Jul 13, 2010
Hey everyone. Matt Camp and I had a pair of interesting guests stop by on Sirius XM Fantasy Football (Sirius 211, XM 147) this weekend, and we were able to talk 49ers and Ravens. Here are some of the more interesting tidbits:
Matt Barrows covers the 49ers for the Sacramento Bee (@mattbarrows on Twitter):
The 49ers are indeed trusting their 2010 season to Alex Smith at the QB position, and they really aren’t worried about it. They understand Smith’s limitations, but so does Smith, and having a second year in Jimmy Raye’s offense might work wonders for Smith, who has never had the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons in his entire NFL career. Barrows argues that the 49ers’ “weaponry” is the best its been since Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens were the starting receivers, even though the Niners plan to run a conservative approach offensively. Coach Mike Singletary wants to play like he did during his playing days in Chicago: defense and running the football. The 49ers have the personnel to do that.
That conservative approach will focus on Frank Gore, who is undoubtedly the main ball carrier, and he’s happy about it. Remember, earlier this off-season, Gore expressed displeasure with the notion that the 49ers may try to limit his touches to keep him fresher. As of now, that doesn’t look to be the case. Barrows comments that Gore is a workout warrior; every July, he goes to Tropical Park in Miami and runs the hills there with weights and tires strapped to his back. Gore has had injury problems in the past, but Barrows points out that most of the injuries seem to be Gore “getting caught in the laundry.” In other words, he’s had some bad luck twisting an ankle here or a knee there, and none of the injuries have been the sign of physical wear-and-tear. That’s good news for owners wondering if Gore can continue to handle a big workload.
Still, in an offense predicated on pounding the football, the 49ers must have a backup plan in their pocket. Though we personally weren’t impressed by Glen Coffee as a rookie, it appears as if the 49ers are fine with Coffee in a secondary role to Gore. The reason? Pass protection. Coffee is a willing and able pass blocker, and he even added close to 15 pounds of muscle this season to become stronger and more durable (he’ll play around 225 pounds). Rookie Anthony Dixon is probably a more talented ball-carrier, but the 49ers don’t want to put a raw blocker in the game, and Dixon has to work on that. In a run-heavy offense, deception is the key to the pass game. The 49ers want to have all their bases covered if they run play-action.
Barrows views the WR position in much the same way. Michael Crabtree is the clear #1 guy, and he is only getting better with an entire off-season of practice (remember, he held out last year), and now he is getting all his reps with Alex Smith, part of the reason the 49ers didn’t want yet another QB battle. The only question with Crabtree is how much the run-first attack will affect his numbers. Josh Morgan will start opposite Crabtree. We’ve been touting Morgan’s potential, and he really hasn’t reached it statistically. But Barrows says the 49ers love his willingness to block in the run game, and that’s why he’s going to continue to see the field, despite inconsistent performances in terms of catching the ball.
TE Vernon Davis has been “dominating” in practice according to Barrows, a good sign for owners wondering if his 2009 bustout campaign was a fluke. He’s also a fantastic and aggressive blocker, so he’ll see the field even if the 49ers are grinding it out. Barrows envisions Davis’ role being much like last season; he’s too fast for LBs to cover and gets downfield before safeties can converge, and he has great chemistry with Smith. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Davis realizes this is will almost certainly use it as leverage for a new deal. The 49ers apparently have Davis high on their priority list, but Barrows thinks Davis views himself as a receiver, and therefore wants to get paid like a top WR. That could cause some problems.
So, in summation, the 49ers are gonna run the ball. Get Frank Gore.
Ed Lee covers the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun:
Lee believes QB Joe Flacco is fully entrenched in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s scheme. Lee believes the additions of WRs Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth are helping Flacco look great on the practice field, but it’s Lee’s opinion that Flacco would look great even without them out there. The Ravens are really counting on Flacco to be a field general this year, and he’s grabbing that role by the horns.
As for Boldin, it looks as if he and Derrick Mason are working well together as the team’s starting WRs. They’re both possession types, but Lee said the Ravens like the way either player can make an explosive play when needed. In fact, Mason led the Ravens last season in receptions over 20 yards. Still, the addition of Boldin allows the Ravens to do a few more creative things with Mason. He can line up in the slot and create mismatches, which is something Lee thinks the Ravens will explore throughout the year. If Mason were to take significant time in the slot, Lee believes Stallworth currently has the upper hand on Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams for the team’s #3 WR/deep threat role. Lee said Stallworth has showcased the speed that made him appealing to the Ravens in the first place, and that’s good news for Flacco, because Clayton never had the consistency need to stay on the field despite his great speed. But the competition is even bringing out the best in Williams, who has often landed in John Harbaugh’s doghouse for slacking off. Lee said Williams looks stronger and more determined this year. Perhaps he realizes his job isn’t safe.
In the backfield, Ray Rice is clearly the workhorse back, and Lee doesn’t expect his role to change much from last season. He has unbelievable hands, and he’s so dangerous in the open field. But Lee raises an interesting point: given the new weapons in the passing game, could Rice’s catches go down? It’s something to think about. Lee also envisions a similar situation in 2010 as it was in 2009 for Willis McGahee. In other words, fantasy headache. McGahee scored a ton of TDs, but his involvement was basically a week-to-week deal and was just dictated by the flow of the game.
Lee chimed in with some tidbits on the TEs: the Ravens drafted Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta because Todd Heap often tired out last year because he was asked to block too much. Lee expects Heap’s role to decrease somewhat significantly.
Also, Lardarius Webb is probably the favorite to start at CB alongside Dominique Foxworth. Webb and Fabian Washington are coming off injuries, and Webb is just a little farther ahead at this point.