In the 49ers regular season finale Sunday in St. Louis, running back Kendall Hunter totaled a career-high 76 rushing yards among many contributions from the team’s rookie class.
It was the latest of many strong performances by San Francisco’s NFL newcomers which now include 12 rookies on the 53-man roster.
Jim Harbaugh has been pleased with the progress made by his rookies so far, especially with the young players not having a typical offseason to prepare for the rigors of professional football.
“I really thought it be would be difficult for all rookies in football,” Harbaugh said on Monday, one day after his team finished the regular season 13-3. “With no offseason, no minicamps, the idea in my head was they were in a real disadvantage going into training camp. Veteran players who knew the routine, knew systems, would be way ahead like they were in a normal training camp. I thought it would take the rookies longer to show they were NFL-caliber players.”
That hasn’t been the case for the 49ers.
Besides Hunter and fullback Bruce Miller being noticeable contributors for the offensive side of the ball, Aldon Smith led all rookies with 14.0 sacks and Chris Culliver served as the team’s third cornerback for most of the season.
“We were going to be diligent to give them extra time, but in the case of our rookies, the ones who’ve been contributing all year and have been around this football team, they showed early they belong,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve adapted really well to these uncharted waters. And to be able to perform the way they have, the body of work they’ve put together this season in so many cases is outstanding.”
Harbaugh credited general manager Trent Baalke and the 49ers scouting staff for bringing in so many talented players for his coaches to work with.
“A lot of credit to Trent, to our scouts, to our coaches and our organization, that whole arm of finding players, finding talent,” Harbaugh said. “I think it’s been really exceptional this year.”
With so many young contributors on top of a talented group of free agent additions, Harbaugh and Baalke should be up for Coach and Executive of the Year Award consideration. At least that’s the assessment of many players inside the 49ers locker room.
“I’ve seen GMs take over and clean house,” shared veteran tight end Justin Peelle, who signed with the 49ers in the midst of training camp. “I think Trent was smart enough to realize the pieces were in place, he just needed to change a few things.”
Baalke and the 49ers personnel department brought in many high-character players, passionate about the game.
“You have a guy like Bruce Miller coming in here and he’s an alternate for the Pro Bowl,” Peelle added. “The guy played defensive end last year. That’s a really good job and that’s a testament to what they’ve done.”
Linebacker Blake Costanzo was even more candid in discussing the merits of Baalke and Harbaugh winning the awards.
Costanzo, an effervescent special teams ace, believes the 49ers decision-makers don’t want the credit.
“I feel like our team has made the most significant jump, but I know Coach Harbaugh wouldn’t want it, he’s kind of low key,” Costanzo explained. “But they’re definitely well deserving of it for sure.”
Notes and Quotes
Harbaugh said the 49ers will spend the playoff week scouting the teams they could potentially play in the Divisional round of the playoffs (Atlanta, New Orleans and New York Giants). The 49ers will have a workout on Wednesday and will resume practice on Thursday.
Harbaugh wasn’t upset with how the 49ers lost a three-touchdown lead against the Rams. “Things happen fast in this game,” he said. Still, the 49ers coach was content in seeing his team earn the NFC’s No. 2 seed. “The body of work is there,” said Harbaugh before alluding to the different ways in which his team found ways to win.
The availability of tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) will not be known until Wednesday. His replacement, Peele, was saddened to see a close friend get hurt, but made sure to help the 49ers win the past two weeks in Seattle and in St. Louis. “It was fun to be out there the last couple weeks, but obviously not in the condition I wanted to,” Peele said. “I was glad I was able to contribute.”
The 49ers will use the bye week to rest up before a the first playoff game to be played at Candlestick Park since their 39-38 win over the New York Giants on Jan. 5, 2003. Players, however, don’t necessarily want to wait around until Jan. 14 to play. “I know a lot of us want the bye, but we don’t want to wait around,” Costanzo said. “We want to go play this Sunday and just get on that field. We’re so hungry, we can’t wait to get on the field and play. That’s what this team does, we play football. We don’t care about all the other stuff.”
Lastly, Harbaugh was asked about Alex Smith’s future with the 49ers. With the starting quarterback finishing out the one-year deal he signed in the offseason, Harbaugh previously said he’d like to have Smith come back to the 49ers. On Monday, Harbaugh reiterated his stance. “I told Alex, ‘Hey, we want you to come back here next year.’ He’s focused on the season and that’s where his mindset wants to be. I totally respect that. We’ll address it when the seasons over.”
Tags: Alex Smith, Blake Costanzo, Bruce Miller, Delanie Walker, Jim Harbaugh, Kendall Hunter, Trent Baalke
Posted in Announcements | 60 Comments »