Today marks the fifth weekly edition of the 49ers Tweet-Bag - the feature where you submit questions and we get you answers. Okay, so maybe sometimes I submit questions to the Tweet-Bag too...Inquiring minds wanna know. Sue me! You know, there IS a solution to keeping me out of the questions...Submit your own, frequently!
This week's piece came together somewhat last-minute, hence the title. I was very busy at my "real job" on Monday and Tuesday and unfortunately couldn't get questions out to the writers until late Tuesday...which happens to be the 49ers off-day and thus a good time for the guys to work on their answers for the Tweet-Bag. Go me!
If this is your first Tweet-Bag, let me give you the history lesson as well as the operator's manual:
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. 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:
What do you think of Michael Spurlock's return to Candlestick Park? #49ersTweetBag
(Inside info says Spurlock will be physically tazered in honor of the now-retired formation in which he used to receive the snap)
If you're not on Twitter, you probably have a good reason...like listening to all of your 8-tracks or stone-washing your jeans. But hey, you could multi-task and open up your laptop and sign up for a Twitter account for free, and then just submit some questions!
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.
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.
David Fucillo, @NinersNation on Twitter, is obviously our fearless leader, moderator, and creator of Niners Nation. He's also the editor for the parent site SBN Bay Area...which is a pretty big deal. "Fooch", as we like to call him, has been tirelessly blogging on NN since 2006 and between he and James, no one provides us 49ers fans with more content...period. HERE is Fooch's blog page, all of his posts here on NN.
As usual, 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: How soon will we see a contract extension for Troy Smith? Will Alex Smith stay as backup QB?
@SLam49ers: That is a decision that will be made at the end of the season and when the team has time to evaluate what Smith has done for the team. If Smith plays out the rest of the year and leads the 49ers to the playoffs (while improving the offense), then the 49ers have to consider bringing him back.
As for Alex Smith, if they bring him back, it has to be in a backup role. I just don't see the 49ers trying to give him another chance to be the starter. However, if Troy Smith plays real well, it just might mean the end of Alex Smith in San Francisco.
Tre9er: I'm just about ready to clamor for a contract extension...but not quite. I need probably two more games of little-to-no-mistakes and enough good plays to not be the reason the team lost. After that, I'm all about inking Troy to a new deal. His contract is up after this year and he's showing other teams around the league that he can operate as a starting QB in the NFL. His price tag is only going to go up and the 49ers generally don't win bidding wars, if they even participate in them. This would also ensure that the 49ers have a guy who can lead the team next season so they can draft, trade, or acquire another QB via free agency to develop further for the future. They could cross QB off the top of their draft list and target bigger needs like CB or pass rusher early-on. A QB could be taken in the 2nd or 3rd round and have less pressure to be inserted into the lineup while also learning from Troy.
@Ninjames: For anything to happen on the contract front for Troy Smith, he'll need to remain the starter throughout the rest of the season, that's a given. There probably won't be an extension this season, with quarterbacks, it's just something that would probably be taken care of in the offseason. If worst comes to worst, the 49ers have a franchise tag ... oh wait, maybe they don't. I just don't know, I don't see the team offering up an extension to any of the quarterbacks on the roster unless it's mistake-free with some big plays made. I don't think Alex Smith will be back in a 49ers uniform next year, unless he saves this season somehow.
@NinersNation: This is a tough question to answer in part because of the labor strife that is plaguing the NFL. The 49ers worked around it to get deals done for Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis, but one has to wonder if the team will hold off on any new contracts at this point until the CBA is figured out. I don't think the 49ers need to get something done immediately, but if Smith has another two or three solid starts (I'm eyeing the Green Bay game in particular) then I could see doing what they can to get a deal done.
If your Troy Smith there are a couple of factors to consider. On the one hand, his value really will only go up at this point. Even if he struggles at certain points, he's proven he can operate as a starter and I'd guarantee there's at least one team that would give him a decent sized contract in the offseason. If he continues playing well then he might as well hold off until the end of the season when his value is at its highest. While the 49ers have given him his shot, he doesn't have any other real connections here that would make it easier to get a deal done earlier. One thing to keep in mind with the labor issue though is that if he can get a two or three year contract done before the end of the season he could score fast cash in the signing bonus, which would be beneficial for him since he doesn't know how long any potential work stoppage might be.
As for Alex Smith, if Troy Smith handles the starting job the rest of the season and does enough to get a contract extension with the 49ers, I don't see how Alex sticks around. I suppose if he loves the Bay Area maybe he would, but as some have mentioned, I could see him back down in San Diego where he's originally from. But in reality, I think he ends up anywhere but San Francisco.
@KieranChristian: What is your evaluation of our RT position? Do we stay with Davis or maybe switch to another player?
@SLam49ers: With Davis, it's a very interesting situation. There have been moments where he's looked great and there have been moments where he has been beat. It would be easy to say that he's just learning his way as a rookie, but it might get to the point where the team has to look at their other options. The injuries that have plagued the offensive line recently might not give the 49ers the option to make a change. Realistically, I think that a change right now wouldn't help the team much. Leaving in Davis to learn and grow might be the best option. Unless he completely starts to struggle, I think he should stay at right tackle.
@Tre9er: Against average competition Davis has played fairly well. Against teams who aren't great pass-rushing defenses, Davis has played nearly stellar. So his ups are enough to counteract his downs. I would like to start seeing what we have in Alex Boone just as much as the next fan. But I don't think now is the time to do so when we're all clinging to the faintest of hopes that we could win the division. If the team starts to tank, maybe Staley goes on IR...then sure, maybe we play around with things a little. Then again, Davis will only get better with playing time. In that case I think we put Boone in at LT for some reps and see how he holds up. The guy clearly had first-round talent but hurt his draft stock with off-field incidents, such as drunken car stomping, followed by tazering. Perhaps the latter makes him a good fit should we ever revive the beloved "Tazer" formation.
@Ninjames: I like our right tackle position going forward. I think Anthony Davis is responding well to the pressure, mistakes and all are something we should be expecting. If Alex Boone is ready for the job somehow, maybe mix him in there a little bit and see if the big boy can't do some damage, but what's the alternative? Adam Snyder, perhaps? I'm done thinking about Snyder as a tackle, that ship has sailed off the corners of the Earth. Now with Joe Staley's injury, what are we to do? Nothing ... we keep Davis in there, Sims will be a great left tackle.
@NinersNation: I'm thinking they probably want to stick it out with Anthony Davis. Alex Boone is certainly another option, but I don't think now is the time to throw Boone to the wolves. Rather, I could see the team opening up competition next offseason between Boone and Davis. At some point they need to figure out if Alex Boone is worth keeping around at least as a backup and an open competition for the right tackle position would help figure that out.
Davis is certainly struggling but there are enough highs at times that make it worth keeping him in the lineup. When he was drafted, there was no mystery that he was as raw as most any prospect in the 2010 draft. His struggles shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. However, he's flashed enough skill that the team needs to stick with him.
@one49ers: Granted, #49ers have not been good at 3rd down conversions but why was it just terrible vs Rams? What could we expect vs TB?
@SLam49ers: Looking at the third downs, some of them were third-and-longs. Other times it was either penalties or sacks on Troy Smith. The discipline of the offensive line has to be the problem for the team. The mediocre play of the offensive line took away some manageable third downs. If the 49ers can fix these issues, then the conversion rate should improve.
@Tre9er: It was a perfect storm in the St. Louis game. Penalties, sacks, and WR/QB miscommunications contributed to PUTTING the team in 3rd and long situations, as well as prevented the offense from converting the 3rd downs. Part of this is Anthony Davis and the entire OL not playing well...part of it was a ticky-tack theme of yellow laundry. Still more of it was Troy Smith holding on to the ball a bit too long. Take even one of those things out of the equation and I think the 49ers would have converted a few of the 11 third-downs they failed to make in the Rams game.
Tampa Bay is not good in the pass-rush department. Five of their eight sacks came against the Carolina Panthers, who were playing a rookie QB. I think the 49ers O-Line has a much better game (similar to the Denver game) and this whole third-down thing quiets down considerably.
@Ninjames: The 49ers on third down have been a force to be reckoned with ever since Jimmy Raye was let go. Far from perfect and certainly lacking a certain consistency, but I've been noticeably less worried with your 3rd-and-3's, your 3rd-and-2's. It's those gosh-darn 4th-and-22's that really get me going these days - and boy did we see those against the Rams. There were penalties among penalties among penalties, and for that, I'm inclined to believe the unit just regressed against St. Louis and will not be a "problem area," going forward.
@NinersNation: I think the 49ers third down problems came in part because of all the penalties the team was getting. Those added yards resulted in some longer third downs. I don't have specific details but when you have 14 penalties, I don't see how that can't affect third down performance. If the team can cut back the penalties I'm pretty positive we'll see an improvement. Football Outsiders has some interesting third down numbers for the 49ers. FO ranks the 49ers 5th in the NFL on third and short (1-3 yards to go), 32nd on third and middle (4-6 yards to go), and 21st on third and long.
The key is the first and second down performances. I wonder if this will improve as Troy Smith gets more comfortable in the offense and gains chemistry with his receivers. He's hit some big plays but improvement will be needed on those shorter plays if this offense wants to find consistency. Once they can do a better job in getting 10-15 yards on passing plays instead of only a few 30+ yard plays, this offense could become pretty money.
@Tre9er: Aren't our corners supposed to favor press coverage being big, physical CB's...yet we seem to play off zone most. Why?
@SLam49ers: The team has fallen victim to the big play and despite the desire of the corners to play press, it looks like the team might want to avoid the big play rather than shut down the receivers. Also, with two pretty young players at safety, the team might not want to leave them out to defend receivers if they get pass the bump and run. Being able to contain the offense without the big play and shutting down the running game could be the reason for this. Also, it depends on the opponents as well (if they don't feature a dangerous passing game, no need to challenge the receivers).
@Tre9er: I asked this question, so obviously I don't know the answer per se, but I'll give my take on things. Our CB's are in the upper half of players when it comes to size. They are over 6' tall and are near or over 200lbs. They have both (Clements and Spencer) mentioned they prefer press coverage where they can get physical against the receiver. Spencer has even studied former 49ers CB's and how they used technique in press coverage against WR's. Yet they are being asked to line up off of the receivers and drop back into zone more often than not.
It's a scheme thing and it comes from Manusky. He hasn't shown that he likes to blitz a lot this season instead preferring to play soft and limit the big play. The problem is that our CB's aren't jamming receivers at the line, or much at all sometimes. This leaves free releases and sees the safeties struggling to transition and run with the receivers on deep routes. I would personally like to see more man-to-man coverage against base offensive alignments such as 2 WR sets on first and second down. Then play safeties over the top in a 2 deep zone. The safeties just need to make sure they are the deepest players no matter what. Our front seven is adept at stopping the run without the help of DB's, unless it's an outside play. In this case the LB's have contain and the DB's can break off coverage once it's definitely a running play.
I see our safeties and CB's spying the backfield and the QB too much. That's how they are getting burned. It's more of a player and technique issue than scheme. This is in regards to the big plays. The underneath stuff can be taken away by playing more man, as I detailed above.
@Ninjames: Lack of strong safety play, perhaps? It's puzzling to me as well, but both Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer seem to have lost a step this year. Perhaps that's literally and they can't keep up as well. I'm going to go with my gut and say it's a product of not having a strong secondary altogether and not running the intricate blitzes we know we're capable of. Our linebackers can cover zone, so the zones are called for everyone. Manusky does appear to have lost a step, I will admit.
@NinersNation: Would we qualify the 49ers corners as "big" ? Clements is 6-0 (if that) and Spencer is 6-1. They, especially Clements, seem to enjoy getting physical receivers and yet we have this problem of dropping into zones that get picked apart. Honestly, this is a question that leaves me baffled on a weekly basis. We had some discussion at NN earlier this week about the bend but don't break defense and I still don't know what to think. I'm thoroughly and completely baffled by the 49ers defense.
Thanks so much to Samuel Lam for participating in the Tweet-Bag alongside James, Fooch and I this week. Please be sure to check out the participants' 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.