49ers Blog and Q&A

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

January 31, 2009
Echoes of Norv in recent hires

Question: Hey Matt, now that we have an OC, what do you know about our QB coach, Mike Johnson? Is he someone that has coached up and made better some young gunslingers? Has he done any good documented work, or is he also a warm fuzzy gut feeling for coach Mike?
Adrian, Oviedo, Fla.

Answer: The first thing that jumps out: He was dismissed as receivers coach by the Ravens in 2008 and replaced by ... wait for it, wait for it .... Jim Hostler, who began his 49ers' tenure as QBs coach. He comes recommended by two men Mike Singletary has worked with, Brian Billick and Norv Turner. He's a former quarterback who I'm told relates well to his pupils. And, of course, he mentored Michael Vick for three seasons in Atlanta. Now whether he was successful in that venture ... that's a judgment call.
- Matt

Question: Singletary left the decision between Hue Jackson and Jimmy Raye in the hands of his assistant coaches? That is a bit unorthodox. You suggest it's his management style, but I wonder if this is the way it went down before offering Linehan the job? Was Linehan the choice of the assistants? Or, did Singletary reach a point of frustration and change the process because he couldn't make up his mind? Leadership? Decisive? Accountability? He gets paid to much to make that decision, then lets the guys who get a fraction the salary decide who it should the OC. Odd...
Tank, Modesto

Answer: Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that Singletary threw his hands in the air and told his assistants to make the decision for him. What I meant to underscore was Singletary's pattern of giving ownership to the rest of his team. His goal from the very start has been to make the 49ers into a family, and involving his assistants in the interview process was very much part of that style. But make no mistake, Singletary is very much the head of the household, and he made the final decision.
- Matt

Question: Hi Matt, Do you think Norv had a big part in our choice of oc and qb coach?
Hiram, Hempstead, NY

Answer: Indirectly, yes. I think Turner was one of the people with whom Singletary consulted as he set out to find an OC. Both of the new hires have worked under Turner. Coincidence? I think not.
- Matt

Question: Concerning Michael Robinson, I see this being a critical year for him. He has much leadership ability and quarterback experience. He is a monster hitter. But his Running back experiment hasn't quite panned yet. I expect Clayton or another draftee to lock up that 2nd HB spot and from there M. Rob's situation gets questionable. I would hate all of that athleticism, hitting ability and leadership wasted. Thus I think he should be tried as a safety. We NEED one. I think he'd be better suited there than at HB. Thoughts?
Mark, Oakland

Answer: Man, you guys are like mad scientists working overtime in the lab on your safety experiments. It's a waste of time. They'll never get funded. They're bound for failure... And yet I keep agreeing with your instincts! Robinson seems like he would make an excellent strong safety in the 49ers' scheme. He's big, smart, can run, has great hands and I keep thinking about that massive hit he put on that poor Minnesota player (see, below). The fact that he played quarterback would be an asset in the chess match safeties play with the opposing passer. Mark, you've created a monster. Hey, Manusky, are you listening?!
- Matt

Question: Hey Matt, LOVE the blog! I don't expect the 49ers to make a huge splash in free agency this year. I'm just wondering if you've got any insight into which position they may look to upgrade through free agency as opposed to the draft. I think the toughest one to project from the draft is pass rush specialist in the 3-4. Any chance of landing Peppers or Suggs? Thanks for all the hard work!
Eric, Springville, UT

Answer: As I alluded last week, I think safety might be a position the 49ers would rather fill through free agency than the draft simply because a free safety's responsibility is so great. Jimmy Raye also will have a bearing. If he studies the team's quarterbacks and concludes that he's not confident in Shaun Hill, they could be in the market for a FA QB (It is worth noting that Hill had a very good game in a convincing win over Raye's Jets in December and that Raye made note of that in Friday's conference call). As for Peppers, I just don't see the 49ers shelling out top dollar for someone who never has stood up as an outside linebacker. Could Peppers do it? Probably. But it seems like an awful big financial risk. Suggs seems like a safer bet, especially considering the familiarity factor between him and Singletary.
- Matt

Question: I know McCloughan is/was very high on Alex Smith's intelligence, work-ethic and demeanor, but do you know if he has a preference, physically, for a certain type of quarterback, or does he emphasize intangibles over specific athletic traits?
Terry, Davis

Answer: This is a good question since only one quarterback - Michael Robinson and Rasheed Marshall don't count - has been drafted under the McCloughan regime. Judging from his preferences at other positions and his old-school philosophy on offense, I'd say he likes big-bodied, traditional quarterbacks who can manage a game and don't make a lot of mistakes. At the 2008 Senior Bowl, he seemed to like Chad Henne and Joe Flacco, both of whom fit that description ... Which is another reason why the Vick-to-SF rumors were so absurd. The GM wouldn't stand for it.
- Matt

Question: With a "grunt" philosophy where you "impose your will," how likely is it that Oher's performance in Mobile gets him a one-way ticket to SF? You seemed to like what you saw... Second question: what was your impression of Raji? I'm hearing mixed reports. Finally, where do you put the odds Bryant Johnson gets re-signed? He looked good at the end of the year and, I assume, will not attract big money because he didn't do enough in '08. As always, thanks for your thoughts.
Mike, Montclair

Answer: Oher certainly fits the "grunt" philosophy. The question about him is how quickly he can pick up the offense and whether the 49ers can find a good RT later in the draft. ... Raji was excellent in Senior Bowl practices but disappeared in the game. I don't know what to make of him. For some reason I've become obsessed with his arms. Are they too short? ... I'd say it's 65-35 that Johnson doesn't return. The 49ers will not aggressively try to re-sign him before Feb. 27. But if he doesn't get a lot of attention on the FA market, they'd welcome him back. He's a big-bodied WR who would be a good fit in a smash-mouth offense.
- Matt


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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