San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh made one thing clear when asked about his team’s game plan to get ready for opponents. His thought process is that success on Sunday begins and ends with the week of preparation, and that the key to a good week is competitive play against the developmental squad. Yes, that’s right, not the typical practice squad that every other NFL team uses, but a developmental squad.
While their opponent is practicing, the 49ers are developing. Harbaugh explained that this means that they are developing future starters for future championships teams. The focus this week is winning the turnover battle against the Lions, and to win the battle in the trenches. In regards to the epidemic spreading across the league to find a back up longer snapper? The 49ers already have that covered.
Alex Smith No Longer Under Radar
When Alex Smith’s last pass on Sunday did not find its way into the hands of a Green Bay defender, he set the franchise record for most consecutive passes without an interception. By throwing 185 straight to the ground or to his guy, Smith can proudly boast that the same quarterback who threw one touchdown and 11 interceptions as a rookie, passed the likes of Joe Montana and Steve Young on a very important list. Ironically, after setting this mark, he also cracked ESPN’s weekly MVP watch, showing that the league had better start to take notice.
Smith, though, is more of the norm then the exception on this team. San Francisco has not committed a turnover in the past six games, and when asked about this on Wednesday, Harbaugh credited his coaches — especially running backs coach Tom Rathman — for preaching ball safety in practice. Detroit turned the ball over three times in their first game, so San Francisco will have their opportunity against the pass happy Lions.
49ers Already Have Plan B in Kicking Game
The debacle that was the Oakland Raiders’ kicking game has sent a message across the league: teams better be ready in case their long snapper goes down. The 49ers starter is Brian Jennings, whose name is relatively unknown, which is exactly the way it should be for a long snapper. Jennings is a 13-year veteran who has mastered his craft. In combination with Andy Lee, he gives San Francisco one of the best punting games in the NFL.
What would happen though, if Jennings got injured? Daniel Kilgore would be ready. The sophomore split the duties with Larry Grant last year and has taken over sole responsibility this year. Kilgore gets daily reps, and although everyone would obviously prefer to avoid the situation, if thrown into the fire, the 49ers punting game would be just fine. Kilgore is not just a player waiting on the bench in case something goes wrong. He is part of the personnel that makes up San Francisco’s Jumbo Package that was responsible for a Week One touchdown.
Jumbo Package Not Just For The Goal Line Anymore
The 49ers’ running game is getting more and more physical at the point of attack. The team unitizes a set that puts 350-pound Leonard Davis at tight end, 308-pound lineman Daniel Kilgore as the wing back, and has Bruce Miller as the fullback. The result on Sunday was Frank Gore’s 23-yard scamper, in which Davis and Kilgore cleared out the entire right side of the defense. The team will continue to practice and use this formation both this week and for the rest of the season due to its success.
Opponents will, of course, begin to scout more and prepare for this, but due to the athletic ability of those involved, San Francisco can run this formation from any position on the field. This is just another aspect of the San Francisco attack that must now be accounted for and game planned against. In addition, teams will still have to respect the pass from this formation and can’t simply stack up against the run if they see Davis trot onto the field.
During their week of development, the 49ers will stick to the fundamentals. Winning at the point of attack, winning the turnover battle and remaining balance will ensure that they are ready for whatever the Lions bring to the field on Sunday.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.