49ers Blog and Q&A

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

November 16, 2006

Question: Do you think the 49ers will make a push for the playoffs this year?
-- Grk Guru, Sacramento

Answer: At the risk of sounding like the party pooper -- I don't think so. The only reason there's currently a bit of playoff buzz is because the rest of the NFC has been so bad this year. If the 49ers beat Seattle on Sunday, I might change my tune. But they haven't beaten Seattle since 2002. They play the Seahawks twice and also must visit Denver and New Orleans, two more teams with winning records. If they lose those games, they will finish, at best, 7-9, and most likely out of the playoffs.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Why does Mike Nolan keep using Michael Robinson on short yardage situations? He always gets tackled in the backfield and it never seems to work out for us. He had one good game and that's it.
-- Tabrez A, Elk Grove

Answer: Well, you'll recall that earlier in the season that job belonged to Frank Gore until he had a few catastrophic fumbles in short-yardage situations. Robinson is bigger than Gore -- and more importantly to Nolan -- doesn't put the ball on the ground. My issue is the lack of creativity in short yardage. Nolan wants his offense to be able to push around the opponent's defense and get a couple of yards whenever it so desires. This, I think, has led to a stubbornness in short-yardage scenarios that has ended up backfiring several times this year. Why not use Alex Smith more? Or throw to one of the talented tight ends? Or Arnaz Battle?
-- Matt Barrows

Question: How many draft picks do the 49ers have this coming year? What picks did they get for Kevan Barlow and Mike Rumph? What does it exactly mean by undisclosed picks?
Harsh, Berkeley

Answer: They have eight for sure with the possibility of some "compensatory" picks. These are extra picks the NFL doles out before the draft that are meant to compensate for the free agents the team lost the prior year. For example, the 49ers expect to be awarded a pick at the end of the third round as compensation for losing Julian Peterson. They also could get a pick for Andre Carter. They got a fourth rounder from the Jets for Kevan Barlow and a fourth rounder from the Redskins for Brandon Lloyd. They didn't get any picks for Rumph -- he was traded for seldom-used wideout Taylor Jacobs.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I'm interested in your opinion on the progress of Alex Smith. It's obvious he's light years ahead of where he was last year, but on the limited time that I've been able to see him this season (living in Seahawks country), he seems reluctant to run for first downs. I thought that rushing ability was one his strenghts coming out of college. He also seems to have a tendency to fall back away from the pass rush instead of stepping up into the pocket to throw the ball. Do you agree? Are these things he is working on improving?
-- Kevin, Vancouver, Wash.

Answer: One of the lessons Smith learned last season is that running for first downs in the NFL isn't as easy as running for them in the Mountain West. His ventures outside the pocket usually ended in him being hammered by a linebacker or defensive end, as was the case when LaVar Arrington knocked him out for a few weeks in a game against the Redskins. He has, however, gotten a lot better at buying extra time in the pocket by taking a step forward here or a sidestep there. That, to me, is one of the biggest reasons for optimism regarding Smith, because it's not something every young quarterback -- especially one who used the shotgun exclusively in college -- has picked up as quickly.

For one reason or another, he hasn't looked as good in recent weeks. But you have to remember that he's a 22-year-old quarterback who is already on his second offensive coordinator. There are going to be times when it looks like he's taking a step or two backwards -- literally and figuratively. What has the coaching staff smiling is that he's very smart, very tough and doesn't let much rattle him. And he's also won his last two games.
-- Matt 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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