The 49ers coaches insist that the decision to relieve safety Taylor Mays with Reggie Smith more often from this point forth has to do with special teams. Mays plays on several units, including kick and punt coverage, and simply needs more rest through the course of a game.
"They're running a decent amount of reps on defense and on special teams, and I know Taylor was last week," defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said today. "I know as a former player I used to hate it. Well, not hate it. But it was a big toll."
But the adjustment also comes after two games in which the 49ers secondary, particularly Mays, has given up a number of deep passes. In Weeks 7 and 8 - a loss to Carolina and a win over Denver - the 49ers gave up 15 pass plays of 15 yards or more. It would have been 16, but a 38-yard touchdown to Denver's Jabar Gaffney was called back because of an illegal chop-block penalty. The average pass play against the 49ers is 7.4 yards, which ties them for 10th highest in the league.
I asked Manusky if he was happy with how Mays was handling the deep passes. Mays' ball skills were his biggest question mark coming out of USC.
"You've got to make plays on the ball, you know?" Manusky said. "I don't care which position you're at. Just like with the linebackers -- don't cover grass. ... For him - he's going to go through some growing pains (as do) most rookies in the National Football League. And the more and more the kid sees and the more and more he plays, the better off he's going to be."
I asked Mays how he felt about Smith getting more repetitions at his expense. His answer? Cryptic.
"There's more stuff behind it than that," he said. "I'm not worried about it. There's stuff that goes on between me and coach Sing and V.J. (defensive backs coach Vance Joseph) that we know that not everybody else knows. It's not what it ... I don't worry about it, and because it's something that I know, that we know, I'm not worried about it."
-- Matt Barrows