Question: I see flashes of good blanketed by mistakes every week. Is there a change in the attitude or the atmosphere of the locker room? I would hope everyone is holding himself accountable and not pointing fingers. That's what will turn them around. I see talent, a lot of it! I also see a lack of focus at times. So can you give some insight on what the players are saying or doing to turn it around?
Matthew, Lothian, Md.
Answer: No one is pointing fingers (at least not publicly) and everyone says they still believe in the coaching staff (at least publicly). One of the theories I was working on this morning in the shower (where I do my really deep thinking) involves leadership. The 49ers have a number of stand-up players, what Nolan refers to as "character guys." These are guys like Bryant Young, Derek Smith, Arnaz Battle, Eric Heitmann and Alex Smith. The problem - as I see it - is that these are all quiet, low-key, still-waters-run-deep kind of guys. They're not the kind of people who will get up in front of the team and make an impassioned speech that gets the locker room rocking. Maybe I've watched one too many sports movies. But it seems that what the 49ers need most is a good, old-fashioned Knute Rockne-esque kick in the pants.
Question: Regarding your piece about Nolan's backing (or non-backing) of Smith, I'd really like to know what you think based on your professional (read: non-biased, non-fan) experience. If you look around the league, not only this year, but every year, there is a QB who was steadfastly supported by his coach and teammates for a long time, only to be unceremoniously dumped at a moment's notice. Although these are not all the EXACT same case, some recent examples might include D.Brees, D.Carr, J.Plummer, D.Culpepper (twice), R.Grossman, J.Losman, C.Pennington, J.Harrington, T.Green, etc, etc, etc. Is Alex Smith heading down the same road?
Matt, Tyson's Corner, Va.
Answer: In most of these cases, these quarterbacks were drafted by one coaching regime and dumped by another. I think the fate of Alex Smith rests with Mike Nolan and vice versa. If Smith has a second-half resurgence, Nolan certainly will live another day.
Question: Re your piece on "Will Alex Smith be a good QB?": Assuming Alex Smith does "make it" as a good (top twelve) QB, which current or former NFL QB will he most resemble? My Answer: Bob Griese (not his son Brian Griese): Top notch brain power, disciplined hard worker, & understands the game, but is only OK on arm strength & other physical skills. Not impressively big, or strong, & not a super run-jump athlete. I'll take a Bob Griese!
Answer: Lafayette? That's Maiocco country up there. But I'll answer your question anyway. I think Smith has better athleticism than Griese. Going into the season, he planned to take off and run more than he has (He did in the win over Arizona) and whenever we talk to opposing coaches, they say they're wary of Smith's running ability. I wonder, however, if Smith overestimates his own legs sometimes. He's taken some colossal hits (See: Fujita, Scott) when he's tried to outrun defenders up the sideline. A smart guy like him should have learned to sidestep those situations by now.
Question: Who would have thought Mike McCarthy's Packers would be playing so well? That's not my question. Do you think Alex Smith would have mastered the West Coast offense by now, had McCarthy not split for the Green Bay job?
Answer: Mastered? Mmmmm, I'd liken him to Luke Skywalker when he took on Darth in the Cloud City - familiar with the tools but hardly a Jedi (like Favre). The West Coast offense, however, would have kept Smith more upright than he's been considering how quickly the QB lets go of the ball in that system.
Question: Should the 49ers possibly be looking into acquiring Derek Anderson? He seems to have good vision and a nice touch on the ball, or is this just a fluke season for another backup QB like others in the past?
Steve, Billings, Mt.
Answer: Well, I believe Anderson will be a restricted free agent, which means it will take both a big contract and a first-round pick to pry him from the Browns. I don't see that happening as long as Nolan and Smith are around.
Question: Matt, I work out of town during the week and I can't wait to read your 49ers Blog on Friday's when I get home. I like Alex Smith's courage and potential, but part of me would like to know what might have happened if the 49ers would have gone a different direction during the draft three years ago. Who could they have drafted with the first pick and what quarterback could they have gotten with their first pick in the next years draft?
Answer: Ok, Bob, let's climb aboard the Old Time Machine. I'll set the clock to early 2004 when T.O. and Jeff Garcia were bickering up a storm and the locker room was pure poison. But did they both have to go? Let's say Donahue keeps the local boy, Garcia, who's good for at least one or two additional wins in the horrible 2004 campaign. The 49ers select Braylon Edwards with the third pick in 2005, and in 2006, they draft Vince Young because, well, Garcia isn't getting any younger. Now set time machine for February 2008 and where are we? Super Bowl, baby!! By the way, when I went back in time, I invested heavily in Google stock. Now I'm filthy rich and have purchased a franchise in Los Angeles that I call the L.A. Manimals. The Manimals beat the 49ers 38-35 in 5 OT. They're calling it the greatest game ever. Sorry.
Question: I have watched the 49ers for 35 years. What makes Brady and Joe Montana so good? Play calling. Please, I beg you throw the quick slant pattern not the short out. I again beg you throw the crossing pattern. These are the passing routes that they used most especially on obvious blitzes. ASK Nolan to look at Brady's calls and have him look at game film of Rice and Taylor catching these patterns. I haven't seen one yet
Diane, Sun Valley, NV.
Answer: The truly sad part, Diane, is that Brady badly wanted to be a 49er in a year in which the 49ers drafted TWO quarterbacks. If only we had a time machine.
Question: A couple of weeks ago you did an excellent piece on the ways the 49ers can improve the team in 2008. In it, you stated "But for some reason Brandon Moore doesn't have the confidence of the coaches and Derek Smith is slowing down". Can you expound on this subject/get at "the reason"? I would look forward to Moore along side Willis in 2008, but what about the coaches? These guys are physical, fast, instinctive....
Answer: I really don't know the reason. I will say, however, that I thought Derek Smith had his best game in a while against the Saints. Moore struggled this preseason and hasn't exactly set the world on fire in his role as a third-down rusher. He has a history of coming on at midseason, though. Maybe he'll begin to make his move.
Question: Do you think Goodell will revisit the SpyGate situation at the end of the season and decide to take the Patriots' 1st round pick from the 9ers instead of the pick which the Patriots would get based upon how they finish the season? I do ...for what it's worth.
Damian, Portland, Or
Answer: (To music) ... When you wish upon a star, makes no difference ...
Question: Why does the NFL have Patrick Willis with 58 tackles and the team has him with 94 tackles. Which is correct? Do you think he will be the NFL defensive rookie of the year?
Answer: It bugs me, too. After the game, the coaches review the film and then award players for tackles that weren't given to them on game day. I use the NFL stats because they were tallied by a neutral party. The team stats seem a bit overblown. And I do think Willis will get defensive rookie of the year. He's getting better and better in pass coverage every week, and I bet he'll have a couple of interceptions to go along with his massive tackle total by year's end.
Question: What's the chance of the Yorks selling this team? It doesn't matter who the coaches are, the Yorks don't know how to run an NFL franchise. The Fans deserve an ownership that's competent, eh? This team sucks!
Answer: I don't see the Yorks selling. The long-term plan is to hand the reins to Jed. And I also don't think you can blame John York this time. He's given Nolan and Co. everything they've wanted and has spent money hand over fist. He's also done a good job of letting the football experts run the show.
Question: Please start the Mike Martz in '08 campaign. Watching Nolan makes me drink 12 too many White Russians.
Answer: Mike Martz goes through QBs like you go through White Russians. Take a look at the Lions' sack total (35). Alex Smith will be in a full-body cast by Week 3.
Question: Matt: I realize this isn't a "49ers Question," but I was hoping you could give me some advice. In your most recent blog, you stated that most newspaper reporters are (or were) English majors, which is of great interest to me. I am graduating in Dec. with my degree in English and have no immediate plans. While I would love to be a beat writer for a sports team, I don't know where to get started. Any help? Would a MA help? Thanks, Scott.
Answer: A future in newspaper journalism? Run, Scott, run -- as fast as your little legs will take you. You'd have a better shot as a unicorn rancher. Seriously, I would not get an advanced degree until you've worked for a newspaper (as a news aide, intern, etc.) and decide that's the job for you. And even then, there's a very strong argument (and one I'd support) for cutting your teeth at a tiny paper instead of incurring a big debt from a grad program. Also, I don't need some eager beaver who will work for peanuts gunning for my job. Kidding. Except not.