49ers Blog and Q&A

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

September 22, 2007
Good Humor? Not with this offense

Question: Hi Matt: Hostler is getting all the flack for the terrible offensive showing while Nolan continues to get a pass. I think Nolan is more involved in the offense then he admits. My question is: Do you know of another coach in the NFL that was given a quart of vanilla ice cream by the owner? Something for Dr. York to ponder.
Orland, Pleasanton

Answer: Oh, snap! I can't believe Orland went to the Danny Snyder ice-cream incident. (But I love the reference). I don't know the extent to which Nolan is involved with the play calling. But I suspect you're correct. Even if he has no hand in it, this is Nolan's team. He's hand-picked the coaches and the players. It's Nolan who's built the offense to be a run-oriented, ball-control unit that doesn't commit turnovers. Which is to say, even if the plays are coming from Hostler and Hostler alone, he's making those calls under the umbrella of Nolan's philosophy. But I also feel I need to defend the head coach. Allow me to clear my throat and cup my hand around my mouth: HE'S 2-0 FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!! I'd hate to see the e-mails I'd be getting if those numbers were reversed.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, are you allowed to answer the following questions regarding Friday's practice? Did Jackson practice on Fri? If not, who took his reps? Did Heitmann (ankle) or Baas take the first-string center snaps? Who took Lawson's reps in the base 3-4? Who took Lawson's reps in the nickel? Who took Lawson's reps on special teams? Likely activation in lieu of Lawson: McDonald or Goldson?
Jim, Walnut Creek

Answer: I could tell you, Jim, but then I'd have to kill you. Seriously, though, we reporters are allowed to watch practice under the condition that we don't reveal things that could give the Steelers a competitive advantage such as trick plays, key substitutions, etc. I can tell you that Jackson practiced Friday and should start Sunday and that Heitmann is still the team's starting center. As far as who will be activated in lieu of Lawson, I can only give my best guess: Zak Keasey. I figure he will step into the special teams role of the player who takes Lawson's spot in the starting lineup.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: I just heard the news about Manny Lawson and I'm worried about who is going to replace him. I don't think Haralson or Navies could get the job done. Is there any free-agent linebacker that the 49ers could pick up or trade for? Kwame for a good linebacker would be nice. What's your opinion?
Joel, Sacramento

Answer: You're right - Navies and Haralson won't be able to fully replace Lawson, who is one of the most unique players in the league. But I also don't think there are any free agents out there who can do a better job than Navies and Haralson. As far as a Harris-for-a-linebacker trade - that's an intriguing idea, but I don't know whether Harris is going to land you anyone who is all that better than Hannibal Navies. After all, the best trade offer the 49ers have received thus far is for a sixth-round draft pick.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: It seems the offensive line is not yet playing up to their ability and the receivers are dropping passes. Do you think Hostler and Nolan are keeping a lid on things until everyone comes together as a unit, or "gels" as they say?
Chris, Manalapan, NJ

Answer: I think the root of the 49ers' conservative nature is Nolan. He's a defensive coach and sees the game through that prism. The two games the 49ers have played also have been, for the most part, defensive battles. When it's tight like that, the coaches are far more reluctant to be the first team that makes a catastrophic turnover. Also, is it "gels" or "jells"? Any William Safires out there?
-- Matt Barrows

Question: You postulated early in training camp that the 49ers had the potential to experience a game like recent Chicago/Kansas City/Washington Redskins debacles. I think that could easily happen against Pittsburgh. It's painful to watch Alex Smith. Is he the problem or is it Nolan? He goes back, looks..looks..looks, then tries to move. Does he see the field? They should encourage him to take off if the receiver isn't open and use him on bootlegs, ala last year at Seattle. So what if he gets hurt!
James, Lincoln

Answer: Smith was definitely holding the ball too long in St. Louis, which is puzzling because I felt "pocket awareness" was one of the areas in which he made his greatest strides in 2006. I'm not sure what the problem is and why it seems like he's digressed in that area. Smith certainly has had scant opportunities to find a rhythm, and it's quite possible that he is still familiarizing himself with Darrell Jackson. And you're right about bootlegs and roll outs. Smith is very comfortable on the run and the coaches need to do a better job of putting him in his comfort zone. If he struggles again on Sunday, this indeed could be another Chicago/KC/DC disaster.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: If the 49ers continue their struggles on offense for the rest of the season, do you think Mike Nolan would fire Jim Hostler and try and sign a big-name offensive coordinator and make Alex Smith learn another offense? I think Jim Hostler was just hired because there was no veteran big name play callers out there anymore? What do you think?
Drew, Sacramento

Answer: Well, I think Hostler was hired because the 49ers didn't want to go through the process of learning a new offense for the third season in a row. The question is whether Hostler, a first-time offensive coordinator, is being too cautious or is being restrained by Nolan. That is, because Nolan gave him his first shot, does Hostler feel obligated to call games the way Nolan, a former defensive coordinator, would want them? Some people have suggested that Hostler needs to call plays from the coaching booth not to get a better view of the field but to get away from Nolan. (See: Davis, Billy). Would Nolan replace Hostler at year's end? If they finish dead last in offense (as they are now) I think he'd have to.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Matt, is Nolan sticking to his plan of limiting Bryant Young's minutes? He said he was going to rest him more to keep him fresh throughout the year and avoid last year's late-season slump. Also, where has Tully Banta-Cain been? He's added very little if anything to the pass rush.
Bryan, Stockton

Answer: It seems like the 49ers are doing a better job of giving BY adequate rest. That started in the offseason when Young hardly practiced at all in training camp. You'll also notice that Ronald Fields gets in the game a lot in order to keep BY fresh in the fourth quarter. The result is a league-leading four sacks. The key, of course, is to maintain that freshness throughout the season. As you'll recall, BY also began last year with a flurry of sacks but dropped off by season's end. As for TBC, it seems like he's giving his opponent too much time to set up. Let's give him a little more time before we declare him a bust, though.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey, I'd like to ask you a question about something I'm sure you never get a chance to talk about... the Niner offense. We are always hearing about how much the coaching staff and ownership loves Alex Smith and believes he is the future of this franchise. Why then do they not allow him to act like it and baby him when playcalling? Isn't it about time they let him have the reins... we saw what he can do when he is aggressive against Arizona. Are they just conservative or should we be worried about a lack of faith?
Bobby, El Dorado Hills

Answer: Ah, a topic I've hardly touched on. I agree with you 100 percent about the QB, Bobby. It's not like Smith is inaccurate or throws an interception every time he lets go of the ball. Smith's problem is that - whether because of the play call or indecision - he hardly ever lets go of the ball. He had 17 attempts against St. Louis. There are some QBs that have 17 attempts on a single drive. I don't think it's a lack of faith in Smith. If anything, it's too much faith in the running game. There appears to be a belief that whenever the 49ers need 10 yards, all they have to do is hand the ball to Frank Gore and - voila! --.a first down. It's a nice thought and a very safe play. But aside from one 43-yard run, so far it hasn't worked out like the 49ers have hoped.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Hey Matt, can you please let me know what is up with Lelie. Why is he not in on every three WR set? He is clearly the third-best receiver on the team. The number three receiver sees quite a bit of time over the course of the year and is obviously a big factor. Why is Nolan not putting his best option out there? Is Lelie in the doghouse? Jacobs might be productive in practice, but not in real games. We need some kind of spark, and maybe the man who got paid $2 mil can provide that.....
Ross, Sacramento

Answer: One reason why Lelie hasn't gotten any opportunities showed up in practice this week. With Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle both nursing injuries Wednesday, Lelie got a chance to run with the first team. The result - lots of dropped passes. And there's the rub. Lelie's not a practice guy but shows up on game day. Taylor Jacobs is Captain America in practice but Shirley Temple on Sundays. I tend to agree with you, though. It seems as if Lelie would give defenses far more to think about than Jacobs. If you were a defensive back, who would you rather face? I wonder, too, if this whole Lelie vs. Jacobs debate can be folded into the "Nolan is too cautious" argument. I'll leave that for guys to ponder.
-- Matt Barrows

Question: Why are we not hearing about Aubrayo Franklin? Is he hurt again?
Don, Rocklin

Answer: No. In fact, Franklin has been the starting NT the last two games. Franklin is more of a hold-the-point type of NT whereas Isaac Sopoaga is more of a burst into the backfield type of NT. Thus, one shows up more when you're watching the game. Franklin also is probably still working off the rust after missing training camp with a knee injury. By the way, look for Sopoaga to get a contract extension offer some time during the season.
-- 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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