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49ers Work at Ball-Hawking Ways

Posted Sep 12, 2012

Since the Jim Harbaugh era started, the 49ers have made a regular routine of creating takeaways on Sundays. But it’s nothing like the havoc wreaked by the 49ers defense at team headquarters on Thursdays.

Among the many changes brought to the 49ers by the Harbaugh-led coaching staff has been “takeaway Thursdays,” which are aimed to keep the defense conscious about forcing turnovers on a regular basis. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who recorded the team’s lone takeaway in Week 1 with an interception of Aaron Rodgers, discussed “takeaway Thursdays” with reporters on Wednesday.

“We try to get as many turnovers as we can and see where we end up and go in to the game with that type of mindset,” Bowman said. “Just be ball-hawks. Try to get the balls out when guys are trying to break a tackle and things like that. Those are the things that go on in a game and if we practice, it will show up in the game.”

Off the top of his head, Bowman said the defense has forced as many as eight or nine turnovers in one three-hour practice. Last season, the 49ers created five takeaways on two different occasions: in the Divisional Round playoff thriller against New Orleans and in the Week 11 matchup vs. Arizona. In all, the 49ers led the NFL with 38 takeaways.

“Coaches do a great job of setting up the drills and getting our mindset focused on that,” Bowman said.

Everyone sees the competitive spirit of 49ers on gamedays, but that same determination is alive throughout the week on the practice fields. Not only do position groups like the linebackers and defensive backs keep running tallies of interceptions, but players like to compete on an individual level as well.

Cornerback Tarell Brown notched a career-high four interceptions in 2011 and has set some lofty personal goals for 2012. He’s also hoping he’ll be the first member of the secondary to notch an interception on Sunday night, when the 49ers host the Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions in the home opener.

“We always have a friendly competition that just goes throughout the whole year,” Brown said. “It’s not just one particular game. That’s what makes us a good secondary is that everybody’s competitive, everybody competes and everybody wants the ball to be thrown at them so they can make plays. When you have guys like that, it just makes your room that much tighter.”

When you think of Detroit’s offense, you think of Calvin Johnson. The All-Pro receiver is always sure to get plenty of balls thrown his way, but he did not practice on Wednesday due to a foot injury, making his status something to watch throughout the week.

Johnson caught seven passes for 113 yards against the 49ers in last year’s matchup but was shut out of the end zone. But whenever he’s on the field, Johnson poses matchup problems due to his size (6-foot-5, 236 pounds) and speed.

“He’s a great player,” Brown said. “He does a lot of great things for their team. I think the biggest thing for us is to just go out there and play our game. Our coaches are definitely getting us ready for that and we just got to go out there and make plays as well.”

The 49ers will also be trying to halt a bit of NFL history when they face Stafford on Sunday night. With his 355-yard performance in the Week 1 victory over St. Louis, Stafford became just the second quarterback in NFL history to notch four straight outings with at least 350 yards passing, joining Drew Brees. But if Stafford tops the 350-yard mark once again, he’ll be the first player to ever do so in five consecutive games.

Stafford is just the latest in a line of elite quarterbacks that the 49ers will face this season. They already defeated Rodgers, the 2011 NFL MVP, in Week 1 and are scheduled to square off against other top-notch signal-callers like Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Tom Brady later in the season.

Rather than shy away from the challenge, Brown said San Francisco’s secondary relishes it.

“Any time you’re in the league, you’ve got to get geeked up for games like this,” Brown said. “If you’re not, then you’re in the wrong business.”

The season opener marked the first time for the 49ers defense to take the field since putting together its stellar 2011 campaign. Brown said he noticed an improvement in communication amongst his teammates, the result of a full offseason with coordinator Vic Fangio and the coaching staff.

“I think we’re miles ahead,” Brown said. “I still think there’s room for improvement, there’s always room for improvement. That was our first game so it’s just like knocking the rust off. We’re definitely looking forward to this game and getting a lot better and taking another step forward.”

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