Monthly Archives: September 2018

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The time to feel down about star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending knee injury has passed.

The San Francisco 49ers know they now must prepare to go ahead with the rest of what was supposed to be a promising season with backup C.J. Beathard at the helm instead of the player who immediately became the face of the franchise.
“There’s a lot of people out there doubting us and counting us out,” Beathard said Wednesday. “I think everybody in the building is excited and we’re ready to get rolling and win some games moving forward.”

There’s good reason to doubt the 49ers, who were 1-10 last year under Brian Hoyer and Beathard before Garoppolo took over as starter following a midseason trade from New England. He immediately injected life into a struggling franchise by winning all five of his starts to end last season.

The 49ers (1-2) rewarded him in the off-season with a $137.5 million, five-year contract and entered this season with high hopes that might have been dashed when Garoppolo blew out his left knee when he planted and tried to cut up field rather than run out of bounds late in a 38-27 loss at Kansas City.

Coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t try to sugarcoat the gloom when he delivered the bad news to his players Monday, telling them it was understandable to feel down.

The players appreciated that sentiment even if they know they must move on and prepare for Sunday’s road game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

“It’s cool to see your head coach acknowledge that, yeah, we all feel it for a little bit,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “That’s OK to acknowledge it but we don’t need to dwell on it. We just need to find what we need to do to get better.”

The Niners under Garoppolo were a dynamic offence. They ranked sixth in the league in scoring and in yards per play in eight starts with him under centre. That was a big jump after ranking in the bottom 10 of the league in both categories before Garoppolo took over.

The 49ers believe Beathard’s experience playing as a rookie, the opportunity to watch Garoppolo succeed in the offence and going through an entire off-season program will make Beathard a better player this time around.

He got one snap last week after Garoppolo got hurt and threw a touchdown pass to George Kittle. The play was negated by a penalty, the 49ers settled for a field goal and the offence never got the ball back.

“You see it in his decision making,” Juszczyk said. “He’s just much more decisive out there. You can tell things aren’t spinning in his head so much. He gets the ball out quick and has a lot of confidence.”

Beathard started five games as a rookie last year, completing 54.9 per cent of his passes with four touchdowns, six interceptions, 6.4 yards per attempt and a 69.2 passer rating that was second lowest in the NFL.

He wasn’t helped by the fact leading receiver Pierre Garcon had gone down with a season-ending injury, the running game was inconsistent and the offensive line was hampered by injuries. That contributed to Beathard taking 19 sacks last year but also allowed him to prove his toughness to his teammates.

“That wasn’t exactly the situation I wanted to put C.J. into,” Shanahan said. “That’s why I think myself and a lot of our team earned a lot of respect for him. Not all the weeks, but some weeks, he was in a very tough situation. He never wavered, never saw his confidence change and when he eventually was benched and we put Jimmy in, you would think a guy would be less confident after that. You guys can ask him, but I truly believe he was more confident. Even though he struggled at times, he truly believed he could do it. Those are the kind of guys you want to go to battle with.”

NOTES: San Francisco worked out several quarterbacks Tuesday but decided to promote Nick Mullens from the practice squad to serve as the backup for now. Mullens originally joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2017 and spent all last year on the practice squad. … RB Matt Breida (knee) and WR Marquise Goodwin (quadriceps) were limited in practice. … S Adrian Colbert (hip), G Joshua Garnett (toe), G Mike Person (knee), CB Richard Sherman (calf), T Joe Staley (not injury related), S Jaquiski Tartt (shoulder) did not practice. … The 49ers signed DL Ryan Delaire, OL Christian DiLauro and DB Dexter McCoil to the practice squad.

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ALAMEDA, Calif. — Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson isn’t as troubled as most people seem to be by the Oakland Raiders’ lack of a pass rush.

The way Johnson sees it, there are other ways for the defence to impact games.

Yet with only two sacks in two games, Johnson also realizes something has to change.

“It’s a lot of ways to contribute to being a really good defence besides getting sacks,” Johnson said Thursday. “Don’t get me wrong, sacks help big time but red zone defence is a big part of being a really good defence. Turnovers for sure. It’s still early.”

Oakland’s pass rush, or lack thereof, has been heavily scrutinized since the team traded 2016 defensive player of the year Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears a week before the season opener.

Mack has had a sack and a forced fumble in each of his first two games while helping the Bears to an NFL-leading 10 sacks. Mack also scored a touchdown in his Chicago debut against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Conversely, the Raiders pass rush has been sparse at best. Defensive end Bruce Irvin got to Rams quarterback Jared Goff for a coverage sack in Week 1 while rookie defensive lineman Maurice Hurst dropped Case Keenum in Week 2.

Like Johnson, Oakland defensive co-ordinator Paul Guenther believes there are other ways for the Raiders to be effective. During Guenther’s stint as Cincinnati’s defensive co-ordinator, the Bengals had more than 33 sacks only twice in four seasons but finished in the top 20 overall three times.

“Obviously you’d like to have sacks but if you really look at it, when you look at the statistics year in and year out, the teams that are up there in sacks aren’t necessarily playoff teams. A lot of times they’re not,” Guenther said. “You’d always like to get a number of sacks. It kind of feeds off each other and the kind of personnel you have. That’s not the most important thing but obviously you want to get after the opposing quarterback.”

Oakland has forced only one turnover in two games. The Raiders are also 26th in defensive third-down efficiency, allowing opponents to convert 12 of 27 opportunites.

Johnson said there is a sense of urgency in Oakland’s locker room, although the 35-year-old sounds more concerned with the Raiders’ inability to stop the Broncos on their game-winning drive in the final seconds last week than he is about the pass rush.

“Really the last two games the first half was pretty good team effort but we have to finish the close ones, win the close ones,” Johnson said. “As a defence we have to be hoping for that situation, saying, ‘Hey, if we stop them it’s over.’ It’s not the whole defence. It’s a play here, a play there. Not being tight enough here or communication. Just a little something on each play of that last drive hurt us.”

With nine new starters and a 10th — Irvin — playing a different position than he did a year ago, the argument could be made the Raiders are still going through growing pains.

Johnson isn’t buying it.

“That’s too easy of an excuse,” Johnson said. “We’ve been together for a little bit. We know the plays. We just have to execute better. Our defensive co-ordinator knows we can do that. We need to help him out by making some plays. We have to make plays.”

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DAVIE, Fla. — There was a time when Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills was bothered by the backlash over his decision to kneel on the sideline during the national anthem, his way of following Colin Kaepernick’s lead and protesting social injustice. He is no longer worried. If anything, his resolve got stronger. “We’re not going anywhere,” Stills said. Stills was one of two players who kneeled for the anthem in Week 1 around the NFL. Fellow Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson was the other. League-wide, only about 10 players participated in any form of protests. On Thursday, two days removed from meeting with veterans on Sept. 11 and getting lauded by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Stills insisted that his pregame statements are not going away. “It’s not going to change,” Stills said. “Activism isn’t something you just kind of get involved in and then turn your back on it. Once your eyes are open to some of the things that are happening, you continue to work and try to grow and create change for the rest of your life. It’s something I’m committed to forever.” Stills said the Dolphins, who had established a team policy during the off-season saying that players who protested on the field could be subject to a suspension of up to four games, have not tried to stop him from kneeling. The Dolphins’ policy and all NFL punishments for protests were put on hold as the league and union negotiate. Dolphins coach Adam Gase chose the captains for this year’s team already, and Stills — just as he was last season — is one. It’s a clear sign that Gase has no problems with Stills’ stance, or his leadership capability. “I think he’s been the most productive slot receiver the last two years in the NFL,” Gase said. “That’s nothing new to us.” Stills met with reporters for about 10 minutes Thursday. There was one question about his two touchdown catches against Tennessee in Miami’s 27-20 victory. The rest of the session revolved almost entirely around kneeling, not catching Stills went to Miami-area VA Hospitals on Tuesday , along with Wilson and a few other members of the Dolphins organization. Some of the patients were moved to tears, and Stills said he spoke with several veterans privately — most of them understanding where his protests are coming from and what they are about. “This has never been against the military or the flag or the police,” Stills said. “And so just for them to have the opportunity, for us to have the conversation, for them to approach me and say that, that meant a bunch.” There are some, however — most notably, President Donald Trump — who insist on describing the kneeling and other similar actions, such as Oakland’s Marshawn Lynch staying seated for the anthem, as a protest of the flag. Trump retweeted a photo on Sunday that showed Stills and Wilson kneeling as the anthem played. In a separate tweet, Trump said NFL television ratings are declining and wrote that if “the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!” Rubio, R-Florida, took to Twitter this week to applaud Stills . “You don’t have to agree with how or why he has chosen to exercise the 1st Amendment before every game to acknowledge the hours he gives voluntarily, on his day off, to serve his fellow Americans,” Rubio tweeted. Stills said he understands the backlash is not going to stop. “It’s not about being the face or who gets the notoriety for it,” Stills said. “It’s just what I care about outside of work and what I spend my time doing when I’m not here working for the Dolphins.” Stills first kneeled during the anthem in 2016 and has been vocal discussing racial inequality and other issues. The player protests — started by Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since that season — have become a divisive topic. The debate was refuelled earlier this month, when Nike made Kaepernick one of the faces of Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign . Kaepernick lauded Stills and Wilson for kneeling last weekend. Stills said he would like to see more players protest. “Obviously, we’d be encouraged to see more guys participating in the protest, but I understand that everyone makes their own decisions,” Stills said. “I’ll continue doing what I’m doing. It’s never been about that. It’s not about what other guys are doing. I understand my position and what I’m standing for, what I’m standing up for.”