San Francisco 49ers To-Do List During Week 10 Bye


The 49ers get a rest from what has been a difficult 2015 season with a bye in Week 10 and, after an uplifting victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 9, head into a week off still with some hope of salvaging the campaign.

Realistically, the 3-6 49ers do not have any chance of making the playoffs, however, last week provided a reminder that there is plenty of talent on this team in spite of their record.

Yet San Francisco is not harnessing the most of the ability on the roster and, although official practices will not resume until next week, there are a number of things that should be on the to-do list for Jim Tomsula and his coaching staff to help things improve further ahead of a Week 11 game road game with the Seattle Seahawks.

Find a role for Tank Carradine

As the 49ers defense excelled in keeping Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones in check last Sunday, 2013 second-round pick Tank Carradine was left to watch the sidelines. Carradine was active but did not play a single snap in the victory, which was surprising given his performances this season.

The former Florida State defensive end has eight hurries, a hit and one sack in 2015 per Pro Football Focus, who have Carradine at No. 20 in the NFL among 3-4 ends in pass rushing.

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It has been a slow transition from the 4-3 he played in with the Seminoles to 3-4 for Carradine, who is No. 45 in the league among 3-4  ends in run defense according to PFF.

And, with veteran Glenn Dorsey and Quinton Dial seemingly more capable playing the run and rookie Arik Armstead catching the eye as a pass rusher, Carradine’s exile from the field is somewhat understandable.

That doesn’t mean the 49ers are giving up on Carradine. To the contrary, CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco believes San Francisco is considering using Carradine as a pass-rush specialist at outside linebacker.

Such a move would make sense, with the Niners having gotten little production from their outside backers except for Aaron Lynch, who is on pace to end the season with double-digit sacks.

"“With some of the pass rush stuff and things like that, that’s where we’re looking to get Tank more involved. He’s doing a good job of working hard at it and we’re in the process. He can work across the line. So we are trying to build in that area right now. That wasn’t a knock on Tank not playing (Sunday). It’s just kind of where we are coaching-wise now. You know, trying to switch gears a little bit with Tank and utilizing him to his strengths.” – Jim Tomsula"

A switch to linebacker would of course mean Carradine dropping some weight. He is playing at 295 pounds at present but, whatever the 49ers decide, they need to find some way of putting a player who had 11 sacks in his final year at Florida State in a position to be more effective.

Get Bruce Ellington more involved

The 49ers have done what many people thought was unthinkable – they have managed to get Quinton Patton contributing consistently on offense. The 2013 fourth-round pick has a catch in all but one game this season and is proving something of a big-play threat, averaging 13.8 yards per reception.

Now it is time to get another fourth-round receiver going as an impact player on offense. Bruce Ellington has been conspicuous by his absence from the 49er offense but, whenever he has hit the field, has displayed the ability to suggest he can be a threat in the passing game.

Despite a 70-yard touchdown reception on a slant route in the final preseason game of the year, Ellington has seen just 49 offensive snaps, with his best game coming against the New York Giants in Week 5 when he had two catches for 39 yards.

Ellington, though, has continually looked good as a returner and had his best display of the season in that regard versus the Falcons, making 65 yards on two kick returns. The diminutive wideout can be a real weapon on underneath and deep routes and it is time for the 49ers to focus more on getting him in the gameplan rather than relying on a veteran in Jerome Simpson who has done little to justify his place on the depth chart.

Implement Blake Bell in the passing game

San Francisco knows what it has in Vance McDonald, a decent blocking tight end who simply cannot catch the football. McDonald is in his third season in the league now and the drops that plagued him as a rookie are still affecting him now.

McDonald dropped a laser from Colin Kaepernick – called into the game to allow Blaine Gabbert to go through the concussion protocol in the fourth quarter –  that would have given the 49ers a first down. It is an all too familiar tale for the Niners, who need to look to the future in a rookie in Blake Bell instead of putting their faith in a consistently unreliable player.

Bell, who was a strong short-yardage pass catcher with the Oklahoma Sooners saw offensive snaps for the first time since Week 6 on Sunday but was still on the field for only three plays, which is difficult to understand considering McDonald’s sloppy play as a receiver.

San Francisco may already have its tight end of the future stashed on injured reserve in the form of Rory Anderson and already has one it can trust in the passing game with Garrett Celek. However, this is a team that had previously confounded opponents by throwing from two tight end sets with Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker both proving dangerous through the air.

McDonald has had every opportunity to be an effective second tight end, it’s time to see if Bell can step in where he has failed.

Settle on a starter at right guard

The rotation at right guard appears to be finally be coming to an end. We saw Jordan Devey play, we even saw Trenton Brown play right tackle to allow Erik Pears to kick inside but the main constant was Andrew Tiller, who has been consistently outplaying Devey throughout this bizarre process.

“We looked at that a little bit and we looked at the other two guys at the guard position. Tiller, obviously, his plays were up last night, or yesterday, and Tiller did a pretty good job, still needs to improve. We need to improve. We’re going to keep working through that.” – Jim Tomsula

Tiller saw his most snaps of the season against Atlanta with 49 and recorded his highest PFF grade of the season. He earned a mark of 3.1 for his performance and made the rest of the O-line better as a result. Indeed, San Francisco did not give up a sack in Week 9 and yet Tomsula – David Fucillo of Niners Nation – would not confirm whether Tiller will be the starter in Week 11 at the Seahawks.

Tomsula’s words could just be posturing on his part as he and his staff evaluate the team at the midseason point and it is difficult to believe that the coaches have not recognized Tiller as the best option at the right guard position.

The O-line needs the continuity of a definite starter at right guard and it is Tiller who deserves the spot after his largely impressive play since coming up from the practice squad in Week 5.

Sort out a suddenly crowded secondary

One of the most impressive aspects of San Francisco’s win over Atlanta was the play of the secondary. Julio Jones still posted 137 yards receiving but was held without a touchdown by a defense missing its top three corners in Tramaine Brock (shin), Kenneth Acker (concussion) and Keith Reaser (ankle) through injury.

It was second-year player Dontae Johnson and Marcus Cromartie – making his first start after being promoted from the practice squad – who stepped up in their absence and, aided by increasingly impressive nickel corner Jimmie Ward, ensured the absences on the back end were not detrimental at all.

Instead their performances have given Tomsula a headache over the pecking order in his secondary. After a decent rookie year Johnson, who allowed only four catches for 56 yards, per PFF, and made a key play to stop Jones catching a touchdown in a crucial goal-line stand in the fourth quarter, will certainly be hoping for increased playing time.

Cromartie gave up just three catches for 33 yards and will feel he made a strong argument to feature prominently in Week 11, however, the issue is that Brock and Acker are both enjoying good seasons. Brock is ranked at No. 36 out of 111 in PFF’s rating of cornerbacks while Acker has three interceptions on the year.

The Niners suddenly look a bit deeper at corner but, while it is a nice problem for Tomsula to have, he must decide whether Johnson and Cromartie will eat in to the snaps of Brock, Acker and Reaser if they are healthy to return for the Seahawks game.

Decide on a plan for Carlos Hyde

One problem that is not a nice one for Tomsula is continued absence of Carlos Hyde, who is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot.

After having no running game in the Week 8 matchup with the St. Louis Rams, Shaun Draughn gave the Niners a presence on the ground last week, finishing the game with 96 yards from scrimmage.

However, it is at best debatable whether the former Cleveland Brown would be able to have the same impact against the likes of the Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals.

In truth any hope of the Niners having a consistent running attack in the coming weeks likely rests on the health of Hyde, who has 470 yards rushing in seven games and per’s Gil Brandt, is second in the league in missed/broken tackles created.

Tomsula, per Fucillo, said Hyde is still day-to-day earlier this week but, given the nature of his injury, the ex-Ohio State Buckeye needs to be on some sort of pitch count to ensure his injury is not aggravated.

San Francisco has a player in Draughn who appears at least capable of spelling Hyde. If Hyde is healthy to face the Seahawks, the Niners must come up with a plan that will allow him to provide the team with a premier running threat while playing a safe number of snaps to avoid further injury.