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49ers Coaching Staff's Smarts, Effort Pave Way

Posted Oct 28, 2013

When safety Donte Whitner said San Francisco had the NFL's most "paranoid" coaching staff, he meant it in the best way possible.

LONDON – After the 49ers 42-10 victory while visiting England on Sunday evening, safety Donte Whitner proclaimed his coaching staff to be “the most paranoid” in the NFL.

He meant it in the best way possible.

"We go over things so many times (that) by the time you get to the football game," Whitner said, "it's embedded in your brain. They made sure we didn't come out sleepwalking.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing, it doesn't matter if it's the last play of the game, it doesn't matter if it's the last play of a practice, (Jim Harbaugh) makes sure that we're on our 'Ps' and 'Qs.' If we're not, he lets us know."

Harbaugh and Co. talked up their opponent, the now 0-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, throughout its U.K. stay. And while the scoreboard showed a significant disparity between the two teams, they have to feel that an intense week of preparation was well worth the payoff.

“That wasn’t just lip service,” Harbaugh said postgame. “We watched Jacksonville, and it was on the tape… You get the respect off the tape.”


The staff even resorted to trickery and didn’t wait long to employ it on Sunday evening in the U.K. – Sunday morning in San Francisco.

On just the second play of the game, offensive coordinator Greg Roman had fullback Bruce Miller camp out a foot from the sideline when the 49ers broke the huddle. Because the Jaguars didn’t notice him quick enough to cover man, Miller caught an easy toss from quarterback Colin Kaepernick and ran for a 43-yard gain – the longest play in a game that saw the unit cover 20 or more yards on six separate occasions.

The play is called “Big Sleeper” in the playbook.

“We practiced it a lot,” Harbaugh said. “We called it before, in the Jets game last year and the Jets called a timeout before we had a chance to get the snap off.”

The man split out wide during that attempt in New York on Sept. 30, 2012, Kaepernick, explained the key to his and Miller’s success.

“Don’t drop it,” Kaepernick said of the receiver’s mindset on the play, before explaining the quarterbacks: “Try to give to give him an easy pass he can catch right on his chest and run down the sideline.”

For all of its focus on taking advantage of every waking moment to prepare for its next opponent, the coaching staff is rewarding the team a break. Harbaugh has given Whitner and the rest of his roster the next week off, only scheduling an “opportunity practice” for Tuesday and Wednesday back at the team’s facility in Santa Clara, Calif.

Harbaugh said he expects the players that are still trying to earn playing time – rookie cornerback Darryl Morris, for example – to take part. Veterans, it should be expected, will use their time off to rest.

“I’m taking it as a bye week,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “I’m an older guy. It’s a long season.”

Added inside linebacker Patrick Willis, “It will be good for everybody to get their mind right.”

The front office will also use its non-game week – officially Week 9 and the start of the second half of the NFL season – to tinker with the roster. As many as six spots could be created. Wide receivers Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree, cornerback Eric Wright, inside linebacker Nick Moody, rookie defensive tackle Tank Carradine and All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith are all on their way back to action.


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