Playmakers on 49ers first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –**
The San Francisco 49ers played in MetLife Stadium less than 11 months ago, but they will look vastly different when they return to face the Giants on Sunday night.
Few teams in recent memory underwent an offseason of change as extensive as that experienced by the Niners, who were 8-8 last season. Coach Jim Harbaugh departed after four seasons and is now the head coach at the University of Michigan. The new coach is Jim Tomsula, who was mentoring the defensive linemen a year ago. Geep Chryst was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator, and Eric Mangini from tight ends coach to defensive coordinator.
And then there was the roster overall. San Francisco lost 14 key players to cuts, retirement or free agency, including linebackers Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Dan Skuta, and Aldon Smith; defensive end Justin Smith; running back Frank Gore; offensive linemen Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis; starting cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox; and three of their top four wide receivers: Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson, and Brandon Lloyd.
After defeating Minnesota in their opener, the 49ers have lost three consecutive games. The Giants have won their last two games to even their record at 2-2.
San Francisco defeated the Giants, 16-10, here last Nov. 16, which tied the regular-season series at 15-15. The postseason series is also tied, 4-4. The trip east shouldn't bother the 49ers; they have won seven of their last eight games in the Eastern time zone (losing at Pittsburgh in Week 2).
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS OFFENSE
The 49ers are last in the league in scoring (12.0 points), including 10 total points in losses to Arizona and Green Bay the last two weeks; average yards per play (4.7) and passing yards per game (158.8). San Francisco is ranked 31st in total yards (289.0 yards per game) and fifth in rushing yards (130.3).
The Niners operate out of the pistol. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is big, strong and athletic. He has an outstanding arm, can fit balls into tight windows, and makes plays outside the pocket. Kaepernick is 8-6 in regular-season prime time games. His backup is Blaine Gabbert.
Second-year pro Carlos Hyde leads the team with 282 rushing yards (168 in the season-opening victory over Minnesota). He is a physical runner who plays fast, and has vision and quickness. Reggie Bush, who missed two games with a calf injury, is a situational back with good hands and quickness. Jarryd Hayne, a former two-time Australian rugby player MVP, is a well-built back who runs between the tackles, and has demonstrated good patience. Rookie Mike Davis missed two games, but has played on all downs and contributed as a runner and receiver. Fullback Bruce Miller has speed and range as a blocker, as well as receiving skills.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin leads San Francisco with 15 receptions. Physical and tough, he plays with strength as a route runner and at the reception point. Boldin has strong hands, runs well after catching the ball, and is a willing blocker. Torrey Smith has impressive deep speed and tracking ability on deep passes. No. 3 receiver Quinton Patton has quick feet and good body control, and is productive underneath, but he suffered a concussion last week vs. the Packers. Bruce Ellington and DeAndrew White each have two receptions this season.
Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis did not play last week because of a knee injury but hopes to face the Giants. In his 10th season, Davis remains a rugged competitor and gifted receiver who has vertical speed and quickness. Garrett Celek has fluid receiving skills with natural hands. Vance McDonald is the best blocker of the group. Rookie Blake Bell, a tight end/H-back hybrid, is a receiving threat who can also block.
The offensive line has undergone an overhaul similar to that of the entire team. Left tackle Joe Staley is the only returning starter in the same position. That's great news for the 49ers, because Staley was a Pro Bowler each of the last four seasons. He is a good athlete who can make all the blocks in the run and pass games. Left guard Alex Boone played on the right side the previous three seasons. He has rare size (6-8, 300 pounds), is an anchor in the run game and steady in pass protection. Center Marcus Martin has heavy hands and a powerful upper body. Right guard Jordan Devey is smart and alert with the ability to position and wall off defenders. Next to him is Erik Pears, who can outsize defensive linemen at 6-8 and 316 pounds. He is quick to get into position and has good awareness. The backups include one second-year pro (Brandon Thomas), and two rookies (Ian Silberman and Trent Brown).
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS DEFENSE
Mangini's 3-4 defense has five new starters and is ranked 23rd in the NFL, allowing an average of 377.3 yards a game. The 49ers are 20th vs. the run (114.0) and 21st against the pass (263.3). They are tied for 28th in scoring defense, allowing 27.5 points a game.
The Niners list all of their linemen as either defensive tackles or nose tackles. On the left side, Glenn Dorsey plays with instinctiveness, reads schemes quickly and has with natural leverage. Ian Williams mans the middle with athleticism in the tackle box and good quickness at the snap. Right tackle Quinton Dial is a big, thick, player with anchor ability at the point of attack. Tank Carradine is an aggressive sub who has good gap quickness and the ability to tackle in space. Tony Jerod-Eddie, Mike Purcell, and first-round draft choice Arik Armstead are the other reserves up front.
Former three-time All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman missed all of last season after suffering a serious knee injury in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. He leads the team with 28 tackles (21 solo), but his still working his way back to his pre-injury form. The other inside backer is Michael Wilhoite, who plays with good lateral quickness and competitiveness. Ahmad Brooks will not play against the Giants because of the death this week of his sister, Casandra, from Lupus. Rookie Eli Harold is expected to start in his place. Harold is a speed rusher with a good upfield burst and upper body strength. Aaron Lynch has long arms, snap quickness, and speed. Backup Corey Lemonier uses his length to disrupt.. Shayne Skov has the athletic ability to succeed in man-to-man coverage. Nick Bellore aggressively inserts himself vs. the run and has good drop quickness in pass coverage. The Niners this week acquired linebacker Gerald Hodges in a trade with Minnesota. He started three games for the Vikings this season and could make his San Francisco debut vs. the Giants
Left cornerback Tramaine Brock is physical on his jams and has good straightline cover skills. He sometimes moves inside to nickel. Kenneth Acker is a second-year pro who is learning on the job. Strong safety Antoine Bethea was a 2014 Pro Bowler. He is a savvy player who quickly diagnoses a play, is physical in the box and is a dangerous blitzer. Eric Reid has a history of production vs. the pass. He will blow up a wide receiver on the sideline when he gets the chance. Jimmie Ward can play several positions, but is most often at the nickel. He has good ball awareness in zone defenses. Rookie Jaquiski Tartt is a big, athletic dime back with good play speed and is explosive when he blitzes. The other reserves in the secondary are Keith Reaser, Dontae Johnson, L.J. McCray and Shareece Wright.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS SPECIAL TEAMS
Rookie fifth-round draft choice Bradley Pinion has replaced longtime punter Andy Lee. Pinion has a 41.5-yard net average and good hang times. He has dropped seven punts inside the 20-yard line without a touchback. As the kickoff specialist, he has 12 touchbacks. Veteran kicker Phil Dawson has made four-of-five field goal attempts this year and has range from beyond 50 yards. Hayne, the Australian import, averages 9.3 yards on six punt returns. Bruce Ellington is the primary kickoff returner. San Francisco's coverage teams have been outstanding.