Saturday NFL News and Notes

Re: Saturday NFL News and Notes

Bears give Niners a nice reality check in today's exhibition
sfgate.com

- While it's a given that the preseason is too long at four games, is largely meaningless and is an affront to common decency, there is a point to be made for this third exhibition game for the 49ers.

A small point, but a point nonetheless.

This is the game, tonight in Chicago, in which the 49ers will see how they measure up to the NFC champion Bears ... in the first half and the first drive of the third quarter, that is.

The Bears are expected to play their starters about the same amount, so for a half at least, the 49ers will get a gauge not only on progress made in training camp but on their ability to match up to a team that whipped them 41-10 in October and went on to play in the Super Bowl.

"It's a little more of a realistic look as we get closer to the regular season," said running back Michael Robinson, who will play with the first unit in Frank Gore's absence. "It's going to be a good test for us."

It's a particularly good test for San Francisco's offense. With quarterback Rex Grossman continuing to show vexing inconsistency in Chicago, the Bears have to rely on their defense, and they do.

"Look what they did to us in the regular season," said quarterback Alex Smith, who reviewed tape this week of that Oct. 29 debacle at Soldier Field. "It'll be a test to see how far we've come. This is a team that prides themselves on turnovers, forcing fumbles, wearing teams down mentally and physically. I'm glad it's the Bears in August and not November, with the wind blowing 40 miles an hour."

Chicago had the No. 5-ranked defense in the NFL in 2006, bolstered by the best corps of linebackers in the league in Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Hunter Hillenmeyer. Add to that opportunistic defensive backs Nathan Vasher and Mike Brown and the return from injury of defensive tackle Tommie Harris and the Bears are formidable on that side of the ball.

"Anytime you're going against one of the elite teams in the NFL, you definitely get a little more excited, a little more aware," center Eric Heitmann said. "Every game is important, but when you play a team like Chicago, there's definitely an electricity for that game."

As such, the 49ers prepared for the Bears this week as if it were a regular-season game. Meeting times and practice schedules were the same as for a game that counts in the standings. This is as real as it gets in the unreality of the preseason.

"This game carries a little more weight in terms of showing us where we are," right tackle Kwame Harris said. "They were in the Super Bowl last year. It's certainly exciting to test your mettle against them."

Coach Mike Nolan said his starters, both on offense and defense, will play the entire first half and the first drives of the second half, then give way to the backups and the backups to the backups.

"Right now we're more concerned about Xs and Os and being assignment correct," wide receiver Darrell Jackson said. "You've got to remember it's not like a real game. We're going to work on some things that might not pertain to the regular season."

First-round draft pick Joe Staley will alternate with Harris at right tackle in what has to be his best chance to show the coaches he deserves to start at the position. He's looked proficient in training camp in the one aspect of the job that Harris struggles with, pass protection.

At right guard, David Baas will play with the first unit on the third and sixth series. Starter Justin Smiley seems much more secure in his job than Harris is with his.

Robinson and Maurice Hicks will alternate through the first half and into the third quarter in place of Gore. Defensive tackle Bryant Young will also miss his third preseason game as he takes care of a bulging disk in his back.

After this game, the 49ers will have three days to prepare for the most meaningless of all exhibition games, the last one. The team will play the San Diego game largely with reserves, as will the Chargers.

Once that bit of tedium is over, the 49ers will have 10 days before the real football begins. Thus, the first half tonight in Chicago will reveal how the 49ers compare to one of the best teams in the league.

"It's great they (the Bears) are the third game, because the third game means the most," Smith said. "It will help us get more game-ready. It will give us a gauge, good or bad."

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Re: Saturday NFL News and Notes

With expectations so high, is Turner in a no-win situation with Chargers
August 25, 2007

SAN DIEGO (AP) -Lucky Norv Turner.

Or is it poor Norv Turner?

Turner was minding his offseason business as offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers when the San Diego Chargers called during their search to replace the suddenly fired Marty Schottenheimer.

Turner landed the job over five other candidates, none of whom had ever been an NFL head coach.

Turner had. He coached the Washington Redskins when they had the NFL's first $100 million roster. He also coached the Oakland Raiders, who were simply awful. His combined record over eight-plus seasons: 58-82-1.

The Chargers were coming off an NFL-best 14-2 season. Although playoff-challenged, they had been 35-13 in the last three seasons under Schottenheimer.

Turner's third chance as a head coach comes with staggering expectations. Most Chargers fans will be happy with nothing short of a Super Bowl victory from a team that features league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and 10 other Pro Bowlers.

There are also plenty of skeptics out there who view Turner as being in a no-win situation.

Go even 11-5 and fail in the playoffs, and Turner could get savaged as much as Schottenheimer did after all of his one-and-dones in the postseason, including the Chargers' collapse in a 24-21 home loss to New England in their playoff opener last year. Based on his overall record, some feel Turner better not mess up such a good thing.

What makes this situation unique, of course, is that no NFL team had ever blown out its coach following a 14-2 season until team president Dean Spanos had enough of what he called a ``dysfunctional'' relationship between Schottenheimer and general manager A.J. Smith.

Turner knows what he's up against. Not surprisingly, he's not worried.

``No, because I've been doing it too long and I know that if this football team's 11-5, it's played pretty damn well, and that doesn't mean we're not going to have a better record than that,'' he said. ``I understand, but it's so far off, you've got to handle each step at a time.''

Turner wonders if his critics understand how competitive the NFL is.

``Our guys know that you line them up and play,'' he said. ``The last game they played is the best indicator of that. Every play is crucial and every quarter, every series, you have to go out and perform. This league isn't about talent or potential, it's about production. And we have to make sure this training camp is about making sure those 11 Pro Bowlers are prepared to play at the level they're capable of playing.''

Quarterback Philip Rivers realizes the coaching change was out of the ordinary. But he thinks too much is being made of Turner's situation.

``To really put it in a no-win situation, I don't think that's right,'' said Rivers, whose father used to coach high school football in Alabama. ``And, I'd like to know how many coaches wouldn't want to be coaching a good team. You want to go coach a bad team, you know what I mean?''

Had the Chargers been coming off a Super Bowl victory, then Rivers might understand the perceptions more.

``We're not at the top,'' he said. ``We got beat in our first playoff game. I know the expectations are high and we have high expectations as well. Obviously if you were to go on and win a championship, which has never been done here, he and his staff are going to have something to do with that. I think it would be unfair to say that if he does that, they were going to do it anyway, and if we don't, it's his fault. We obviously haven't done it.

``I think whatever happens, obviously the staff and the coach are going to be held to responsibility, just like I am and all of us are.''

Despite Turner being 24 games under .500 as a head coach, the Chargers think he's the right guy to lead this bunch. The front office mentions continuity, since it was Turner who installed the current system when he was San Diego's offensive coordinator in 2001, Tomlinson's rookie season.

``He like gets it,'' Tomlinson said. ``He's able to play off his players and really motivate them individually.''

The part of Turner's resume that shines to the Chargers players is when he was offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s, working with Hall of Famers Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin and NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith. Turner won two Super Bowl rings before moving on to Washington.

``You know the guys he's been around,'' All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates said. ``It's been a variety of things you can kind of pull from and say, ``Golly, you don't have that kind of background without knowing something.'

``He's been around Troy Aikman, so I would imagine if he coached Troy Aikman, what he's telling Philip? There's some credibility there,'' Gates said. ``He's been around Jay Novacek, he's been around Michael Irvin, so he knows how to get guys open and maximize their abilities.''

Smith and Schottenheimer basically couldn't stand each other. Smith and Turner say they have a good relationship.

Smith also disagrees with outside perceptions of Turner, ``but again, time will tell exactly what will happen. I didn't pay attention to his record. I'm aware of his record in Washington and with the Raiders, but he hasn't coached the Chargers and he hasn't really worked with me.

``We're approaching this long term,'' the GM said. ``I need somebody to get on the same page with me and work with me. It's a huge job and I look forward to attacking this together.''

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