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Highlights From Singletary/Solari Interviews

Posted by Taylor Price on January 21, 2010 – 6:25 PM

Both head coach Mike Singletary and newly hired offensive line coach Mike Solari addressed the Bay Area media in separate conference calls on Thursday. Singletary went first to answer questions on Solari’s arrival and his previous relationship with the newest 49ers coach. Solari’s interview took place 45 minutes later and covered largely the same topics.

Check out some selected quotes from Singletary and Solari’s conference calls.

Head Coach Mike Singletary (Click here to listen to full audio of conference call)

On whether former offensive line coach Chris Foerster was one of Singletary’s assistants who was contacted by other teams:

“Yes.”

On whether he’s surprised that Foerster went to Washington:

“Yes, it was.”

On why he granted permission for the Redskins to interview Foerster if Singletary wished to retain him:

“I’ll tell you how it went. First of all, I was contacted by our office here that said that Washington wanted to [inaudible]. And I said, well, at what position? It would be a lateral move, and I said no. That was my initial response. So, I was done with it. I got a call from Chris Foerster later on that really expressed that his family is out there, out east. He loved it here, loved what we are doing, but if there was any way to be closer to his family, he’d really appreciate it if he could do the interview and go from there. I think, for me, his family is important. Family is very important. It’s something that I talk about. I could not not do that, give him the chance to be closer to his family. He’s got a kid in high school, senior last year – all that sort of thing. So, I granted it.”

On how he was able to get Mike Solari so quickly:

“It’s really interesting how it happened. Mike Solari is a guy who, when I was interviewing for head coaching jobs around the league, he was my No. 1 guy. The fact that I would be able to get him at this juncture and how this happened is really amazing. I think it’s a win-win situation. When I talked to Chris this morning, I just told him that I believe things work out for a reason. I told Chris this morning, best of luck to you, and I hope everything goes well. I had an interview set up with Mike Solari and my wife and I felt like that would be – everything would work itself out.”

On what he likes about Solari as an offensive line coach:

“Well, first of all, I like him as a person, first of all. From there, I like the fact that where he’s been, the experience that he’s had, and I guess he’s really done a great job when I look at his track record. I think he knows what I’m talking about, in terms of the physicality that I’m talking about bringing, in terms of the mental make-up that I would like to have as an offensive line because everything starts with the offensive line. I think he understands that very well and I talked to him a few times, and there’s a lot to like about him.”

On whether physicality is a part of Solari’s background:

“Yes it is, particularly when he was at Kansas City. He had a very physical offensive line there, very mentally tough, dominating-type of an offensive line. The fact that he has experience as a coordinator, the fact that [offensive coordinator] Jimmy Raye is familiar with him, I think it’s an ideal situation.”

On whether he will be accompanying the rest of the staff to the Senior Bowl:

“Yes sir, he will.”

On whether he will get to have a say on who the team picks in April should it target an offensive lineman:

“He will get to have an opinion, yes.”

On how much input offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye had on Mike Solari from their three years together in Kansas City:

“Well, first of all, I had already contacted Mike Solari, and Jimmy was calling after I had talked to Mike, initially made contact with him, and Jimmy was calling to make me more familiar with him. I just told Jimmy that I knew about him, and he was my No. 1 guy when I was interviewing for o-line guys. So, I just kind of helped Jimmy understand that I had a good idea of who he was and what he was about.”

Offensive Line Coach Mike Solari (Click here to listen to full audio of conference call)

On whether he had made contact prior to this with Coach Singletary at any point about joining his staff if Coach Singletary were hired as a head coach:

“Yes, we had. When I was in Kansas City, we spoke and I always really admired Mike from afar and I always looked forward to the opportunity to work with him. I was excited about the possibility when he was up for some different head coaching jobs in the NFL.” 

On how their styles and philosophies mesh:

“I think in the sense that we understand that the most important part of the game are the big people up front on the offensive line being able to be physical and come off the line of scrimmage together and being able to orchestrate as one. I think we are very similar in the sense of understanding, in the sense of fundamentals and techniques win championships. It’s a matter of those five guys coming together and orchestrating as one.” 

Photo courtesy of Rod Mar, Seahawks.comOn how familiar he is with what the 49ers have on the offensive line:

“I know that the offensive line – the San Francisco 49ers have some young offensive linemen and it is exciting for an offensive line coach to have those men to be able to coach and get them to play at a level they want to play at. I’m really looking forward to coming in and working with them with their techniques and fundamentals.”

On working with former 49ers offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick in the mid-90s and what he takes from him and whether what he did then is still applicable today:

“The key thing about Bobb, he was a great line coach. It was great to work with him. I learned quite a bit from Bobb. The thing about Bobb was the details and how no stone was unturned. It was the little things and the blueprint of building a championship and the blueprint of building an offensive line unit in the sense of technique, fundamentals, crowd their sled, development of offensive linemen into very good football players. I learned a lot from Bobb and I still use those fundamentals today, in working with the offensive line, no matter where I’ve been, whether it be Kansas City or my time in Seattle, Bobb was a tremendous coach and person.”

On whether there are similarities between what the Chiefs ran with Jimmy Raye and what the 49ers do here:

“I believe so. Jimmy Raye is an outstanding football coach and he has tremendous knowledge in the game. I was really fortunate to work with Jimmy those many years and learned a lot from him. Again, he loves the power running game very much, like Coach Singletary. Being physical at the point of attack, coming off the line of scrimmage and again, Jimmy is the same, in the sense that he understands you win with technique and fundamentals.”

On whether the personnel matches up with what the Chiefs had a decade ago:

“I think it’s a little bit different. I think the San Francisco 49ers line has a little bit more youth that needs to be further developed. When I was at Kansas City, we had [T] Willie Roaf at the end of his career and we had a little bit more of an offensive line with a [G] Will Shields and a [C] Casey Wiegmann, [G] Brian Waters was the young player then. Here, there’s more youth on this offensive line and like I said, it’s kind of exciting to come in and being able to coach some of these young guys, like a [T] Joe Staley and [G] Chilo [Rachal] at the right guard position. I’m looking forward to working with them.”

On how much input he will have in devising the run game:

“Well, I have to sit down with Jimmy Raye and again, whatever Jimmy needs to be successful, I’ll do and again, the most important thing is we are all pieces of a puzzle put together as a staff and our job is to make sure that Jimmy has whatever he needs to be able to call the game that he needs to call up to win and that will be decided by Jimmy Raye and what he needs done by me on my part.”

On how much, percentage-wise, he incorporates zone and man blocking techniques:

“Well, what happened this year with Coach [Jim] Mora, we went with the theory that it was going to be -we were going to go with zone blocking, wide zone and tight zone, to answer your question. I guess what I should be saying is, you need a little bit of both, the wide zones, the tight zones, [inaudible], but also you need to be able to run a power scheme, have man blocking and variations. Now, with more teams going to the 3-4 front, you need some variation because the wide zone, what they are doing is taking away the wide zone and you are seeing that from the 34 front teams they are biting those outside linebackers and they are penetrating them up the field where your back can’t press the line of scrimmage and get a good cut off that first step which is very, very important in the wide zones. You need to change up the variations of your blocking scheme and you need to do what the strength of your personnel is with your runner and your offensive line.”

On what the 49ers strength is right now:

“Again, I need to do more work and look at the film. Again, the offensive line is a group of young men that are talented with some different things. But again, that’s something that Jimmy Raye is right on top of and he is an outstanding coach. He’s on top of that with what their strengths are and so forth. That’s where I need to get caught up to speed, watching some film on these guys and then also having some suggestions on what I think, what I believe that they can do, but Jimmy Raye has a great deal of that.”


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Collective Bargaining Agreement Q&A

Posted by Scott Kegley on January 20, 2010 – 12:29 PM

The NFL recently released the following Q&A containing everything you wanted to know about the league’s collective bargaining agreement, which expires in 2011.  Hopefully, this sheds some light on what these issues mean to the teams as well as the NFL.

Q. When does the CBA expire should there be no extension to the agreement?
A. In March of 2011.
Q. Will there be a college draft in 2011?
A. Yes.
Q. What is the “Final League Year” in the current agreement?
A. The “Final League Year” is the term used in the CBA to refer to the last year of the agreement.  Without a further extension of the CBA, the “Final League Year” would be the 2010 League Year, which begins on March 5.
Q. What are the differences between the “Final League Year” and any other “League Year?”
A. The principal differences are that in the “Final League Year” there is no salary cap and there are substantial additional restrictions on player free agency and reductions in player benefits.
Q. Are current player benefits affected in the Final League Year?
A. We expect current player benefits to decline in the Final League Year.  The union agreed that in the Final League Year, clubs would be relieved of their obligation to fund numerous benefit programs.  Examples include second career savings (401K), player annuity, severance pay and performance-based pay.  The total league-wide contributions to such plans in 2009, the last capped year, were in excess of $325 million or more than $10 million per club.
Q. Are retired player benefits affected in the Final League Year?
A. Commissioner Goodell has stated in a letter to the NFL Alumni Association Board of Directors that there will be no reduction in pension or disability payments to retired players during the Final League Year (2010).  Since at least the fall of 2007, NFL owners have consistently agreed and planned that they will not reduce the funding for pension or disability benefits for retired players.  Nor will they reduce funding for the 88 Plan during the Final League Year.
Q. What determines an unrestricted free agent in the Final League Year (2010)?
A. In capped seasons, a player whose contract has expired becomes an unrestricted free agent if he has four or more accrued seasons.  In the Final League Year (2010), a player whose contract has expired becomes an unrestricted free agent only if he has six or more accrued seasons.  An unrestricted free agent is free to sign with any club with no compensation owed to his old club.
Q. What determines whether a player is a restricted free agent in the “Final League Year?”
A. In capped seasons, a player whose contract expires becomes a restricted free agent if he has three accrued seasons.  In the Final League Year (2010), a player whose contract expires becomes a restricted free agent if he has three, four or five accrued seasons.  The first refusal/compensation rights of restricted free agents remain unchanged in the Final League Year.
Q. In addition to the right to designate a franchise (or transition) player each capped year, can clubs designate additional players in the Final League Year?
A. Yes, one additional player can be tagged.  In capped years, a club may designate a franchise player or a transition player.  In the final league year (2010), a club may designate one additional transition player.  A transition player must be offered a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of the prior season at the player’s position or 120 percent of the player’s prior year’s salary, whichever is greater.  A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires.  If the club matches, it retains the player.  If it does not match, it receives no draft pick compensation from that club.
Q. What is the Final Eight Plan?
A. During the Final League Year, the eight clubs that make the Divisional Playoffs in the previous season have additional restrictions that limit their ability to sign unrestricted free agents from other clubs.  In general, the four clubs participating in the championship games are limited in the number of free agents that they may sign; the limit is determined by the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs.  They cannot sign any UFAs unless one of theirs is signed by another team. For the four clubs that lost in the Divisional Playoffs, in addition to having the ability to sign free agents based on the number of their own free agents signing with other clubs, they may also sign players based on specific financial parameters.  Those four only will be permitted to sign one unrestricted free agent for $5.5 million (estimated) or more in year one of the contract, plus the number of their UFAs who sign with another team. They also can sign any unrestricted free agents for less than $3.7 (estimated) million in year one of the contract with limitations on the per year increases. In the case of all final eight teams, the first year salary of UFAs they sign to replace those lost cannot exceed the first year salary of the player lost with limitations on the per year increases.
Q. Is there an Entering Player Pool in the Final League Year?
A. There may be.  The CBA provides that the league has the unilateral right to keep or eliminate the rookie pool in the Final League Year.
Q. Is there a Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year?
A. There is no Minimum Team Salary in the Final League Year.  The Minimum Team Salary in 2009 is $107,748,000, meaning each team is required to allocate more than $107 million to player costs (not including benefits).  The team salary cap in 2009 was $123 million.
Q. Are there individual player minimum salaries in the Final League Year?
A. Yes, but they rise at a rate somewhat slower than player minimum salaries rise in capped years.
Q. Do any player contract rules from capped years remain in place for the Final League Year?
A. Yes, some rules like the “30% increase rule” are still in effect in the Final League Year for player contracts signed in capped years.  That rule restricts salary increases from 2009 to 2010.  For example: a player with a $500,000 salary in 2009 would be limited to annual salary increases of $150,000 ($500,000 x 30%) beginning in 2010.

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Faithful Vote: Best Interception of 2009

Posted by Taylor Price on January 19, 2010 – 1:11 PM

January 26 Update:Congratulations to Aubrayo Franklin who won with 33% of the vote.

With 40 percent of the vote, Frank Gore ran away with last week’s “Faithful Vote” for the 49ers Best Touchdown of 2009.

But a new week opens up a new competition and a new fan poll on 49ers.com: Best Interception of 2009.

Just like with TV49’s touchdown nomination video, you can check out the top interceptions in this TV49 clip.

The 49ers had 18 interceptions in 2009, but after careful thought, we trimmed it down to the best four. Here’s a closer look at the finalists for this year’s best interception.

Our first nominee is the biggest. Not necessarily by reputation, but by stature. At 6-foot-1, 317-pounds, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin was easily the largest competitor in this category.

He was also the only 49ers defensive linemen to intercept a pass this season.

Franklin’s takeaway was crucial for a number of reasons. First, it was at an important early stage of the 49ers Thursday night primetime home matchup against the Chicago Bears on the NFL Network. The game was scoreless just under the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.

Second, the interception happened at the 49ers goal line with the Bears needing more than a yard to score on third and goal.

With Chicago lined up in a goal line formation with multiple tight ends it appeared as if the Bears were content to try and pound the ball for the game’s first points. But that wasn’t quite the case.

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler sold a play-fake to running back Matt Forte and then tried to find tight end Kellen Davis.

But instead he threw it to Franklin.

The nose tackle was blocked initially but scraped down the line where he found himself in perfect position to disrupt Cutler. Franklin read the play and put his hands up to block the ball, but somehow he plucked ball out of the air. Even more impressive than the interception from close range, was Franklin’s 11-yard return after.

Second on the list of nominees is strong safety Michael Lewis for his interception in the same game.

Lewis’ interception put a capper on the 49ers five-interception performance against Cutler and the Bears. It also literally ended the game.

With eight seconds on the clock and the Bears in need of 12 yards to give them the win (trailing 10-6 at the time) Cutler was again trying to force a pass to a tight end, this time it was to his starter, Greg Olsen.

But his pass did not have enough air under it and Lewis stepped right in front of the line drive intended for Olsen. By the time Lewis’ knee went to the ground in his own end zone, the game was over.

Our third interception nominee comes from first-year starter, free safety Dashon Goldson.

Goldson gave us the most interceptions to choose from, as he led the 49ers with four.

As for which one we selected as a finalist, Goldson’s game-changing interception against the Arizona Cardinals on “Monday Night Football” was certainly a worthy choice.

With the Cardinals needing 20 yards on second down, Goldson showed some serious play-making ability. Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner locked on to Steve Breaston one of his four wide receivers out in the play and Goldson immediately recognized it.

Not only did Goldson out-leap Breaston for the ball down the right sideline, he stepped in front of one of his teammates too. Cornerback Tarell Brown was also in position to make a play on the ball, but Goldson came instantly in the picture and took the ball right out of the air. After the play was over, Goldson (pictured above) celebrated in style.

It was key considering that the score was 10-0 late in the second quarter and Arizona was in need of points to stay in the game. The 49ers went on to win 24-9, clinching a season sweep of their division rivals.

Goldson finished the game with two forced fumbles to go along with his interception.

Our final candidate is quite familiar, mainly because he was nominated in our last category.

Patrick Willis’ interception against the St. Louis Rams was the only interception to be returned for a touchdown.

It was Willis’ second consecutive season with a pick-6, as he silenced the St. Louis Rams with a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown.

With the Rams facing a third-and-eight from their 20, Willis ended any hope for a Rams comeback with an amazing defensive play which showcased all of his physical tools. St. Louis came out in a shotgun formation with four receivers, but ultimately Boller found a receiver from the wrong team.

Pressure from outside linebacker Manny Lawson combined with great downfield coverage caused Boller to roll to his right and then errantly throw back across his body towards the middle of the field. Boller’s pass was intended for wide receiver Keenan Burton, but it found its way in Willis’ arms, who reached to his right and plucked the ball out of the air.

Willis slightly bobbled the interception initially, but his focus allowed him to take the ball untouched for the 49ers first defensive touchdown of the season. It also put an exclamation mark on the defense’s only shutout of 2009.

You can vote as many times as you’d like all week long by finding the poll on the bottom left corner of the 49ers.com home page. The winner will be announced next Monday, along with a new “Faithful Vote” for 49ers fans to debate on.


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Comcast Has “Conversation” with Alex Smith

Posted by Taylor Price on January 19, 2010 – 12:37 PM

Comcast SportsNet Bay Area will debut an exclusive interview with 49ers quarterback Alex Smith this Friday night. Smith’s interview with Comcast’s Mindi Bach (which starts at 6:30 p.m. on the West Coast) is a must-see for the 49ers Faithful. 

Bach sat down with Smith recently after the season to film the half-hour special which is part of Comcast’s “A Conversation With” series.

In the interview (which you can see a sneak preview of here), Smith answers questions on his own personal play as well as the 49ers performance as team in 2009. Bach also asked Smith about the quarterback competition before the start of the 2009 season as well as his outlook on the 49ers chances in 2010.

After the initial broadcast, Smith’s interview will re-air on January 25 (10:00 p.m.), January 28 (6:30 p.m.), and January 31 (10:00 p.m.).


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Patrick Willis Makes Another All-NFL Team

Posted by Scott Kegley on January 18, 2010 – 1:56 PM

Last week, 49ers Pro Bowl middle linebacker Patrick Willis was named to Sporting News’ All-Pro defense and was chosen as a first-team member of the Associated Press’ All-Pro Team.  This week brought more of the same as Willis was named to the 2009 All-NFL Team by Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football writers of America.

Willis was the only inside linebacker names to the team and was joined by outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos and DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys.


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Win A Signed Authentic Frank Gore Jersey!

Posted by Taylor Price on January 14, 2010 – 4:08 PM

How would you like to get your hands on an autographed authentic Frank Gore jersey? All you have to do is vote for the 49ers to win the Shorty Award for best Twitter account in all of Sports, and you’ll be entered to win!

One randomly selected voter will win the grand prize, a signed Gore jersey and a 49ers hooded sweatshirt!

Second place will win a 49ers prize pack. complete with sweatshirt, jacket, the 49ers 2009 yearbook and a 2009-2010 Gold Rush calendar.

Third place will win a 49ers 2009 yearbook and a 2009-2010 Gold Rush calendar.

Voting will continue through March, so make sure you vote, but only one vote per person. After the voting concludes at the end of February, we’ll contact our lucky winners and send out the prizes. (Note: sizes for sweatshirts and jackets are limited).

But in order to be eligible to win you have to vote for the 49ers to win the Shorty Award for the best Twitter account in all of Sports!

We encourage our 49ers Faithful to be as creative as you want with the reason, tell us why you like our Twitter account! It’s important to say why you like our Twitter page, because a tweet that does not give a reason for the nomination will not be counted.

But please note: Voting for the same person in the same category more than once just replaces the text of your original vote.

FOR OFFICIAL SHORTY AWARD RULES: check the official Shorty Awards website for more information


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New Day, Different Honor for Patrick Willis

Posted by Taylor Price on January 14, 2010 – 11:16 AM

The honors keep coming in – but when you finish a 16-game season with 147 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles – would you expect anything different? 

A day after he was named to Sporting News’ All-Pro defense, Patrick Willis has added another significant achievement to his resume. Willis was chosen as a first-team member of the Associated Press’ All-Pro Team.

The 49ers three-time Pro Bowl linebacker was selected by a national media panel alongside Baltimore Raves linebacker Ray Lewis as the NFL’s top middle linebackers from this past season.

While Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, the AP’s Offensive Player of the Year, was a unanimous choice for the first-team, Willis was almost an undisputed selection himself.

He received 49 of 50 first-place votes, the most of any NFL player behind Johnson.

This is the third time Willis has been chosen as an All-Pro, and his second first-team selection. As a rookie he was the only member of his 2007 draft class to be named All-Pro. Last season, Willis missed out on the first-team by one vote, as Carolina Panthers linebacker Jon Beason edged him out.

Punter Andy Lee was selected to the AP’s All-Pro team too, but as a second-teamer in a tie with St. Louis Rams punter Donnie Jones.

It’s Lee’s second All-Pro selection. Lee was a first-team selection along with Willis in 2007.


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Help 49ers Win Best Sports Twitter Award

Posted by Taylor Price on January 13, 2010 – 12:00 PM

In 140 characters or less the 49ers.com staff has updated our official Twitter account (@SF_49ers) with constant updates of all things 49ers-related since the account was first started this past offseason.

Since then, the 49ers Faithful have responded in droves giving us over 20,500 followers.

We thank you for your interest in the San Francisco 49ers Twitter account and we’d like your support in winning the Shorty Award for best Twitter account in all of Sports!

There are three ways you can help the 49ers win.

First, you can fill out the form on Shorty Awards official website.

Or for an easier option, you can send a tweet like this:

“I nominate @SF_49ers for a Shorty Award in #Sports because… (add reason here).”

You can do this on Twitter.com, with any Twitter client, or using the voting box on the official Shorty Awards website!

You can also send shorter votes like this:

“#shortyawards @SF_49ers #Sports (add quick reason here).”

This shorter format is helpful if you want to vote from anywhere at any time!

We encourage our 49ers Faithful to be as creative as you want with the reason, tell us why you like our Twitter account! It’s important to say why you like our Twitter page, because a tweet that does not give a reason for the nomination will not be counted.

But please note: Voting for the same person in the same category more than once just replaces the text of your original vote.


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Willis Named All-Pro By Sporting News

Posted by Taylor Price on January 13, 2010 – 10:30 AM

Although his season is over, the accolades keep coming in for 49ers three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker Patrick Willis.

After being named as the linebacker of the year by NFL alumni, Willis was just named to Sporting News’ All-Pro defense.

A panel of 636 players, coaches and team executives voted on the selections and after Willis’ amazing season, he was an easy choice for the sole inside linebacker position.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson took home NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors earlier in the week, and was also named Sporting News’ NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Woodson won with 241 first-place votes from the 583 players who were polled. New Orleans Saints safety Darren Shaper came in second with 113 votes.

SPORTING NEWS’ ALL-PRO DEFFENSE
 
DE Jared Allen, Vikings: Second player with at least 14 1/2 sacks in three consecutive seasons.

DT Darnell Dockett, Cardinals: His 7 sacks tied for first among defensive tackles.

DT Kevin Williams, Vikings: Produced 6 sacks while also anchoring the NFL’s No. 2 run defense.

DE Dwight Freeney, Colts: Sack total of 13 1/2 was most since ’04.

OLB Elvis Dumervil, Broncos: Led league with 17 sacks in ’09 after recording only 5 in ’08.

ILB Patrick Willis, 49ers:
One of three players to record at least 4 sacks and 3 interceptions.

OLB DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys: Fourth consecutive season with 11 or more sacks.

CB Darrelle Revis, Jets: Shut down top receivers; tallied 6 interceptions while allowing only 2 TDs.

CB Charles Woodson, Packers: Tied for league lead with 9 interceptions; also had 4 forced fumbles, 2 sacks and 3 TDs.

S Darren Sharper, Saints: Racked up NFL-record 376 yards off 9 interception returns.

S Brian Dawkins, Broncos: Raised Broncos’ pass defense to No. 3 in NFL; was 26th in ’08.

P Shane Lechler, Raiders: 51.1 yards per punt set NFL record.

PR DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Averaged league-high 15.2 yards per return.


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Faithful Vote: Best Touchdown of 2009

Posted by Taylor Price on January 11, 2010 – 11:57 AM

January 19, 2010 Update:
With 40% of the vote, Frank Gore’s touchdown(s) against the Seattle Seahawks were the runaway winner of the 49ers best touchdown of the 2009 season.


Last Friday we posted a video containing every 49ers touchdown of 2009 (which can be seen here). It featured a number of great plays from all 16 games this past season.

But which one was the best?

It’s up to you – the 49ers Faithful – to decide! Watch this video to find out our nominees for the best touchdown of 2009 and vote in our fan poll on the bottom left corner of the 49ers.com home page.

Let’s take a further look at each of the nominees by breaking down the best touchdowns of 2009.

Our first hopeful is Frank Gore, who had two touchdowns in one game that were so good, we couldn’t pick just one.

The Pro Bowl alternate’s Week 2 performance against the Seattle Seahawks saw the running back score touchdowns of 79 and 80 yards! Gore’s performance even earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. But because his long runs were so impressive, it’s hard to single one out. His touchdowns are a package deal.

With the 49ers in a personnel package consisting of two running backs (Gore, and fullback Moran Norris), two wide receivers (Isaac Bruce, Josh Morgan) and a tight end (Vernon Davis), Gore scored on nearly identical plays. His 79-yarder in the first half all started, when left guard David Baas pulled around to kick out the defensive end to his right. Center Eric Heitmann and right guard Chilo Rachal blocked down on the Seahawks interior lineman and Norris entered the hole first. Norris hit the first linebacker he saw, which enabled Gore to burst through the second level. All Gore had to do from there was sidestep an official, read Morgan’s downfield block and then outrun two Seattle defensive backs the rest of the way.

It was almost déjà vu to open the second half, almost.

This time around, Baas didn’t pull, but there was still a major vacancy in the middle of the line. Perhaps the design of the play was to go to the right as Norris fired out that way, but Gore instinctively ran behind left guard, where Baas had blocked down on the defensive tackle. Left tackle Joe Staley’s block on the Seahawks inside backer left defensive end Patrick Kearney untouched. Kearney was slow to come down the line and before he knew it, Gore was already on the second level and off to the races behind two tremendous blocks from Morgan and Bruce. Gore outran another pair of Seattle defensive backs for an 80-yard touchdown making him the first running back to have touchdowns over 75 yards in the same game since Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.

Gore set a career-high with 246 yards from scrimmage that day (207 rushing, 39 receiving). Because both plays were virtually the same, and were equally impressive, Gore should be a popular vote.

Our second nominee is Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, who scored one of two 49ers defensive touchdowns this past season.

It was Willis’ second consecutive season with a pick-6, as he silenced the St. Louis Rams with a 23-yard interception return for a touchdown.

With the Rams facing a third-and-eight from their 20, Willis ended any hope for a Rams comeback with an amazing defensive play which showcased all of his physical tools. St. Louis came out in a shotgun formation with four receivers, but ultimately Boller found a receiver from the wrong team.

Pressure from outside linebacker Manny Lawson combined with great downfield coverage caused Boller to roll to his right and then errantly throw back across his body towards the middle of the field. Boller’s pass was intended for wide receiver Keenan Burton, but it found its way in Willis’ arms, who reached to his right and plucked the ball out of the air.

Willis slightly bobbled the interception initially, but his focus allowed him to take the ball untouched for the 49ers first defensive touchdown of the season. It also put an exclamation mark on the defense’s only shutout of 2009.

Our third choice is rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s first NFL touchdown, a 38-yard catch against the Green Bay Packers.Crabtree’s first touchdown in the pros was quite memorable.

With the 49ers trailing the Packers 23-3 in the second half, needing 20 yards to pick up a first down, quarterback Alex Smith showed the ultimate trust in his rookie wideout by putting the ball up in the air down the left sideline for Crabtree to go up and get.

The No. 10 overall pick in last year’s draft came through, by out-jumping veteran cornerback Al Harris to haul in the touchdown. The play brought the 49ers back into the game, and brought Crabtree’s playmaking ability out in the open for the world to see.

Even more impressive than the catch was Crabtree’s ability to maintain possession while crashing down on the hard Lambeau Field turf.

Our fourth and final nominee happens to be one of the most meaningful touchdowns of the season, Vernon Davis’ 73-yarder in the season finale against St. Louis.

The beautifully thrown deep ball from Smith to Davis was not just a great play, but it tied Davis for the most touchdowns (13) by a tight end in a single season.

With the 49ers leading 7-6 with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter, Davis was on the line in what looked like a run formation. Despite having only one receiver on the field, Smith dropped back from center and threw his longest touchdown of his career to Davis, who had gotten behind Rams safety James Butler. Davis caught the pass in stride at the 37-yard line and then outran Butler and St. Louis cornerback Ron Bartell for the touchdown.

You can vote as many times as you’d like all week long. The winner will be announced next Monday, along with a new “Faithful Vote” for 49ers fans to debate on.


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