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Tomsula Continues to Teach

Posted Dec 29, 2010

After hearing Mike Singletary had been let go upon returning from St. Louis, interim head coach Jim Tomsula never left the facility and didn’t get any sleep before he met the media on Monday.

But before the 49ers began their first day of practice this week, a reporter noted that Tomsula looked “refreshed.”

“I had a shower,” Tomsula joked. “[49ers Director of Public Relations] Bob [Lange] told me to shave.”

It’s fitting that Tomsula would have a renewed vigor.  After all, Wednesday was the first day that he could get out on the field with his players.

“He’s an exciting guy to be around, always energetic, always happy,” said defensive end Ray McDonald, who is in his fourth season with Tomsula. “You want to be playing for a guy who’s always firing you up and being positive.  He loves football and he loves to coach.”

Being excited to come to work has never been an issue for Tomsula. Whether it was his tenure as the youngest head coach in NFL Europa history or a as a coach at Division II Catawba College, Tomsula has always enjoyed getting out on the practice field and making his players better.

“He breaks it down on your level,” nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin said. “Some guys learn different than others. Some guys are classroom guys and some learn through repetition. He’s willing to take the time and stay as long as it takes so you get the technique and the system down.”

The effort Tomsula has given since joining the 49ers coaching staff in 2007 has shown up directly on the field. After limiting Rams running back Steven Jackson to just 48 yards on Sunday, the 49ers have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in an astounding 21 straight games.

“With all of our ups and downs the last few years, we take a lot of pride in that,” McDonald said. “That’s something we can look back on and say we excelled in stopping the run. That’s a tribute to Jim and what he’s taught us and the kind of guys we have in our room.”

Tomsula’s arrival also coincided with the team’s transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, which drastically altered the role the defensive line plays in the scheme. With one less down lineman, Tomsula’s group was asked to do more, not be selfish and occupy more blockers so linebackers like Patrick Willis could be free to make plays.

“The job he’s done with the defensive line, as far as the techniques that they play with, has helped me a lot,” Willis, the four-time Pro Bowler, said. “People ask me how I’m able to do what I do and it’s because of the defensive line. They allow me to be free and make plays. He’s one of the best defensive line coaches I’ve been around.”

The self-proclaimed “Jim Nobody from Nowhere,” Tomsula has made quite the impact on those around him.

The only defensive lineman familiar with a 3-4 defense before Tomsula arrived was Franklin, who played in a somewhat similar system in Baltimore.

“Guys who came from a 4-3 are trying to get off the ball and it’s totally different in a 3-4 where you have great linebackers behind you,” Franklin said. “They can make plays and run. They ask us to occupy the guys up front so the linebackers can make plays.”

Under Tomsula’s guidance, Franklin’s performance on the field improved.

Franklin recorded 65 tackles in four seasons with the Ravens compared to 303 in the same amount of time with the 49ers.  He also had his first career forced fumble and interception after heading to the Bay Area.

“I’ve watched a lot of film with him and we’ve studied pass protections a whole lot more,” Franklin said. “He gives me run calls every week and I study them. He gives me pointers when we study film together and I’ve started to look at the film the same way he looks at the film. I think that’s helped me a lot.”

Defensive tackle Justin Smith, who had never played in a 3-4 defense, also reaped benefits after working with Tomsula. A prized free agent signing in 2008, Smith had never been selected to the Pro Bowl during his seven seasons in Cincinnati.

This January, Smith will be making his second consecutive trip to the NFL’s annual All-Star game.

“It’s nice to get recognized like that by yours peers and the coaches,” he said. “You put in the hard work, and to have it pat off with a Pro Bowl – that’s a good thing.”

But while Smith feels honored to be heading to Hawaii, he admitted he would much rather be playing in the post-season than the Pro Bowl. With his team sitting at 5-10, Smith and the 49ers won’t have that opportunity and will have to wait until next season for another chance at the playoffs.

But if the players continue to live by the “one week calendar” laid out by their interim head coach, getting excited for Sunday’s season finale against the Arizona Cardinals won’t be an issue.

“We’re not going to the playoffs, but we’re doing what we love to do, and that’s play football,” McDonald said. “A lot has happened this week, but we still get to play a game this Sunday and we’re going to give it 110-percent.”

Notes and Quotes

Tomsula announced that Alex Smith would get the start at quarterback against the Cardinals, citing experience as the key reason.

“I’m excited about it,” Smith said. “I’m going to prepare and reset the team. I think there’s even more distraction at this point because we know that the season is over after this Sunday, but we’re going to stay focused and go out there and take advantage of the other team.”

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman will be looking to take advantage of his increased role this Sunday, starting in place of Willis who continues to rehab from a broken hand. Though still in his rookie season, Bowman doesn’t feel intimidated trying to fill in for the four-time Pro Bowler.

“Once the second half of the season came along, I started to feel like I was ready,” Bowman said. “I learned as much as I could this year and got better every single week. I’m ready to step into that role and have the team depend on me.” 

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