contract that will pay Smith $9.75 million next season if he is on the roster in March.

Smith, 24, sat out five games last season while attending an alcohol-rehabilitation facility recommended by the NFL players' association. The 49ers won all five contests, albeit mostly against teams with losing records, with Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier filling in at right outside linebacker. Both players are back this year. The 49ers also added a draft pick, Aaron Lynch, at the position.

-- Matt Barrows

May 20, 2014
Happy returns? Ellington, other rookies working on special teams skills

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Wide receiver Bruce Ellington has been handling both kick and punt returns during the 49ers' recent "football school" and he expects to do both at the team's rookie minicamp that begins Friday. "It's something I'm working on, and hopefully I can get in this year and make some plays," said Ellington, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina.

At this point last year, Kyle Williams was the team's most experienced return man with LaMichael James serving as his understudy. Williams was released during the 2013 season while James, unhappy with his workload at running back, has stayed away from the 49ers' voluntary practices so far and is open to a trade.

Both general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh have lauded James' return skills in recent weeks and have spoken as if he will be part of the team in 2014. Still, they must come up with alternatives this offseason even if James remains.

Ellington appears to be a top candidate even though mostly handled kickoffs at South Carolina. He returned three punts total, all of them in 2013. Ellington said former SMU cornerback Kenneth Acker, a fifth-round pick, also has been returning punts in recent weeks and that second-round pick Carlos Hyde, a running back from Ohio State, has been among those handling kickoffs. Acker handled 14 punt returns at SMU; Hyde had two kickoff returns at Ohio State in 2011.

Aside from James, receiver Devon Wylie (Granite Bay High) and cornerback Perrish Cox have experience returning punts in the NFL. Neither is eligible to attend the weekend rookie minicamp.

-- Matt Barrows

May 19, 2014
Jerry Rice Jr. to take part in 49ers minicamp; Marcus Lattimore can take part, too

A year after Joe Montana's son tossed passes in a 49ers rookie minicamp, Jerry Rice's boy will get a chance to catch them. Jerry Rice Jr., who played at UNLV and who took part in the team's local pro day last month, will be one of the receivers in San Francisco's rookie minicamp, which runs Friday through Sunday.

Although he's not technically a rookie, running back Marcus Lattimore also is eligible to take part in the rookie minicamp because he did not earn any pension credit last year, which was spent on the non-football injury list. Offensive tackle Luke Marquardt, who was dealing with a foot injury a year ago, also can take part in the weekend session. Offensive tackle Carter Bykowski, receiver Chuck Jacobs and defensive lineman Mike Purcell also are eligible to participate.

Rice Jr., who walked on at UCLA before transferring to UNLV, was not drafted earlier this month. But he got a chance to take part in the Ravens' rookie minicamp last week and impressed the head coach. "He doesn't have his dad's size, but he sure got his athleticism," John Harbaugh told reporters. "He runs in a real similar way. He's got that West Coast offense down. He's probably had that playbook since he was in the cradle ... Very good hands, real smooth athlete. He did a real nice job."

Fourth-round draft pick Bruce Ellington also will take part in the minicamp at receiver. In addition to Rice Jr., the team is likely to sign more players for the weekend on a tryout basis.

-- Matt Barrows

May 19, 2014
Q&A: Who might the 49ers dangle as offseason trade bait?

Answ: To me, these questions are related. The 49ers have two starting-caliber nose tackles in Glenn Dorsey and Ian Williams but only use a nose tackle on about 40 percent of their defensive plays. Furthermore, Quinton Dial has played the position in the past and may get some repetitions there this offseason. If Trent Baalke wants more draft picks for next season - and Baalke always wants more picks - it would seem like this position could fetch a nice price and that Williams would be the likeliest to be dangled. In fact, the entire defensive line is deep, especially on a team that uses only two at a time on obvious passing downs.

Answ: Do you mean, "Are the 49ers at risk of losing Hunter to free agency in March?" That's possible. But as is the case in all questions about the future of the running back spot, the 49ers still don't know exactly what they have in Marcus Lattimore. If Lattimore looks like the second coming of Roger Craig this year, it may make the team less apt to strike a long-term deal with Hunter. Still, I think the running back pecking order, at least for the first half of the season, will begin with Frank Gore and Hunter.

May 16, 2014
Stevie Johnson hasn't forgotten drop vs. Steelers, says it changed approach to the game

Receiver Stevie Johnson, who is as well-known for end-zone t-shirt displays as he is 1,000-yard seasons, says he's at a point in his career where "it's about handling business first." The new 49ers receiver said this new business-like outlook began late in the 2010 season when, as a member of the Bills, he dropped five passes against the Steelers, including the game-winning touchdown in overtime. The Bills lost 19-16.

"I'll never get over it. Ever," Johnson said after that game.

He was still thinking about it on Thursday.

"When I missed the pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was pretty focused on the just showing up and having 100 yards, having a couple of touchdowns and having fun," Johnson, 27, said at 49ers headquarters. "After all that happened, I had to sit back and realized, 'You have to handle business before you have fun.'"

Prior to the Steelers game in 2010, Johnson was fined $5,000 when, following a touchdown catch against the Bengals, he lifted his jersey to reveal that he'd written "Why so serious?" on the t-shirt beneath it. He also was penalized - and benched - after revealing, "Happy New Year" on his t-shirt following a touchdown against the Patriots.

That celebration occurred more than a year after the drop against the Steelers.

- Matt Barrows

May 15, 2014
49ers sign RB Hyde, CB Johnson; five rookie deals done

The 49ers now have five of their 12 draft picks under contract after finishing deals for second-round pick Carlos Hyde, a running back, and fourth-round selection Dontae Johnson, a cornerback. The 235-pound Hyde trained with Frank Gore in Florida following the combine and the team is eyeing him as a possible workhorse running back and replacement for Gore should the veteran leave when his contract expires at the end of the season.

Johnson, meanwhile, has the size - 6-2, 200 pounds - the 49ers have been seeking at cornerback. He also is familiar to Jim Harbaugh, who recruited him at Stanford. Johnson, who is from New Jersey, chose N.C. State because it was closer to home.

"Yeah, that one left a bruise," Harbaugh said on Saturday. "But we got him now and he was really excited. Another great moment talking to him and he remembered us at Stanford, recruiting him and visiting. The time we visited together. Also [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman went out to the school and visited. So that was quite a thrill to get to talk to him, make him a part of our team."

The 49ers have deals with Hyde, Johnson, fellow cornerback Keith Reaser, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch and defensive end Kaleb Ramsey.

-- Matt Barrows

May 15, 2014
Shayne Skov eager for what may be 49ers' best offseason position battle

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Shayne Skov battled a knee injury midway through his college career, a calf injury just before the scouting combine and a hamstring injury prior to his pro day at Stanford. The string of bad breaks - which translated into a sluggish 5.1-second 40-yard dash prior to the draft - helps explain why Skov, who was once viewed as one of the top inside linebackers in the nation, went undrafted last week.

Skov admitted to being surprised by the snub, which has created a sizable chip on his shoulder as he prepares for what promises to be perhaps the 49ers' best offseason position battle.

"When public opinion and people's perceptions are different than your own then obviously you're going to take that a little bit personally," Skov said on Thursday. "But at the end of the day I'm a football player. From here on out, my play and my abilities are going to dictate whether I see the field or not and what my future is as a player."

Skov played for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for a season at Stanford and is more familiar with the 49ers' defense than any of the team's rookies. The 49ers also will have an opening at inside linebacker while NaVorro Boman recovers from his January ACL tear.

May 15, 2014
As stadium nears completion, 49ers hoping for green and gold

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If you've been watching the 49ers' live stadium feed and wondering why the new grass gets a regular dousing while you are showing every third day due to California's drought, there's a reason. The stadium uses recycled -- or "gray"-- water, which is something you definitely don't want to use for your baths. The type of grass used, Bermuda Bandera, also requires up to 50 percent less water than other types used in the Bay Area.

I wrote about the green-i-ness of the new stadium a couple of years ago, and the team still is gunning for a LEED gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) status. The Ravens have the only other sports venue in the United States with a LEED gold rating. (Jim Harbaugh is always playing second fiddle to his older brother).

Recycled water is one of the ways they hope to achieve that mark. Another is with solar panels, which will sit atop the three bridges that lead to the stadium as well as the roof of the tower suite. The team expects that the power generated from those panels will offset the power used in the 10 NFL games played there each year.

Some observations of a tour of the facility on Thursday:

* The team's spacious locker room is nearly complete, and it provides a noticeable home-field advantage. The ceilings are 18- to 20-feet high, whereas the visitor's locker room's are 10-feet high. The lockers are made of walnut, which is built into the ceiling as well. The visitor's space is painted a dark gray. The 49ers' locker room is roomy even now despite temporary lockers for the 90-man offseason locker. It will have 64 lockers when the regular season begins. The 49ers are not yet ready to move into their new digs, but it will serve as the team's primary locker room - for practices, offseason, etc. - once the stadium is complete.





MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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