Apparently the NFL is forcing the Redskins to play out the rest of the season, and the next team up is the San Francisco 49ers. The Redskins travel West to face a team that has struggled a little compared to their expectations, but they are still sitting in 2nd place in the NFC West at 6-4, tied with the Seahawks. The Arizona Cardinals are looking to lock up the division, and the 49ers need this game to pull ahead of the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Redskins played the 49ers last year, and it was probably their worst game of the season. Can the Redskins spoil the 49ers playoff hopes this week? I talked to David Fucillo from Niners Nation to find out what's going on with the 2014 San Francisco 49ers. Thanks to David, and be sure to check out my answers to his questions.
1) Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh, or Trent Baalke. Who is with the 49ers for the longest and shortest amount of time after this season and why?
Kap and Baalke would be in the running for longest tenure. Kap signed his long-term deal, so he is the easy choice, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and go with Baalke. He and Jed York seem to have a good relationship, and I could see Baalke being a long-term guy with the 49ers. I think Kap plays out this contract, or gets an extension before then, but given that Baalke is not that old, he is in a position to stick with the franchise for a decade or more. The only thing keeping him from that would be burnout, but there is no indication that is a problem at this point.
And of course, Harbaugh is the easy answer for shortest tenure moving forward. There have been plenty of rumors he will depart after this season. Even if he doesn't depart after this season, his personality does not seem one that is suited for spending a ton of time in one place. He's incredibly competitive, and that does not play well with everybody.
2) The 49ers drafted a few players this year that Redskins fans were interested in pre-draft. We know Chris Borland is playing some great football right now, how have the rest of the rookies looked? Marcus Martin was someone that I personally wanted the Skins to draft this year.
The 49ers 2014 draft class has had a bump or two along the way, but overall is looking really good. First round pick Jimmie Ward was the team's starting slot corner when they went to their nickel. He was roasted by Brandon Marshall in Week 2, but was starting to show improvement. He suffered a foot injury two weeks ago and was placed on injured reserve. That is obviously frustrating, particularly given that he had foot surgery before the draft.
Running back Carlos Hyde is getting solid work behind Frank Gore. This past week against the Giants, Gore had 19 carries, and Hyde had 9 carries. This is the kind of balance that will work for the 49ers this year. Hyde does not always break big runs, but he leads the team with 3 rushing touchdowns.
Martin moved into the starting lineup in Week 9, replacing Daniel Kilgore who suffered a broken ankle. Martin struggled the first week with some off-target snaps, and his blocking left something to be desired, but he has shown considerable improvement. He has to work on his shotgun snaps, but otherwise, he is turning into a solid member of the offensive line. He likely will be the center for the foreseeable future.
Cornerback Dontae Johnson was selected in the fourth round, and has already made an impact. He got playing time in Week 1 when Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver each got hurt. The loss of Jimmie Ward two weeks ago resulted in Johnson moving into the slot corner role. He looked solid against the Giants, with his name rarely mentioned, except for a deflection that resulted in a Chris Borland interception.
Prior to Borland's emergence in recent weeks, Aaron Lynch was looking like the early star of this draft. The fifth round pick got extra playing time with Aldon Smith suspended. He has proven quite capable as a pass rusher, and an injury to Dan Skuta got him moved into the starting lineup. He has more or less supplanted Ahmad Brooks in the starting lineup opposite Aldon Smith. Lynch and Smith both have series strength and speed, which bodes well as book-ends in the team's nickel.
3) Greg Roman was a name that popped up on the Redskins Head Coaching radar last year. Will the fans miss him if he moves on after this season, or are they just counting down the days until he is gone?
There is a large contingent that is ready to see him leave. When the offense struggles with a popular quarterback and running back, the offensive coordinator is the first to be blamed. At times it seems like Roman gets too cute for his own good, but in reality, this is about much more than him. In terms of play-calling, Jim Harbaugh and other coaches are involved to some extent, so it is not as simple as saying he needs to make better calls. Additionally, execution has been a big question mark at times. The offensive line seems to be coming together lately, but the passing game is still not quite firing on all cylinders. I don't think Roman deserves nearly as much blame as he gets, but as OC, the buck does effectively stop with him.
4) A few key players for the 49ers defense have already returned, or will return soon to the team like Aldon Smith, Glenn Dorsey, NaVorro Bowman. Who stepped up while they were out, and who can't get back on the bench quick enough?
The 49ers pass rush was questionable at times without Aldon Smith, but other than that, this unit has played better than almost anybody expected. Aaron Lynch emerged as a force in the pass rush, and now is starting opposite Smith. Ian Williams returned to the nose tackle in place of Dorsey. Williams suffered a fractured fibula recently, and has been replaced by second year nose tackle Quinton Dial. Dorsey could return to that role, or become a utility guy all along the line. Dorsey is not expected to play this weekend, so look to see plenty of Dial in the nose tackle role.
Bowman is the biggest question mark right now. His PUP practice window was activated, but he is not on the practice field yet. He has a doctor's appointment on Friday, and we'll see where it goes from there. Michael Wilhoite replaced him, with Chris Borland replacing Patrick Willis. Borland is playing out of his mind, while Wilhoite is doing some solid work. The 49ers would obviously love to have Bowman back, but they're not rushing things. And it helps that Wilhoite and Borland are playing well right now.
5) We have all heard the reports about the 49ers interest in DeSean Jackson, and he talked about it yesterday. Was signing Jackson something that the fans(and you) wanted, or did the 49ers make enough moves to help the offense this year that it wasn't necessary?
At the time of the Jackson stuff, the 49ers had signed Brandon Lloyd. At that point, a lot of people were interested in Jackson, but given the price tag most associated with him, I was fine holding off. I felt a healthy Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin would be fine, and let the team spend money elsewhere. The team ended up trading for Stevie Johnson, so they still managed an upgrade. At the time, I was fine not going after Jackson, but it's hard not to be at least a little bit intrigued by his speed. However, given the 49ers cap situation and the need to extend Colin Kaepernick at that point, I was fine staying away.