49ers Tweet-Bag: And the Beat Goes On

Tre9er Twitter page - Get at me!

Welcome to the second weekly edition of the 49ers Tweet-Bag - the feature where you submit questions and we get you answers (albeit sometimes only by hacks like myself).  The biggest difference between this week's Tweet-Bag and last week's is that we have been graced by the presence of three 49ers beat-writers!  The same guys who cover the 49ers and provide us with the vital info we crave will now be answering your questions (and thus, making my answers seem vastly inferior).

For those of you who didn't see last week's inaugural Tweet-Bag, let me give you a quick recap (taken from last week's piece) as well as a few tips on how to use Twitter to submit your questions for the Tweet-Bag.

Twitter is great because people can pose short, blunt questions about all things 49ers.  However the 140 character limit can make effectively responding to those questions a challenge.  For whatever reason, I get a lot of questions tweeted my way...probably due to the fact that I have an unhealthy obsession with the 49ers.  So I thought, "why not have a weekly piece that takes some of the questions circulating around Twitter and answer them on NN?"

Hence the 49ers Tweet-Bag was born.  I encourage anyone on Twitter to come up with questions, opinions, bold statements, whatever...and tag them with #49ersTweetBag so I can easily find them.  Using "hashtags", that is, preceding something with the pound sign - or hash - catalogs tweets together by that hashtag.  For instance you would send your tweet like this:

Would making Tre9er the GM of the 49ers be a smart move? #49ersTweetBag

(Incidentally, the answer to that tweet is a resounding: YES!)

If you're not on Twitter, fear not...Get on Twitter!  Just kidding...but seriously, Twitter is the best way to get breaking news before it hits TV, blogs, newspapers, etc.  It's usually the first place the media guys go to get the info out to the world while they work on writing up a full report.

Ok, now that we're all up to speed on what the Tweet-Bag is and how to submit questions, let's get to know the participants in this week's piece.  Join me after the jump for a quick bio on each of them.  Incidentally, I've got them listed in order by who responded back with answers to the questions first...as I work on this piece continuously.

Matt Maiocco, @MaioccoCSN on Twitter, has been covering the 49ers for more than a decade.  He is currently the NFL insider for CSN Bay Area (blog HERE) after previously covering the beat for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.  Matt received his degree in Journalism from Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA.  He's a huge San Francisco Giants fan as well, earning him a place in most of our hearts (unless you're an Athletics' fan, in which case you don't have a heart). 

Eric Branch, @Eric_Branch on Twitter, is the newest beat-writer on the scene.  He replaced Phil Barber as the 49ers reporter for the Press Democrat (blog HERE) not long after Barber took over the reins from Maiocco.  Obviously those are big shoes to fill but Eric has done a fine job (especially now that he has a smart-phone and can tweet info earlier than "hours later than the other guys"!).  Please don't confuse Eric with a Florida death-row inmate of the same name!  In all seriousness Eric is a witty writer and we're glad to have him on board with the Tweet-Bag.

Samuel Lam, @SLam49ers on Twitter, has been a member of our very own beloved Niners Nation for over two years now.  He is the only beat writer who is open about being a true fan of the 49ers (I say "open about" because we all know they have a soft-spot for the 9ers...the others just wont admit it).  On top of being a fan and long-time member of NN though, Sam is also the 49ers blogger at Examiner.com.  Unfortunately he is also one of those heartless Oakland A's fans I mentioned above though, so temper your expectations accordingly.  You can find Sam's blog HERE.

James Brady, @Ninnyjams on Twitter, is someone we all know and love (no, not like that) here on NN.  James works tirelessly on features such as the Golden Nuggets - a feature that gives more info regarding the past 24 hours in 49ers news, notes, and discussion than any I've found...anywhere.  James also is good for numerous posts on both NinersNation.com and the parent site SBNBayArea.com as well.  He probably writes more than anyone currently covering the Bay Area sports scene.  He also has a fascination with British people.

A feature I've included this week is to show the participant's Twitter profile picture next to their responses.  If you click on the writer's picture you will also be taken to their blog.  To the right of their picture you'll notice their Twitter handle.  Clicking on this will take you to their Twitter home page where you can then follow them.  On to the questions!

@Kieranchristian: Where is the WR screen in the Offensive playbook? Haven't seen that enough, & Crabtree can run that play w/precision!

@MaioccoCSN: It seems the couple of times they've tried it, it hasn't worked. I remember overthrows to Crabtree and Brian Westbrook (on a play in which he was lined up on the outside). In fact, the 49ers' screen game as a whole has not been good. Alex Smith seems to have a difficult time with those short touch passes. How many times have we seen short passes overthrown or balls batted at the line of scrimmage? Granted, not all of those throws were screens, but the majority of his picks have been on passes tipped at the line.
@SLam49ers: With the change at offensive coordinator, I'm not too sure exactly still what philosophy Mike Johnson wants to run for the team. One thing is for sure is that the 49ers aren't getting too predictable with the running game and adding more play actions into the mix. As far as the wide receiver screens, it's not something I think that the 49ers want to rush into (but maybe they should since they're 1-6). Michael Crabtree has been used recently as a deep threat since the playbook has opened up and it looks like they want to focus on making him that kind of a receiver. Obviously with his hands and footwork, screens would also be a great option for the team to use.

The 49ers haven't completely abandoned that idea, however. As you recall, Vernon Davis' touchdown against the Falcons was on a modified version of a wide receiver screen. It's in the playbook and depending on the situation and the defense, it has to be an option the team knows it can run.
Tre9er: I've asked myself the same question buddy.  Crabtree buttered his bread on this play in college at Texas Tech and showed in 2009, after arriving late, that his after-the-catch skills translated pretty well to the NFL.  Still I think I can echo others' comments in saying that part of the problem likely has to do with Alex Smith's short-throw accuracy and the scathing memory of tipped-ball-interceptions.  All this being said though I agree that getting Crabtree the ball in space, one way or another, is important going forward.  A lot of us feel that he would make a good slot receiver because of his hands, strength and YAC ability.  Hopefully we soon get to see him in a role that takes advantage of his skill set more.
@Ninjames: I think the lack of the wide receiver screen comes from the general lack of blocking ability through-and-through. The 49ers have to kick out tight ends, running backs, other receivers and offensive linemen for screen passes, and with the already sub par blocking of the offensive line on an (in)consistent basis, it's a matter of not asking them to do too much. That's as far as my crackpot theory goes, however, as it's just much more likely that it's not something that's prominent in the playbook. The artist formerly known as Jimmy Raye's offense was always very running back and very tight end friendly - the wide receiver just isn't utilized in that way as often. They're there to block, be physical, and pick up the tough yardage downfield. Lastly, the team just isn't successful when they run it, at least with Alex Smith at quarterback. He has a poor "spin and throw," type of throw that always ends up far too high. By the time the receiver goes up to get it, the blocking has broken down and the play goes nowhere.

@49erLou52: Is Ricky Jean Francois the future at NT for the 49ers?

@MaioccoCSN: There is a good chance that RJF will get that chance. It's not so much that Franklin has played poorly. I think he's been up-and-down, but the 49ers would certainly like to retain him for next season. The issue is that once Franklin goes on the free-agent market, his price gets jacked up. Therefore, the 49ers have to bid against the team that's willing to pay him the most money. Now it could very well be that Franklin will not have the kind of market value he envisions, but the 49ers almost never spend big money to retain a player who hits the open market.
@Eric_Branch: I haven’t seen enough of Francois to comment on whether he will be a capable NFL starter. As far as Franklin, he is playing much better after he missed training camp and was noticeably absent the first few weeks. The Niners have stuffed the run the past two weeks, limiting opposing running backs to 2.2 yards a carry (55 carries, 119 yards). Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart didn’t do anything running inside Sunday – 26 of their 33 runs gained three yards or less. Franklin isn’t getting pushed back into the linebackers, something that happened a few times against the Eagles.
@SLam49ers: I would say yes and he's ready for it. One of the biggest blessings in disguise for the 49ers was the holdout of Aubrayo Franklin this offseason. Because of that, Jean Francois had a chance to get a lot of reps at nose tackle and looked pretty good in my eyes. The 49ers drafted him with a hope that he can slowly develop into a solid player and that's exactly what's going on right now.

Last year, we didn't know what kind of season Franklin would have and so it came to a surprise that he would play so well. This year he has looked OK but nothing to the level he played like last year. If the 49ers are willing to let him go (which is likely since he would probably demand a lot of money) the team would be fine with Jean Francois as their new starting nose tackle.
@Tre9er: I've rarely been disappointed when I watch RJF play.  All he did in Franklin's absence during camp was work hard and get better and better each day.  He's disruptive, often making plays in the backfield WHILE being doubled initially.  He's put on weight and is much heavier than the 286lbs. or so he was carrying upon reporting to the 49ers in 2009.  All this coupled with Franklin's desire for big money in free agency (where some team will probably take the bait and pay the man) will more than likely equate to RJF being the starting Nose Tackle in 2011.  Still, I think the team should focus on developing another player if Franklin does indeed walk.  The nose is one of the most important positions to a 3-4 and not one you want to leave to chance.
@Ninjames: Aubrayo Franklin hasn't necessarily played in such a way you could describe as "bad," but more so, he just doesn't seem to have that much gas in the tank to make the impact plays on a consistent basis this season. You can ponder amongst yourselves why that is, but the answer regarding Ricky Jean Francois is a tentative ... maybe. It's too early, still, to crown this guy as the answer for the remainder of this season/next season. In limited playing time, he's made his presence known, and is certainly a solid option. He's a potential future starter, who at the current time provides the 49ers with bargaining leverage over Franklin and the luxury of passing on a top-flight nose tackle in the draft in order to fulfill a more pressing need.

@yougomango: Barring a big push to land Andrew Luck, what vet QB's of note will likely be free agents after this season?

@MaioccoCSN: Forget about Peyton Manning, of course. The Colts aren't going to let him get away. Michael Vick? I just don't see him leaving Philadelphia. After all, Andy Reid gave him a chance to rebuild his career. I think it's mutually beneficial for the Eagles and Vick to make that happen. If the 49ers did not go after Donovan McNabb last year, why would they this time around when he's not having a very good season? McNabb's passer rating is 76.0. Alex Smith's is 75.0. The 49ers got an up-close look at Matt Moore, who becomes a free agent after the season. But he's a fourth-year player, so -- depending on the new CBA -- he might be restricted. Tarvaris Jackson is also eligible for free agency, and he'll probably want to get out of Minnesota.
@Eric_Branch: Throwing a few names out there … Dream on: Peyton Manning (no explanation needed). Not likely: Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick (conventional wisdom says they stay put in Washington and Philly, respectively). Young with some potential … and risk: Carolina’s Matt Moore, Minnesota’s Tarvaris Jackson. Also, if Vick stays with the Eagles what happens to Kevin Kolb? There has been speculation they would trade him.
@SLam49ers: Here's the situation for the quarterback position. If the 49ers do pursue a veteran quarterback, they have to have their own quarterback situation figured out. If Alex Smith is gone, then the free agent quarterback has to have a good shot at becoming the starter for the team. If they decide to bring in a veteran that can accept a backup role, they also have to understand that he must be able to step in and be a solid mentor at any given situation.

Another thing to note is who the offensive coordinator will be (if the team decides to go in another direction). That factors into how attractive the 49ers could look to certain players. If there is an open starting position and a coordinator that is favorable, the 49ers could be a very ideal situation for a handful of quarterback.

If the 49ers draft a rookie quarterback, a free agent quarterback could view that as an opportunity to start and mentor the young quarterback. A role like that could fit a Hasselbeck or Collins if the 49ers do choose that route. Many options for a future that has yet to be determined.
@Tre9er: We just did a post on this on October 26th, 2010 (which can be found HERE) actually.  The guys I'd consider, besides the obvious Manning, Vick, etc. would be Gradkowski, T.Jack, Pennington, Hasselbeck or Collins.  The first two guys because they are young and hungry, likely to play with some passion.  The last three because they have experience that could guide us for a while as a young QB develops.  I think at any rate it's time for the 49ers to start taking the position more seriously and I hope they bring in at least one player who could be OUR FUTURE as well as another guy who has some experience.  The team needs more than one (semi) viable option at QB.
@Ninjames: I like Tyler Thigpen over there in Miami. I think the kid knows the game well and can be a starting quarterback in the NFL. The 49ers could also make a run at Bruce Gradkowski, Chad Pennington ... there's a lot of possibilities out there right now. I'm not going to mention Donovan McNabb and things of that nature, because he won't be available. Manning, obviously won't be available. Tavaris Jackson is a guy that could be interesting and could be a capable starter in front of, say, a second or third round rookie quarterback.

@chikmagnet_565: Is Greg Manusky's job in trouble?

@MaioccoCSN: No, Manusky's job is not in trouble. The defense entered Sunday's game ranked 10th in the league, and the performance against the last-ranked Panthers' offense was a huge disappointment. But, no, the 49ers are not going to kick Manusky to the curb.
@Eric_Branch: I have no insight in to his job security, but I think it’s fair to say the defense overall has been at least a mild disappointment. In three losses by a combined eight points (Atlanta, New Orleans, Carolina), they couldn’t make a stop and allowed three game-winning field goals within the final 37 seconds. I have heard fans grumbling about soft coverages in those two-minute situations, but that hasn’t jumped out to me. Against Carolina, for example, they simply got burned deep on Brandon LaFell’s 35-yard catch that set up John Kasay’s game-winning field goal.
@SLam49ers: Only if there are major changes to the staff this offseason. Manusky has done an OK job in preparation for games this year and overall, the team could be better. They're ranked 13th overall in defense but continues to be victims of big plays. If the 49ers want to improve on defense, they need to find a way to add more pressure on the quarterback with linebacker Patrick Willis being bottled up by the opposition. The secondary was the biggest question mark for the defense entering this year and they still haven't answered many questions. Cornerback Nate Clements hasn't shown any consistent progress that warranted his big contract and rookie safety Taylor Mays is still learning the ropes. There isn't any one player that has truly stood out and that could hurt Manusky's job security with the team. If he doesn't turn the defense around and get them to perform at the level they were expected to, it doesn't look too positive for Manusky.
@Tre9er: If you believe that Singletary's job is in trouble, then yes...by extension so is Manusky's.  In the meantime though I don't see them firing Manusky as replacing him mid-season would be difficult.  Perhaps they could elevate Jim Tomsula or another position coach but then there would be another void to fill.  Besides, as frustrating as the lack of creative blitzes and soft coverages are...the defense has done a lot to keep games close, which is more than a lot of teams can say about theirs.  The other thing to consider is this: Is Singletary bringing some of the same conservative influence to the defnse that was thought to be limiting the offense?  We all know he doesn't want to "make mistakes" and blitzing is a risk (albeit sometimes a necessary one).
@Ninjames: Certainly, I think everybody's job on the 49ers coaching staff is at risk. Then again, I think it would require an entire restructuring of the coaching staff for Manusky to get the axe. He stays on in ... seven out of ten scenarios, in my head. That number was pulled from nowhere, of course, but it's worth noting that I do believe Manusky is a great coordinator with a bright future in this league, who happens to be struggling at the moment and is perhaps the victim of under-performing players and maybe a dwarfed gameplan by way of head coach interference? Shouldn't that be a penalty?

@Astand49: Where was takeo spikes on key 3rd down conversions? Bowman continues to struggle?

@MaioccoCSN: Spikes was on the sideline in the 49ers' nickel defense. He has shown to be pretty good in coverage throughout his career, but the 49ers want to continue to get NaVorro Bowman playing time to get him ready to take over at the "ted" linebacker job. Do I think it's worth it to sacrifice experience for speed? Short term, no. Bowman had a horrendous game against the Raiders, but he was better against Carolina. So it appears as if he made some adjustments and understands he has to play with more discipline.
@Eric_Branch: The Niners have said they want to use Bowman, in part, to limit the wear and tear on the 33-year-old Spikes. That makes sense. But I was struck by the fact that Spikes was on the sideline on Carolina’s game-tying drive Sunday. Bowman allowed a 10-yard completion to Dante Rosario, was called for illegal contact on the next play and missed a tackle on DeAngelo Williams two plays later. I understand the need to give Spikes a breather, but not with the game on the line. I’ll ask Singletary at his next press conference on Wednesday about Bowman being in the game in that situation.
@SLam49ers: Spikes could be getting some veteran rest at some times but the 49ers probably want get Bowman as many opportunities as possible. With the injury to Scott McKillop (whom the team was prepping for to replace Spikes) the 49ers are thin at middle linebacker. With that in mind, they wanted to at least get Bowman a chance to dip his feet and get more involved in the defense. Bowman's play has been very inconsistent and his inability to make tackles has hurt the team. His speed very well could factor in as to how much playing time he gets. Ultimately it's all situational and to them, some times keeping Spikes out in favor of Bowman seems like a good idea. It's failed on a few occasions and that's one thing they have to look over for the remainder of the season. They don't want to overuse Spikes and take away opportunities from Bowman. But at the same time, it might be better to keep Spikes in. It's a tough call with a linebacker group that has yet to show much dominance throughout the year.
@Tre9er: I think it's a tough spot to be in for everyone involved right now.  Takeo needs rest, despite what he says, and Bowman needs experience.  There are always going to be times where we can say "Why wasn't TKO in the game there!  Look at Bowman in there playing poorly!" But what happens if you put Spikes in on obvious passing downs and he get's burned a few times?  Then we start saying, "Man TKO is too slow to play on third down!  We should have the younger, faster Bowman in the game!" and it all starts over again.  Unfortunately we're going through several of these growing pains right now and that makes it even more difficult to deal with.
@Ninjames: I couldn't tell you where exactly he was, but he was not in on any nickel situations against the Carolina Panthers, which is surprising to me. The Panthers exploited the over-pursuing NaVorro Bowman on more than one occasion and he wasn't even in the game that often. Takeo Spikes has been decent-to-great in every aspect of his game for a good portion of his career, including coverage, and to me it doesn't make sense to take him out of there. It's important for the team to bring Bowman along and prepare him for the full job, and I believe he'll get that job and handle the duties admirably and be a force at TED for a long time, but right now, at 1-6, it's not the time. If the coaches want to win football games for themselves, the fans, and the players, you play the best guys you can where you can.

@yougomango: How much of the offense's issues are really on Alex? The OL hasn't been all that impressive in giving him time to throw.

@MaioccoCSN:The offensive line has not been very good. Heck, the run game was supposed to be the strength of the offense. But the 49ers rank 27th in the NFL with just 92.3 yards rushing per game. The offense line has not made Smith look good, but the same can be said the other way, too. Smith does not do a good job of making subtle adjustments in the pocket to create space to get rid of the football. Certainly in the first five games, Smith exacerbated every bit of pressure from an opposing pass rush with a bad play -- interception, fumble or just poorly thrown ball. Quarterbacks at this level can't wait until they see an open receiver to throw the ball. By that time, it's too late. Top-level QBs must be able to anticipate, based on a lot of different factors, when a receiver is about to get open and put it in a spot to allow him to go get it. That's an element of the position that Smith has not even come close to mastering.
@Eric_Branch: Smith has to bear his share of the blame. In the first five games, he made at least one killer game-changing mistake. On occasion, he was under pressure in those situations due to the line, but he panicked and forced throws, or fumbled (I’m thinking of Philadelphia). He did a better job of throwing balls away the past two weeks – he hadn’t committed a turnover in six quarters before he got hurt Sunday, an injury that resulted from a breakdown by the offensive line. The front five sure hasn’t been stellar, but they haven’t been so bad that it absolves Smith.
@SLam49ers: Not all but obviously some has to be put on him. One of the hardest things for a quarterback to do in the league is to adapt to a new offensive line. The line right now has not done too well blocking and that has affected Smith's timing and accuracy on throws. The team has instructed Smith to throw the ball away and avoid turnovers. Also, with more play actions, Smith has more room to work with outside of the pocket away from the defenders. The offensive line has been an issue and has been part of the problem.

Another problem on Smith may very well be his accuracy and his connection with the receivers. Most of his interceptions have come off deflections from the receivers. Some have been from missed catches or overthrows. That's on Smith and the receivers to get on the same page.

The offense now has been changed and Smith has looked better throwing the ball. Under Jimmy Raye, there wasn't enough continuity in the pass and run ratio that Smith didn't develop and consistency. Hopefully the offense can change enough where Smith can flourish and show what potential he has. It's unfair to blame everything on Smith for the team's offensive woes with everything else that hasn't gone right. But at the end of the day, Smith is the quarterback and he has to take a good portion of the responsibilities.
@Tre9er: I think it's some of both.  Sure if Alex has more time he probably does better.  Still, the best QB's know that it's up to them to get the ball out quickly if the protection isn't there.  Can we really say Alex has done the absolute best with what he has?  Has he made all good throws when protected and the bad throws only came when his O-Line failed to protect him?  Offense is a cycle.  If the O-Line blocks better in the run game, it opens up the passing game.  If the passing game is clicking it makes defending the run more difficult.  However when a QB isn't taking advantage of mismatches or is indecisive in the pocket that helps defenses because they know they don't have to drop as many in coverage and can rush more.  Now there's more guys at the line of scrimmage on running plays too.  There has to be more plays that capitalize on these mismatches.  And yes, the line does have to do a better job too, so whichever QB is dropping back to pass has at least enough time to set his feet.
@Ninjames: It's hard to quantify a split, here. Where Alex Smith looks great at times and bad at others, so does the offensive line. Where it feels like the offensive line is the reason for Smith's bad play, it also feels like Smith doesn't do enough to help his offensive line help him. He has no pocket awareness, he's predictable when he rolls out, and he locks in on one target at medium range. Defenses know where Alex is going to be behind the line and can overload portions of the line to be there when Alex gets there. You can look at some plays and say "That's not on Alex. That's on the five guys in front of him," but I think you can look at even more plays and say "What's your problem, Alex? Can you really not feel those defenders around you?" A quarterback is supposed to look good during a portion of the bad offensive line plays, that's what makes them a good quarterback - perhaps Alex Smith is not a good quarterback.

Thanks so much to Matt Maiocco, Eric Branch, and Samuel Lam for participating in the Tweet-Bag this week.  Please be sure to check out each of their blogs as well as follow them on Twitter.  Again, clicking on their picture in the upper left-hand corner of any one of their responses will take you to their blog.  Clicking their Twitter handle in a response will take you to their twitter page where you can follow them.

Footnote: Fooch wanted me to let you all know he fully intends to participate in the Tweet-Bag in the future, after his return from London.  Matt Barrows will also be joining the fray when his schedule allows.  I made sure to tell Bee-rows that three of his cohorts were involved and how much he was missing out though.

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