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Coordinators Corner: Ready for Redskins


The 49ers are coming off a bye and have a must-win game against the Washington Redskins. After winning three straight to start the season, the Redskins have dropped their last two games. Turnovers is perhaps the most telling statistic for the Redskins; they’ve forced only two and given away ten, for a -8 turnover ratio.

Off. Coordinator: Mike McCarthy

The Redskins have Pro Bowl players on their defense but it’s not the play of one or two individuals that has this defense ranked as fifth in the league.

“I think it is well said that they are stronger as a group than they are as one," said McCarthy. "They are an 11 man defense in the true sense. They are very systematic and they have a group of players who are very experienced. They look to play with a complete understanding of the defense. They play with a lot of urgency and confidence.”

The Redskins most inexperienced defensive starter is Sean Taylor who is in his second season. The other ten starters have at least five years of NFL experience with Phillip Daniels and Walt Harris each in their 10th season.

Because they are such a veteran group, they do take chances that some teams wouldn’t.

“I think it is important for us to maintain balance in this football game because they’ll try to overload you and take away what they see as your strength. They are not scared of being aggressive with their schemes. We have to stay 50-50 in our attack and try to keep them off-balance so they don’t make it a one-dimensional football game on us.”

The one thing the Redskins defense hasn’t done is rack up turnovers. They’ve got only two takeaways on the season.

“Every defense wants to get turnovers and that’s something that has not been a positive for us offensively this year. It’ll be critical for us to take care of the football regardless of where they are at statistically. We’ve been prone to turning the ball over in the first 5 weeks and we can’t do that.”

As for his rookie quarterback making his second start… “He needs to manage the offense, let it come to him, and not force things.”

Def. coordinator Billy Davis

The defense once again faces another top offense; the Redskins are tied at 6th in total offense in the NFL.

Quarterback Mark Brunell is playing some of his best football and is coming off a 331-yard passing and 3TD game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

“He’s an experienced quarterback who is very familiar with his system and he’s working his offense and spreading the ball to his playmakers in a very efficient manner," said Davis. "You can see he feels comfortable. He knows where his hot reads are and he has an ability to scramble and keep a play alive just a little longer. He’s got a very strong arm and he’s thrown it over the secondary’s head a couple of times and that’s something to be aware of. But really, every week, as a secondary you can never let anyone get behind you. That’s a golden rule. That’s the last line of defense and you have to respect the strength of the quarterback’s arm.”

The 49ers are a little healthier in their secondary with Derrick Johnson and Willie Middlebrooks returning to action. Corner Bruce Thornton, who had an outstanding day in his first start against Marvin Harrison, gets another big challenge in Santana Moss. Moss is second in the NFL in receiving yardage and the Redskins like to spread him all over the field.

“Bruce was an unknown for us. You can see a guy in practice but until the lights come on and you are in a game at a 100mph, you don’t know what a player can do. He passed his first test and that has to be week in and week out. He gets another challenge this week and we’ll see how he responds.”

The 49ers D has allowed only one rusher to go over the 100-yard mark this season, and the run D will get another challenge in Clinton Portis this weekend. He’s averaging 4.3 yards per carry, although he’s yet to find the end zone.

“He’s one of the top backs in the league and you can tell that this offense is coming together and that their overall production is on the rise.”

Davis feels good about his defense and the strides they’ve made despite the number of injuries.

“There is a very positive attitude and outlook on this defense. Everyone is working very hard on details. I see high effort in every practice and a lot of communication.”

Special Teams Larry Mac Duff

The Redskins rank 1st in punt return coverage and 6th in covering kickoffs. They are coming off a strong performance in Kansas City where they kept Pro Bowl returner Dante Hall in check.

“They did an outstanding job against Kansas City against one of the guys who has been the very best in the league," said Mac Duff." That represents a real challenge to us in our return game.”

Some teams like Arizona rank high in kickoff coverage, only because Neil Rackers hits most of them into the end zone for touchbacks, but the Redskins have utilized two kickers this year. Kicker John Hall is on the injury list as probable with a quad injury. He’s 3/3 on the year, with backup Nick Novak hitting 4/6 on the season. Neither have kicked a touchback yet this season.

“They are a good coverage team altogether, and they have a veteran group of guys and they even use some starters on the kickoff coverage team. It really hasn’t been the kickers, it’s just been the unit being very active on coverage units. They do a good job of tackling, and they are very aggressive.”

Early weather forecasts predict rain for Sunday.

“Rain impacts the special teams area a lot because it can be hard to secure the ball when it’s slippery. On offense if you drop a pass, you retain possession or get to punt, but when we handle the ball in the kicking game, it’s a change of possession and we have to secure it. That’ll really be tested if it’s wet.”

Mac Duff also has to do some shuffling on his coverage units, but he’s not willing to tip his hand and give anything away as to what those changes might be. Some of those factors include the recent rash of injuries at linebacker and to returner Otis Amey, and the trade of Tim Rattay which moves Cody Pickett up from 4th string QB to 3rd string. Pickett has played the last two games on special teams.

"Anytime you have some changes on the offense or defense, it also impacts the special teams area and we’ve had to move a few players around but since day one we try to build in position flexibility. So for us, several of the guys have been playing more than one position during the course of the season, and we think they’ll be prepared.”

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49ers notes: For Peterson, Sunday's game a bit personal


SANTA CLARA - Most of the current 49ers were born in the 1980s and, fittingly, many on the roster grew up rooting for the team of the decade - the San Francisco 49ers. With one notable exception.

Linebacker Julian Peterson was raised in Temple Hills, Md., a rabid fan of the only other NFC team to win multiple Super Bowls during the 1980s, the Washington Redskins.

Joe Montana and Jerry Rice? Those guys were pretty good. But Peterson's allowance money was spent collecting posters of John Riggins and Dexter Manley, his two favorite players from that era.

"I wore 81 so I could be like Art Monk, who could run," Peterson said Thursday.

His dreams of playing offense - he was a tight end and linebacker in high school - ended when he went to Michigan State and then-coach Nick Saban had him concentrate on defense. Peterson's NFL allegiance shifted four years later when the Redskins, who had the Nos. 2 and 3 overall selections in 2000, chose another linebacker, LaVar Arrington, and an offensive tackle, Chris Samuels.

The 49ers and Redskins have played twice since then, but Sunday's matchup will be Peterson's first at FedEx Field, which is about 10 miles from his offseason home. Peterson said he expects to have 30 to 35 friends and family members in the stands.

He said he still follows his boyhood team but holds a bit of a grudge.

"They passed me over at the time," he said. "They had the No. 2 pick at the time when I was coming out. So I'm like, OK, if you want to pick someone else, I'm going to show you what I'm going to do to you.

How much revenge he will be able to exact remains in question. Peterson pulled his hamstring Sept. 25 against Dallas, missed the following game vs. Arizona, then lasted only a few plays against Indianapolis. He gauged his health at 85 percent but said he felt far better than he did against the Colts, when he had to ride an exercise bike for 20 minutes before the game just to warm up his sore leg.

He said he realized he was hurting his team when he failed to run down Colts running back Edgerrin James in the first quarter.

"I came inside, and I had an opportunity to get him," he said. "My mind was saying, Take a couple more steps and you can grab him. But my body didn't react to that, and I just kind of dove. By the time I looked up, coach was looking at me and said, 'You don't need to be out there anymore.' "

Amey ailing - Receiver Otis Amey sat out Thursday's practice after rolling his ankle a day earlier and is questionable for Sunday's game. With regular starter Arnaz Battle out with a knee injury, Amey (Sacramento State) has been the team's No. 3 receiver. If he can't play, that role goes to Jason McAddley and rookie Rasheed Marshall.

Perhaps more importantly, Marshall will take over punt-return duties. Marshall was the team's first choice to handle that job, but he struggled mightily during the preseason.

He continued to have problems Thursday, allowing a ball to tumble off his chest when he handled a few extra punts after practice.

Et cetera - Right tackle Kwame Harris had a rough practice. First he was manhandled in one-on-one drills by defensive end Bryant Young. A few plays later, Harris was flung to the ground by rookie Ronald Fields. Harris got up angrily and tried to go after Fields but was stopped by teammates. The two later scuffled during team drills.

• Cornerbacks Willie Middlebrooks and Derrick Johnson were taken off the injury report. Rookie tackle Patrick Estes sprained his ankle. If he can't play Sunday, fellow rookie Adam Snyder will be the top backup at tackle.

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Restarting his engines


At 64, an age when most people are contemplating retirement, Joe Gibbs apparently has caught his second wind.

He is back for a second tour of duty in the high-profile yet rigorous profession of NFL coaching. It's with the same team, the Washington Redskins, who host the 49ers on Sunday, but with a different style of owner, and a certainly different style of player.

When Gibbs stepped away 13 years ago, he seemingly was burned out, in search of a new adventure, which he found in the rapidly growing world of motor sports. He had nothing more to prove in pro football, his special status achieved as the only coach to win three Super Bowls without the same starting quarterback.

What's more, the NFL then was a league of more stability. A coach's authority wasn't challenged as regularly. Upon Gibbs' exit after the 1992 season, there was no salary cap or the unfettered free agency that today ensures annual roster changes and financially influenced limitations.

No longer. It has all changed, plus the hours coaches put in have lengthened.

"It's no days off, and you go at it hard," Gibbs said on a conference call this week.

Then why come back? What could be the attraction beyond a five-year, $25 million contract from owner Daniel Snyder, whose previous grab for a big-name coach, Steve Spurrier, failed miserably?

Money aside, could Gibbs, who had a comfort zone with Jack Kent Cooke, coexist with the meddlesome Snyder?

When Gibbs agreed in January 2004 to give it another go, he surprised peers and family members alike.

What's more, in his view, "The job has not changed at all. It's probably one of the greatest jobs in the world."

Yet, the naysayers were out in force last year. The Redskins struggled to a 6-10 record, the team appeared to be in disarray, and experts openly said the game had passed this oldtimer by.

"We were all hearing that, but those of us who knew anything about Joe never believed it for a minute," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "He's organized, and his teams are disciplined. It just took him a little while to get things the way he wanted."

It appears the Redskins (3-2) are headed in the right direction again. With a staff consisting of several assistant coaches who previously worked with him, Gibbs has tinkered with and improved the product. Players and coaches say they know what to expect from each other.

There has been an upgrade at quarterback, from Patrick Ramsey to Mark Brunell. Rebounding from a hamstring injury that contributed to poor play last season, Brunell, 35, seems to have recaptured his youth, quickly establishing a productive rapport with former New York Jets receiver Santana Moss.

Clinton Portis, acquired in a 2004 trade with Denver for cornerback Champ Bailey, rushed for 1,315 yards last season but has a better line to run behind.

"Anytime a new coach comes in, there will be a learning period," Brunell said by phone. "We've had a year to work together."

Regarding Gibbs, Brunell had heard of the Hall of Fame coach's low-key, patient but demanding reputation.

"Coming (to Washington) last year, I did my homework," Brunell said. "What I heard was that he worked very hard and treats his players right. He spends a few nights (sleeping at the office), and guys see that. If you're a head coach and tell everybody you expect them to work hard and give 100 percent, then you'd better be willing to do the same thing. He does that."

Ah, yes, those marathon hours. Isn't Gibbs concerned about falling into the same trap that burned him out the first time?

"You don't win football games," he said, "unless you work extremely hard at it. ... Technology has helped, but it's still a lot of hard work analyzing things yourself. I have excellent health with the exception of being diabetic.

"I probably take better care of myself now than in the past because of that. Guys said, 'You've had enough doughnuts for the first 50 years. You don't need any more.' "


Gibbs file

Born: Nov. 25, 1940, Mocksville, N.C.

NFL highlights: 133-72 regular-season record (1981-92; 2004-present); 16-5 postseason record; Super Bowl championships (1982, 1987, 1991 seasons); three-time Coach of Year; inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame, 1996.

Second career: Owner Joe Gibbs Racing, successful NASCAR team, 1991-present.

Family: Wife, Pat; two sons, J.D. (Joe Gibbs Racing president), Coy (Redskins assistant coach).

49ers at Redskins

Sunday: 10 a.m.

TV: Ch. 40, 2

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49ers' Nolan had a rough go as a Washington assistant, but he considers that time a great learning experience


On the day Mike Nolan was introduced as coach of the 49ers, at a packed hotel ballroom in San Francisco, someone asked about his experience with the Washington Redskins.

Nolan smiled.

``I think I just lost my voice,'' he joked.

The problem for Nolan was finding a diplomatic way of saying that his Redskins experience was rotten and chaotic, so bad that it took several years to rebuild his reputation as a rising star.

Nolan faces his former team for the first time as a head coach Sunday. His rebuilding effort with the 49ers has meant avoiding the pitfalls he saw as the Redskins defensive coordinator from 1997 to '99.

Nolan, when he finally rediscovered his voice at the hotel, put it this way:

``I didn't learn any football at Washington, but I learned more than I could have ever learned anyplace else, as far as personnel, structure and chemistry. It's that simple. That was one of the best experiences of my coaching career looking back on it, but I would hope that I would never have to do it again.

``So, each day I try to prove to the one above that you made your point and I got it because I don't want to go there again.''

Nolan declines to elaborate on what went wrong, but it doesn't take much sleuthing. His frequent repetition of his goals for the 49ers -- ``personnel, structure and chemistry'' -- are telling enough, because the Redskins of those days went 0 for 3.

Things bottomed out for Nolan after Daniel Snyder bought the team in 1999 for a record $800 million. Snyder wanted a prompt return on his investment and pulled every lever in search of a quick fix.

Snyder jettisoned well-regarded personnel man Charley Casserly in favor of Vinny Cerrato, who proved to be expensively inept. Snyder immediately focused his irritation on Nolan's defense -- he called it ``vanilla'' -- and splurged $56 million to bring in defensive tackles Dan Wilkinson and Dana Stubblefield.

Neither of those players panned out, or saw eye-to-eye with Nolan. As 49ers linebacker Derek Smith, who broke in with the Redskins, recalled without naming names, ``There were some older guys who wanted to do what they wanted to do.''

The offense, under Coach Norv Turner, thrived. But the defense kept letting the team down. Washington finished 17th in yards allowed in 1997, 24th the next season and 31st the one after that.

That created a civil war in the locker room -- offense vs. defense -- with Nolan no longer heralded as a boy wonder. As Redskins cornerback Darrell Green once told the Washington Post: ``He may have drunk his wine before his time. . . . He ran into a buzz saw here.''

When Nolan's contract expired after the 1999 season, it was not renewed.

So Nolan left the Redskins, but the Redskins have not left him.

His experience with infighting might explain why he has insisted on clearly defined roles within the 49ers, from the front office on down.

His experience with Wilkinson and Stubblefield might explain his quick-trigger handling of linebacker Jamie Winborn, who was abruptly traded after sliding down the depth chart.

His experience with Snyder might explain why Nolan talks frequently about building a foundation rather than looking for the easy answers.

Reflecting on the Redskins upon his hiring, Nolan said: ``I learned that personnel is more than just a pretty girl that is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds that runs fast. It's a lot more than that. It's about a guy as a football player and more importantly it is about a guy as a character. . . .

``Chemistry? It's hard to have chemistry on a football team without the best character you can build on. I don't mean they all have to get along and be buddies and hang out together. That is not the chemistry I'm talking about. The chemistry I'm talking about is an accountability.''

Nolan took the Washington job in part because he wanted to prove he could make it in the NFL without help from his father's friend. Nolan spent his first nine seasons in the league working for Dan Reeves, a friend of Dick Nolan, the former 49ers coach. They had known each other since 1965.

Nolan's first season with the Redskins, 1997, went fine. Washington allowed the eighth-fewest points in the NFL.

But the next season, opponents scored 30 points or more six times -- and 40 or more three times -- and Washington went 6-10. Nolan's defense gave up 421 points.

Snyder became the owner the next season and fumed as the Redskins allowed 29.5 points per game through the first four games.

Nolan later told the Baltimore Sun: ``I never really hit it off with Daniel Snyder. . . . We were getting pounded, even from within. Not just media pressure, but people from within were saying how bad we were.''

Nolan disliked the volatile atmosphere that accompanied the early Snyder years, and, near the end of his contract, decided to cut himself off from the politicking. Smith recalled Nolan telling defensive players that he would worry about them and nothing else.

Nolan created a plan for establishing the accountability he felt was lacking elsewhere. He started keeping track of ``loafs'' -- his statistic for anything less than a full effort. Nolan tallied them up in practice, then reviewed film to make sure he didn't miss any. Too many loafs and there was a price to pay.

``After he started doing that, we won a bunch of games -- and it was because of the defense,'' Smith said. ``It picked up our whole team. Nolan really brought some stability.''

Even Wilkinson, the Nolan critic, relented. ``During those tough times, Mike showed strong character, strong belief in the way he was coaching us. We got it turned around,'' he told the Washington Post in 2002. ``Personally, he was a good guy, a straight shooter.''

Over the Redskins' final four games in 1999, they gave up an average of just 14.3 points. Washington finished 10-6 and was a botched snap from advancing to the NFC championship game. Still, Nolan was not offered a chance to return. (He went to work for the New York Jets the next year.)

Maybe he can reminisce about those days this weekend in Washington, but he won't see many familiar faces. The Redskins are on their fifth defensive coordinator in the six years since Nolan left.

They have not made the playoffs since his final season.

``I have some good memories there,'' Nolan said this week. ``The moments that people would probably say aren't good are probably some of the best professional experiences that I've had.''

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