NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers are prepared to release receiver Stevie Johnson in an effort to create more salary-cap room before the start of the new league year on March 10, according to numerous reports.

Johnson
Cutting Johnson would save the 49ers $6.025 million in cap space, according to overthecap.com.

The Niners were a mere $272,258 under the expected cap of $143 million as of Thursday afternoon, per ESPN Stats & Info. Earlier in the month, they were $6.6 million over an expected cap of $140 million.

Johnson, acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills for a conditional fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, has a contract cash value of $6.025 million this season, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The seven-year veteran caught 35 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns on 50 targets in 13 games last season, his lowest output since his second year in the league. Johnson’s big game as a Niner was a nine-catch, 103-yard outing in a Week 3 loss at the Arizona Cardinals.

NBC4 Washington first reported Johnson’s pending release.

And if Johnson is indeed cut, receiver becomes even more a position of need for the Niners, who are primed to lose Michael Crabtree, Brandon Lloyd and special-teams ace Kassim Osgood in free agency, with Anquan Boldin and Trindon Holliday entering the final years of their respective contracts.
The salary cap for the 2015 NFL season is expected to be $143 million, and with the San Francisco 49ers’ projected rollover money from last season, they are projected to now be under the cap.

As of Thursday afternoon.

Per ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers currently have $272,258 in salary-cap space. They were expected to be more than $6.6 million over a then-expected cap of $140 million earlier this month.

Only the New Orleans Saints ($22.2 million over the cap) and Super Bowl champion New England Patriots ($2.2 million over the cap) have worse cap figures.

Of course, teams can make room by cutting players or restructuring their contracts before the new league year begins March 10.

Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who has a cap number of $9.7 million, is the most likely candidate to be cut, with the emergence of Aaron Lynch. Brooks' playing time was reduced because of Lynch's emergence last season.

Also, All-Pro inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are both coming back from injury and, with respective cap numbers of $8.3 million and $7.7 million, are prime candidates to have their contracts restructured. Same with outside linebacker Aldon Smith, whose cap number is $9.8 million, second-highest on the team to quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s $15.3 million.

Smith is entering the final year of his contract.
Remember the derisively-titled Bush Bowl of New Year’s Day 2006?

The San Francisco 49ers, who entered the final game of the 2005 season with a record of 3-12, played host to the Houston Texans, who were 2-13. The loser, the thinking went, "earned" the No. 1 draft pick and, thus, the right to use said selection on Reggie Bush, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back out of USC.

Bush
Bush
The 49ers won in overtime 20-17, giving the Texans the top pick, and they instead selected defensive end Mario Williams, who has been selected for four Pro Bowls and moved on to the Buffalo Bills.

The 49ers? They fell all the way back to No. 6 in the draft and took tight end Vernon Davis, one of just two top 10 picks from that draft still with their original team.

Bush, meanwhile, went No. 2 overall, to the New Orleans Saints and has not reached the NFL stardom expected of him nine years ago when the Texans passed on him. Bush later played for the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions, who cut him on Wednesday.

With Bush on the market, might the 49ers kick the tires on him and reimagine history had they lost to the Texans on Jan. 1, 2006, ended up with the first pick and selected Bush?

Of course, Frank Gore and the 49ers' interest in re-signing their all-time leading rusher is probably the biggest priority when it comes to their running back situation. But Bush, who turns 30 on Monday, is probably not the right fit anyway. At least, not if the 49ers' offense looks anything likes its disjointed self from last season.

Per Pro Football Focus, the 49ers attempted five screen passes to their running backs in 2014, and the running backs had 44 receptions total. With Bush more a pass-catching tailback than an every-down back, the 49ers making a run at him makes little sense.

Especially with everyone from general manager Trent Baalke to new coach Jim Tomsula promising a return to a power running scheme in 2015.

If Gore is indeed gone via free agency, as expected, Carlos Hyde figures to win the job.

In 11 games, nine starts, for the Lions last season Bush rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns on 76 carries (3.9 yards per carry average) and caught 40 passes for 253 yards. He did not have a receiving TD for the first time in his career.

Bush a 49er? Maybe as a change-of-pace back. But even then, the 49ers still have Kendall Hunter returning from a knee injury.

Fool’s gold or pay dirt? Feels more like fool’s good now, as it might have been in 2006, when he would have joined his old high school teammate Alex Smith in San Francisco.
Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2009 who spent the first four years of his NFL career with the team before leaving for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013, will visit with the Niners, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan has confirmed.

Jean Francois
The meeting makes sense in that Jean Francois’ position coach with the Niners was Jim Tomsula, the team's new head coach, and Tomsula confirmed last week at the NFL combine that the Niners would be staying in a 3-4 defensive alignment.

Jean Francois, who was cut by the Colts on Monday with two years remaining on his four-year, $22 million contract, had career highs in tackles (28) and sacks (three) last season. And with uncertainty over defensive end Justin Smith’s future, the Niners could do worse than to bring in a veteran who already knows the landscape in Santa Clara.

In Indianapolis, Jean Francois played primarily defensive tackle in the Colts' 3-4 defense. With the Niners, Jean Francois was primarily a nose tackle and started five of the 50 games he appeared in and had a combined three sacks and 49 tackles.

Jean Francois, 28, is also reportedly set to visit with Washington.
If the new San Francisco 49ers coach took offense to the previous Niners coach taking what many perceived as a shot at him last week, Jim Tomsula was not saying.

At least not publicly.

Tomsula, speaking to Bay Area reporters off to the side of the main podium Thursday at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, would not take the bait when asked about the growing notion that he campaigned for the gig behind Jim Harbaugh’s back.

“First of all, there’s nothing to that, and it’s ridiculous, OK?” Tomsula said, per CSNBayArea.com. “Second of all, if anybody needs to talk, just give me a buzz, OK? That’s all.”

Actually, Tomsula’s closing comment might come off as a shot across the bow of the SS Harbaugh at worst, an invite to Harbaugh to pick up a phone at best.

This gained traction last week when Harbaugh, speaking to the San Jose Mercury News, was asked whether he thought Tomsula, who had been the Niners’ defensive line coach since Mike Nolan hired him in 2007, was working back channels to replace Harbaugh.

In typical Harbaugh fashion, he was cryptic in his response.

“That’s a good question for him,” Harbaugh said, “better than to me.”

So the Bay Area reporters on site took Harbaugh’s advice.

Tomsula’s name had long been bandied about as a possible replacement for Harbaugh if/when he left Santa Clara. Harbaugh was asked by the Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami if that made for an awkward situation.

“I wasn’t reading anything that was on the Internet, I was really focused on doing my job, but definitely walk down the halls and people look away or they look at you and you know something’s going on,” Harbaugh said.

Tomsula said he did not think things ended badly with Harbaugh.

“No, not at all,” Tomsula said, per the Sacramento Bee. “To me? No, Jim Harbaugh and his staff, which I was part of, won a lot of football games for the San Francisco 49ers. He did a great job. There's no disputing any of that. I don't have a negative word to say about any of that.

“I guess that's where I'm at with that. I don't see where there's something [negative] there. Don't see it.”
First-year San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Tomsula met with the media on Thursday at the NFL combine. Here’s what we learned:
  1. They will remain a 3-4 defense: Not exactly earth-shattering news, given that their personnel that made them so successful two, three and four years ago demands it, but there had been speculation of a switch to a 4-3 scheme. Chris Borland, it was reasoned, could man the middle with NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis going outside and Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch becoming defensive ends. Alas, Tomsula likes what he has at his disposal. “The schematics on defense, the 3-4, our personnel is set for that and we’ll continue that way.” That means that if Bowman (knee) and Willis (toe) are fully recovered, Borland becomes more of an accessory than a starter.
  2. Smith
    Tomsula is tight with Justin Smith: But not so tight he knows what Smith is going to do in regard to playing or retiring. Tomsula, who has been Smith’s position coach the entirety of his Niners stay, acknowledged that Smith has been around the facility but has yet to make a decision and that, really, this is an annual affair with Smith, though not in a negative way. Tomsula said he would “shoot the baloney” with Smith, a five-time Pro Bowl selection in his 14-year career, after the combine. “He has earned the right to make his decision on his terms, but we’ve said that the last three or four years. … He’s just had an unbelievable career.”
  3. The Niners are in contract talks with RB Frank Gore and WR Michael Crabtree: “That’s going on right now,” Tomsula said, echoing general manager Trent Baalke’s claim Wednesday that his main goal was to take care of Niners’ free agents they want to retain first. But, as Tomsula said, “I don’t have the checkbook.” Gore went on his Instagram account last week to wonder if the Niners truly wanted him back in Santa Clara and Tomsula said he was a Gore fan. But there is increased speculation that the Indianapolis Colts could become players for Gore’s services after 10 years with the Niners. Crabtree? Tomsula said he “absolutely” wanted the wideout to return.
  4. Tomsula takes “credit” for his 19-man staff: Wednesday, Baalke told Bay Area reporters off to the side of the podium that Tomsula chose his widely-panned staff of assistants with input and advice, of course, from the front office. On Thursday, Tomsula said he did not bring the entire staff with him to the combine because he wanted them back in Santa Clara studying up on the Niners’ current personnel. “I take full responsibility for the results of the coaching staff and the team and the game-day results,” he said. As he should.
  5. Tomsula was more comfortable at the mike: A month and four days after his disastrous introductory news conference in which he struggled to formulate clear thoughts on his vision as the 19th head coach in franchise history, Tomsula was much more comfortable at the podium. Even Tomsula acknowledged his shortcomings. “We’ll try this again,” he joked. “I didn’t do a good job. … When I’m up here, I have to watch my manners and watch my language and try to make sure that I’m nice and polite, so that’s what I’ve got to get better at.” So consider this a victory, of sorts. Does winning the presser mean the Niners will win games? No more than losing a presser means they are doomed to lose games.
Not that there was ever really a doubt, but Vernon Davis figures to return to the San Francisco 49ers next season.

Even after a down year that had the two-time Pro Bowl tight end rated as a “bad” player in a joint ESPN NFL Nation/Pro Football Focus project last month.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke told a group of Niners reporters Tuesday, per the Bay Area News Group, at the NFL combine in Indianapolis when asked if he envisioned Davis on the team next season.

[+] EnlargeVernon Davis
AP Images/Jonathan BachmanVernon Davis is coming off arguably the worst season of his nine-year career.
“I think, if you look at those numbers, they’re not as daunting as you may think."

Fair enough. Let’s look.

Davis’ 26 receptions were his fewest since his rookie season of 2006 and his 9.4 yards-per-catch average was a career low.

He caught only two touchdown passes last season, after having 13 in 2013, and he was not targeted in the red zone after Week 1. Davis also had four drops, which was tied for eighth most among tight ends.

Not, ahem, daunting?

“It was an off year,” Baalke said. “He realizes, the great thing about Vernon is he understands, he’s been in this business long enough and he’s worked hard enough, he understands where his level of play is and still believes he can have some great years ahead of him, as do we. We look forward to having him a part of this.

“Vernon still runs like he ran coming out of college. He’s two, three percent body fat. Vernon takes extremely good care of himself, works extremely hard at his craft, sometimes players choose to do it on their own, sometimes they choose to get together and do it. As a general manager, as a coach, all you can do is look and appreciate that they’re out there working.”

Still, many questioned Davis’ commitment to football with such a dramatic falloff. Even with injuries, many wondered if he was more concerned with his personal profile, so to speak, as a stock.

Don’t count Baalke among those critics.

“Never have questioned Vernon’s commitment to playing the game, never a question,” Baalke said. “He’s never come into camp out of shape. He’s never come into camp less than motivated to have the best season he could.

“There’s a lot of circumstances that went into his decline last season and I think he’s looking, as are we, to the future, and coming back and having a heck of a year.”
San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke met with the media on Wednesday at the NFL combine. Here’s what we learned about the Niners:
  • They are thinking WR in the draft: Now, what exact type of receiver remains a mystery, and for good reason. “You really try to match that guy up with your quarterback and what your quarterback’s skill sets are,” Baalke said. “Some teams put a premium on size. Some teams put a premium on speed.” Then what’s a premium for the Niners? “Well, if I said that, I’d be telling you who we’re looking at,” Baalke said. Last year the 49ers had a short one in rookie Bruce Ellington, a stout one in Anquan Boldin and taller ones in Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson. “It’s no mystery we’re looking for guys that can run and get down the field,” Baalke said.
  • Jones
    Kaepernick
    Baalke is proud of Colin Kaepernick: The Niners QB has taken it on himself to get extra work from outside sources such as two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner in Arizona this offseason. “Colin’s working his tail off right now,” Baalke said. “He knows what he needs to work on. He’s a very dedicated player and I’m sure he feels good about the progress he’s made up to this point. … What he’s down there working on is just all the technique things that go along with the position -- footwork, delivery, changing platforms, throwing platforms, arm angle…and being able to take a little pace off of the ball when he needs to take some pace off of it.”
  • The Niners kinda, sorta wanted to retain defensive coordinator Vic Fangio … as defensive coordinator: “There was an attempt,” Baalke said. “And it all played out. It all depended who the head coach was going to be. … Everyone that we interviewed had a different way to approach things and there were no mandates made to any of them through the process. It was a process where we went in, we talked to the coaches, we had them kind of give us the idea of what they would like to do with the staff and we went from there.” Meaning, and reading between the lines, that Fangio, among the first to interview for the head gig, was not a finalist but rather, at the mercy of the new coach.
  • Baalke wants to re-sign RB Frank Gore: “I talked to him the other day on the phone,” Baalke said, “and we’re going to do what we can to get him back as a 49er.” So there. “Frank’s just the Energizer battery, he just keeps on ticking. The last two games of the season, I think you saw what Frank still has left in the tank. A very good football player. One of the most passionate, if not the most passionate football player I’ve ever been around. So, I still think he’s got it in him. I know that he still believes it.” Gore is one of the Niners’ 15 unrestricted free agents.
  • Baalke would not engage in a hissing match with Jim Harbaugh: I wrote a bigger post on this earlier here, but the gist is that while Harbaugh took umbrage with the notion that his departure from Santa Clara was a “mutual” decision, Baalke had “no response” to Harbaugh’s claim.
A closer look at the areas the San Francisco 49ers could address in the draft. We'll conclude Wednesday with a look at the defensive linemen, who are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: The 49ers figure to stick with a 3-4 defensive alignment under coach Jim Tomsula, who was promoted from defensive line coach and will have Eric Mangini as his defensive coordinator. But there are questions at end, with Ray McDonald having been “terminated” late last season and Justin Smith still deciding whether to retire of play out his contract. The Niners have options with the likes of Tony Jerod-Eddie and Tank Carradine, but depth is needed in the trenches.

Three players the 49ers could target in the draft:

Armstead
Arik Armstead (DT), Oregon: At 6-foot-8, 290 pounds, Armstead could conceivably move to end in a 3-4 scheme and his skill set -- nine tackles and a fumble recovery in the national championship loss to Ohio State -- suggests he would be more of a run stuffer than a pass rusher. With pass rushers at outside linebacker already in Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch, Armstead’s physical presence would fit in nicely. Still, Armstead -- who also played basketball for the Ducks and is leaving Eugene after his junior year -- is seen as more of a project at this stage, though one with huge upside.

Malcom Brown (DT), Texas: More of a prototypical interior D-lineman with his 6-feet-2, 320-pound frame, Brown can play in both a 3-4 or 4-3 defense as a penetrating run stuffer. The first-team All-American led the Longhorns in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (15) and forced fumbles (2) and was tied for the team lead in QB pressures (8) while getting a career-high 72 tackles. Many also see Brown as more mature, despite leaving school after his junior year, as he is married with two children.

Eddie Goldman (DT), Florida State: The 6-foot-4, 314-pound Goldman portends more as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. And while the Niners already have Ian Williams and Quinton Dial, Goldman, who also played DE for the Seminoles, might be too tempting to pass up. Goldman is more of the prototypical space eater and has the look of an elite run stopper, though he needs to work on his pass-rushing effectiveness.
The San Francisco 49ers have 15 unrestricted free agents who can hit the market as soon as the NFL’s new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET March 10.

Iupati
There are big names -- running back Frank Gore and receiver Michael Crabtree -- recognizable names -- cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox -- and solid names -- linebacker Dan Skuta and special-teams ace Kassim Osgood -- in the mix.

But the pending free agent rated the best among the 49ers?

That would be three-time Pro Bowl left guard Mike Iupati, who was ranked as the No. 12 overall free agent in a top 20 poll compiled by ESPN NFL Nation's Kevin Seifert and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson.

Makes sense, in that Crabtree is coming off a career-low 10.3-yards-per-catch average and Gore has a lot of mileage and will be 32 years old on May 14. And Iupati, who was a Niners first-round pick in 2010, finished with the second-best run-blocking grade among guards in the NFL at plus-18.5, per Pro Football Focus.

But Williamson was not entirely sold on Iupati.

“He's a mauler, and moves well for a mauler, but he's still a mauler, and some teams need guys who can move better,” Williamson wrote. “I could easily name half a dozen guards in the league who are better. He is not elite.”

Then what does that say about the rest of the Niners’ free agents?

To be fair, Iupati was slowed by injury last season as he was coming back from a broken ankle in the NFC title game and missed a game with a concussion and sat out the Pro Bowl with an elbow injury.

In all, Iupati was 14th of 78 guards with an overall grade of plus-11.2, with a minus-7.5 pass-blocking grade, ranking 55th.

One thought has the Niners allowing Iupati to leave as a free agent and simply sliding Marcus Martin over from center with center Daniel Kilgore returning from his broken leg.
Jeff Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, had lobbied hard to become his former team’s quarterbacks coach to work with Colin Kaepernick.

Garcia
The Niners took a pass. They promoted Geep Chryst to offensive coordinator and hired Steve Logan to replace Chryst as their QB coach, but Garcia may find his way to the NFC West after all.

As reported by ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortensen, Garcia will interview with the St. Louis Rams today for their vacant QB coach opening.

Garcia, who has also been doing personal coaching with the likes of JaMarcus Russell in recent years, spent last season as the QB coach of the CFL's Montreal Allouettes.

“He has showcased the ability to be dynamic at times, and especially with his legs,” Garcia said of Kaepernick on KNBR 680 last month.

“He has to really want to be that guy to learn to understand the game mentally and then allow his physical tools to then help him do the right things on the field.”

While he is not allowed to work with the Niners at this point of the offseason, Kaepernick has worked with two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner in Arizona.
Is Jerry Rice more G.H.O.A.T. than G.O.A.T. these days?

It’s not even a question, as far as New England Patriots fans are concerned. Rice, you’ll recall, was outspoken in his criticism of the Patriots in general, quarterback Tom Brady in particular, in the wake of Deflategate. The San Francisco 49ers’ Hall of Fame receiver, who also spent time with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, said before Super Bowl XLIX that if the Patriots won, they should have an asterisk next to their name for cheating.

“This is going to follow them, you know, for the rest of their lives,” Rice told ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game last month, while also bringing up Spygate. “Because when you look at it, when people go back and they think about the New England Patriots, they're going to think about these controversies. So it's unfortunate.

“I've always wanted to do things the right way. I didn't want to take any short cuts or anything like that. It's just unfortunate that we're talking about them using underinflated footballs instead of talking about the Super Bowl.”

And yet…

Rice admitted before that interview in an ESPN feature on gloves worn by pass-catchers that he himself had used stickum.

“I know this might be a little illegal, guys, but just put a little spray, a little stickum on them, to make sure that texture is a little sticky,” Rice said.

So rather than the Greatest Of All Time, Patriots fans see Rice as the Greatest Hypocrite Of All Time…or somesuch.

Rice, meanwhile, has taken a lot of heat on social media for his seemingly duplicitous stance on cheating but Tweeted that all players used the banned substance in his playing days.

Fellow Hall of Fame receiver and ESPN analyst Cris Carter, meanwhile, dismissed his colleague's claims by saying he never used stickum.

Rice, though, is not the only former 49ers player to take a shot at New England and Brady. Charles Haley, who was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the night before Brady won his fourth ring, the same number as Joe Montana, recently went on the offensive.

“Joe didn't have to cheat,” Haley told the Talk of Fame Network. “I’ve lost all respect [for Brady]. When your integrity is challenged in the game of football, to me, all his Super Bowls are tainted.

“This is what Charles Haley believes – it’s going to come back to haunt him one day. If the league doesn't come down on this guy…everybody is talking about it. Nobody believes it was by accident. It is what it is.”

Patriots fans have not been thrilled with Haley’s take either, obviously.
Nearly four weeks after announcing Jim Tomsula as their head coach, the San Francisco 49ers formally announced Tomsula's 19-man coaching staff on Monday afternoon.

And given the number of reports of assistants coming to Santa Clara that had been flowing since Tomsula's ascension, there were no surprises.

"Our staff is a collection of passionate coaches who have wide-ranging experience at every level of the game," Tomsula said in a team-issued statement, "This is a group of talented communicators who take great pride in helping players maximize their abilities. Throughout the staff you see bright, high-energy coaches who enjoy taking a hands-on approach to teaching the game. We are all looking forward to getting to work."

A quick glance, then, at Tomsula's "official" staff:

Offensive coordinator

[+] EnlargeGeep Chryst
Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty ImagesOffensive coordinator Geep Chryst is part of new 49ers' coach Jim Tomsula's 19-man coaching staff.
Geep Chryst, 52: Perhaps the Niners' third or fourth option, nonetheless the former QB coach brings continuity and familiarity as far as Colin Kaepernick is concerned. Is that a good, thing, though, given Kaepernick's passer rating falling in each of the past three seasons and that Chryst had been primarily responsible for the Niners' stagnant red zone offense? Stay tuned.

Offensive line

Chris Foerster, 53: The former Niners' O-line coach ran mostly zone-blocking schemes in Washington and the Niners' personnel is more suited for the power-running game.

Offensive line assistant

Eric Wolford, 43: A former guard at Kansas State, he was also a head coach at Youngstown State and he reportedly accepted a job at Oklahoma State before deciding to come to the NFL with the Niners.

Quarterbacks

Steve Logan, 61: Was Tomsula's O.C. in NFL Europe but has been out of the NFL the past three years as he hosted a sportstalk radio show in North Carolina. He did, however, work with Matt Ryan at Boston College.

Tight ends

Tony Sparano, 53: Maybe he can get something out of Vernon Davis.

Running backs

Tom Rathman, 52: The secret weapon in wooing free agent Frank Gore back to Santa Clara?

Receivers

Adam Henry, 42/Ronald Curry, 35: Henry returns to to the NFL after three years at LSU and Curry, a former offensive assistant, gets a promotion, of sorts. What can they teach Anquan Boldin, though, and will the Niners' use a first-round pick on a receiver for Henry and Curry to mold?

Offensive assistant

D.J. Boldin, 28: Speaking of Anquan Boldin, his brother returns to the same role.

Defensive coordinator

Eric Mangini, 44: The rebirth of Mangenius will be an interesting storyline in that Mangini is a two-time head coach, with the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns, yet, besides Tomsula, has the biggest shoes to fill with Vic Fangio's departure. The personnel at Mangini's disposal dictate a return to a 3-4 base defense.

Senior defensive assistant/linebackers

Jason Tarver, 40: Former Raiders' D.C. returns from whence he came (his NFL coaching career began with the Niners) as he coached Patrick Willis when he was a rookie.

Linebackers

Clancy Pendergast, 47: While Tarver is expected to work with the OLBs, Pendergast would get the ILBs, should Mangini stick with the 3-4. And All-Pros Willis and NaVorro Bowman returning from injury should make the transition for Pendergast, a former D.C., all the easier.

Defensive line

Scott Brown, 62: Niners' former Midwest regional scout makes his NFL coaching debut by "replacing" Tomsula in the trenches. Whether Justin Smith returns or retires will be a huge storyline this offseason for the longtime college D-line coach.

Secondary

Tim Lewis, 53: Former D.C. comes on with questions galore as both starting cornerbacks are about to become free agents in Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox.

Defensive assistants

Ejiro Evero, 34/Aubrayo Franklin, 34/Mick Lombardi, 26: Eviro returns to same role while Franklin, a former Niners' DT who had Tomsula as his position coach, begins his NFL coaching career and Lombardi flips over from offensive assistant.

Special teams coordinator

Thomas McGaughey, 41: Another NFL Europe colleague of Tomsula, McGaughey was at LSU two years ago and ran the New York Jets' special teams last year.

Special teams assistant

Richard Hightower, 34: Was an offensive assistant with the Cleveland Browns last season and Washington's assistant special teams coach the previous four, along with serving as its assistant DB coach the last two seasons.
Michael Crabtree called himself, in alternating breaths, a third-down receiver and a fourth option. And this huffing came after his game-changing 51-yard reception on fourth-and-10 at the New Orleans Saints in Week 10.

Yes, when the San Francisco 49ers took him with the No. 10 overall pick of the 2009 draft out of Texas Tech, Crabtree was viewed as their deep threat of the future. But injuries have piled up to slow him down, and after averaging a career-low 10.3 yards per reception in 2014 (take away that 51-yard catch and his average falls to 9.7 yards) Crabtree is likely gone as a free agent.

No wonder, then, that in his Insider mock draft 2.0Insider, ESPN draftnik Todd McShay went with a receiver for the Niners at No. 15 overall in Ohio State’s Devin Smith, a solid (6-foot-1, 197 pounds) deep threat who averaged an eye-popping 28.2 yards per catch for the national champion Buckeyes this past season.

Smith, who caught 33 passes for 931 yards and 12 touchdowns, led the country by averaging a TD every 2.75 catches. So yeah, Smith would address a need for the Niners as someone who could potentially take the top off a defense for quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

He is raw on routes underneath, though that is the domain of veteran Anquan Boldin, who remains under contract.

Even if Crabtree were to re-sign and return to Santa Clara, California, the addition of Smith might be too intriguing for the Niners to pass. Unless, of course, they believe more pressing issues should be addressed first on the offensive or defensive lines, or in the secondary.

McShay, though, has been consistent in his belief that the Niners need to draft a receiver as he had them taking another Devin -- Michigan’s Devin Funchess -- in his first mock draft.
Most of the San Francisco 49ers' major assistant coaching staff jobs have been spoken for now, even if the organization has yet to officially announce any hirings since Jim Tomsula was promoted from defensive line coach to head coach on Jan. 14.

Sure, the Niners did announce Tom Gamble was returning as senior personnel executive after two years as vice president of personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles, but that's it. Unless you count CEO Jed York all but confirming Geep Chryst and Eric Mangini as offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, on the NFL Network last week.

Perhaps with college football signing day today, more assistants will be coming to Santa Clara after commitments are secured.

Following is the most up-to-date tracker of assistants linked to Tomsula's staff:

Offensive coordinator: Geep Chryst, Jim Harbaugh's quarterbacks coach from 2011 through last season, to become the Niners' offensive playcaller with Greg Roman now in Buffalo. Fallback option, or in-house survivor? In any event, the 49ers had also been linked to and/or turned down by the likes of Marc Trestman, Adam Gase, Kyle Shanahan, Mike Shanahan, Lane Kiffin, Rob Chudzinski and Bob Bicknell before Chryst got the gig. He was last an O-coordinator in 2000, with the San Diego Chargers.

Offensive line coach: Chris Foerster, the Niners' O-line coach in 2008 and 2009, reportedly returning to same position, though he ran more zone schemes in Washington and Niners' personnel dictates power blocking.

Assistant offensive line coach : Eric Wolford, former head coach at Youngstown State, purportedly joining Foerster, after reportedly accepting job at Oklahoma State.

QB coach: Steve Logan, Tomsula's O-coordinator in NFL Europe with the Rhein Fire in 2006, said he is indeed Colin Kaepernick's new position coach. Logan, who has been doing sportstalk radio in North Carolina, last worked in the NFL in 2011 as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' running backs coach.

Tight ends coach: Former Oakland Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano coming down I-880.

Running backs coach: Tom Rathman set to return in same capacity.

Offensive assistant: Ronald Curry, with the Niners since 2013, wooed by Buffalo, though the Niners reportedly denied the Bills permission to interview him. Curry is also reportedly now a target of the University of Florida to be the Gators' receivers coach and could be the Niners' WR coach.

Special teams coordinator: Former New York Jets special teams coach Thomas McGaughey tweets that he is the man at special teams coordinator after Brad Seely, released by San Francisco, was hired by Oakland for the same position. McGaughey worked with Tomsula in NFL Europe.

Defensive coordinator: Mangini, the ex-Niners tight ends coach who was the New England Patriots' D-coordinator in 2005 and head coach of the New York Jets (2006-08) and Cleveland Browns (2009-10), is the guy after being denied permission by Cincinnati to speak with Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph, whose NFL coaching career began with the Niners as a secondary coach.

Senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers: Former Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver returns. He ran a 4-3 defensive scheme in Oakland but is a 3-4 strategist at heart.

Inside linebackers: Clancy Pendergast, a D-coordinator with Arizona, Kansas City and in college at Cal and USC, reportedly in line to join the staff here.

Secondary: Tim Lewis, a former D-coordinator in Pittsburgh and with the New York Giants, reportedly coming after another former Giants defensive coordinator, Perry Fewell turned down an offer from the Niners to instead go to Washington to be its secondary coach. Ed Donatell was released and followed D-coordinator Vic Fangio to the Chicago Bears.

Defensive assistant: Former 49ers nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, whose position coach was Tomsula, reportedly in line to be a defensive assistant.

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