Struggle? It's a word that isn't in Jim Harbaugh's vocabulary, especially as it pertains to one of his players. Harbaugh rarely criticizes a 49er. Instead he prefers to lavish them with praise. Which is why Harbaugh's thoughts on rookie Vance McDonald stood out on Wednesday.
"This past game was very good," Harbaugh said when asked about McDonald. "He made some strides. The week before he had some struggles in the run game. But he has been the kind of guy that learns from his mistakes and gets them corrected, gets them fixed"
"I just anticipate him being a really good football player," Harbaugh continued. "He doesn't flinch though. It doesn't ever get too much for him. I've never really seen him sweat, sweat it. ... Very good. Very cool. Very smart and learns. And I think it's going to be a bright future for him. I'm still convinced of that."
Michael Crabtree's absence usually is the first thing cited when talking about the 49ers' last-in-the-league passing attack. But Delanie Walker also is missing from the lineup this season, and his absence has been felt as well. Walker had become an excellent blocker by last season, and he also was a regular target in the passing game, catching 21 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns last season. (He has 44 catches, 449 yards and five touchdowns so far in Tennessee this year).
McDonald may eventually round into form as Harbaugh predicts, but he's a long way from filling Walker's niche. He has eight catches for 119 yards and no touchdowns. He couldn't bring in two catch-able - and key - passes in losses to Carolina and New Orleans. However, he had a 23-yard catch against the Redskins, his longest reception since grabbing a 25 yarder in Week 1.
What's mind boggling is that the 49ers are 7-4 going into Week 13 and still have only two players - Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis - with touchdown catches. Most other teams have seven players with TD grabs. Two teams have 10. The team with the next fewest number of touchdown catchers, the Raiders, have four.
-- Matt Barrows