Fri Dec 4 6:39pm ET
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer
In this Sept. 13, 2020, file photo, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh talks to players on the sideline during the team's NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals in Santa Clara, Calif. Saleh inherited one of the worst defenses in the league when he arrived in 2017 and helped turn it into a dominant unit that helped the Niners reach the Super Bowl last season and remain in contention this season despite the string of injuries on both sides of the ball. (AP Photo/Scot Tucker, File)
Edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford were lost for the season by Week 2. The secondary has been a revolving door all season as stalwarts like Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt and K'Waun Williams are among those dealing with injuries.
Through it all, the San Francisco 49ers have still managed to put together one of the league's top defenses thanks in large part to their defensive coordinator, who is making his case to be one of the top head coaching candidates at the end of the season.
''You've got to give Robert Saleh an abundance of credit. You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don't think he's getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general,'' Sherman said. ''To have the injuries that we've had week after week after week, the setbacks week after week. ... He's not making any excuses. He's making great plans week in and week out and we're making it happen. I expect him to be a head coach next year because of what he's able to do. He's able to rally men. He's a leader of men and that goes a long way.''
Saleh inherited one of the worst defenses in the league when he arrived in 2017 and helped turn it into a dominant unit that helped the Niners reach the Super Bowl last season and remain in contention this season despite the string of injuries on both sides of the ball.
San Francisco (5-6) ranks in the top 10 in several key defensive categories, including yards allowed per game, yards allowed per play, passer rating against and overall efficiency by Football Outsiders as he has built on the system he learned as a position coach in Seattle and made it into his own.
''I think he just knows exactly who he is and what he wants his defense to look like in terms of our core values as a defense, playing with effort, technique, violence,'' linebacker Fred Warner said. ''We know exactly what we're going to do. We're not going to do a lot. We're just going to do it fast and as physical as we can. That's what makes him so great. He makes sure there's no gray area in terms of coaching and teaching. There's a lot of coaches out there who just coach. But he's a great teacher.''
That kind of performance, and his leadership skills, made him a candidate for the head coaching job in Cleveland last offseason that went to Kevin Stefanski and should make him a contender for a job once again this offseason.
In a league that has struggled to hire minority coaches, the Lebanese American Saleh figures to be one of the leading minority candidates this offseason.
Saleh's head coaching candidacy is even getting a push from politicians in his home state of Michigan. A bipartisan group of 36 lawmakers led by state Rep. Abdullah Hammoud released an open letter to Detroit Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp suggesting she hire Saleh as the new coach to replace the recently fired Matt Patricia.
The letter called Saleh, who grew up just outside of Detroit in Dearborn, a ''hometown hero.'' Saleh also went to college at Northern Michigan and coached at both Michigan State and Central Michigan.
Saleh said he learned about the letter when he came off the practice field Friday and said his focus is entirely on beating Buffalo on Monday night.
''It's really a nonissue for me,'' he said. ''I don't talk about it. I don't really even see it. I don't have social media. I don't look into the news. It's probably more for family and friends to enjoy and get a kick out of than it is for me. We're completely locked into Buffalo.''
Regardless of whether he notices the talk, other teams are noticing him. With potential job openings already in Detroit, Houston and Atlanta, Saleh figures to be on the interview circuit once again this offseason.
Coach Kyle Shanahan was selfishly pleased when the Browns passed up Saleh last season but knows he won't be able to keep him forever.
''It's a matter of time before he becomes one,'' Shanahan said. ''I keep telling him, don't be mad at me because I know he's going to be one eventually. I hope he stays here as long as possible. He needs to be in no rush. So hopefully people don't figure it out and he stays here for a little bit.''
Free-agent CB Tramon Williams (Ravens) worked out for the Green Bay Packers Wednesday, Jan. 20, and is expected to sign to either the practice squad or the 53-man roster.
Cleveland Browns DT Larry Ogunjobi said he'll assess his options in free agency as it's unknown if he'll return to the Browns. 'When I go into training this offseason, just kind of figure out what fits best for me and then obviously when you get into March, you figure out where the team wants you as, what they see you as and what role they want you to play here or somewhere else,' Ogunjobi said Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Ronald Jones II (quadriceps) and wide receivers Mike Evans (knee) and Chris Godwin (quadriceps) were all limited participants during Wednesday's practice. Jones was able to practice in a limited fashion last week before ultimately suiting up against the Saints, while Evans' and Godwin's reps are being managed as precautions. Jones has a good matchup against Green Bay's front, though he and Leonard Fournette are trending towards a timeshare after head coach Bruce Arians described them as a "1-2 punch." Meanwhile, Evans will likely tango with star corner Jaire Alexander on the outside, as tough a matchup as any. Godwin is due for a rebound performance after dropping a surefire touchdown last week and could see more targets if Evans struggles and Antonio Brown (knee) is banged up.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is wanted on a long-term contract, according to head coach John Harbaugh Wednesday, Jan. 20. 'Absolutely, we want Lamar to sign a long-term deal and be with us,' Harbaugh said. 'I'm totally certain that's going to happen. When it happens, that's the details.'
Fantasy Spin: Harbaugh also said they aren't going to adjust the offense to be more pass-heavy. So long as Jackson is healthy, he'll be a top fantasy QB for the foreseeable future due to his added production on the ground.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (quadriceps) said Wednesday, Jan. 20, he already feels better than last week and he's all good for the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) was listed as a non-participant for Wednesday's practice. Brown sustained the knee injury during the divisional-round win over the Saints, with Tampa Bay officially listing him as day-to-day. The veteran wideout will look to ramp up his activity during Thursday and Friday's sessions to give him a chance at suiting up against Green Bay in the NFC title game. Fellow wideouts Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson- who both made big plays in the victory over New Orleans- would be in line to receive more targets if Brown isn't healthy enough to play.
Philadelphia Eagles DB Nickell Robey-Coleman was removed from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Indianapolis Colts RB Jordan Wilkins was activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Green Bay Packers LB Krys Barnes (thumb), PK Mason Crosby (shoulder), RB AJ Dillon (quadriceps), DL Kingsley Keke (concussion), TE Marcedes Lewis (knee), LB Za'Darius Smith (thumb), WR Equanimeous St. Brown (knee, ankle), OT Ricky Wagner (knee) and RB Jamaal Williams (ankle) were limited at practice Wednesday, Jan. 20. S Will Redmond (knee) practiced in full.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (hip, quadriceps) was limited at practice Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin caught four of seven targets but for just 34 yards against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Divisional Round. The Buccaneers' passing game wasn't needed much as Tampa Bay operated from favorable field position for much of the game. Godwin, Mike Evans and Antonio Brown should all see more work against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. Godwin is likely to see the most targets.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones (finger, calf) was a limited participant at practice Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Fantasy Spin: Jones ran 13 times for 62 yards against the New Orleans Saints last week after being considered questionable for most of the practice week. He should be more involved this week, but the game script isn't likely to be as favorable for the Bucs as it was in the NFC Divisional Round. Jones will be a touchdown-dependent fantasy FLEX option this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Jason Pierre-Paul (knee) didn't participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 20. S Jordan Whitehead (knee) and CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (quadriceps, ankle) were limited. DL Jeremiah Ledbetter (calf) and G Ali Marpet (pectoral) practiced in full.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) didn't participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Fantasy Spin: Brown is expected to be fine in time for Sunday's NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. He'll represent a contrarian pivot from either Mike Evans or Chris Godwin.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (knee) was a limited participant at practice Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Fantasy Spin: Evans didn't practice much last week and was targeted just three times in the NFC Divisional Round game against the New Orleans Saints. His day was saved by a three-yard touchdown catch, but it was his only reception. He should be more involved in the NFC Championship with another week of recovery under his belt.
Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs (oblique) was limited during practice Wednesday, Jan. 20.
Fantasy Spin: Diggs has posted at least 100 yards in five of his last six games and is a must-start fantasy option if he is active for the game.
Buffalo Bills DT Vernon Butler (quadriceps) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Jan. 20. QB Jake Fromm (non-injury) and DT Quinton Jefferson (ankle) were limited during practice. PK Tyler Bass (hand), LB Tremaine Edmunds (hamstring) and DE Darryl X. Johnson (knee) fully participated in practice.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (oblique) remains on the injury report and was a limited practice participant on Wednesday. Diggs has been battling an oblique injury late this season, but it hasn't really slowed him down at all. The NFL's leader in receptions and receiving yards in 2020, the 27-year-old has 14 catches on 20 targets for 234 yards and two touchdowns in the team's two playoff tilts against the Colts and Ravens this year. Diggs was able to haul in six of his eight targets for 46 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting with the Chiefs back in Week 6 in a 26-17 loss. With quarterback Josh Allen having a breakout season under center, Diggs has been one of the most valuable fantasy wideouts this season, and that shouldn't change in the AFC Championship this Sunday.
Updating a previous report, Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (concussion, toe) is now listed as limited during practice Wednesday, Jan. 20. He was initially listed as a full participant Wednesday.
Fantasy Spin: Mahomes is going through the concussion protocol but may be able to do more during practice over the next few days. He is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL when healthy and should be a starting option if he is active.
Buffalo Bills rookie wide receiver Gabriel Davis (ankle) and defensive tackle Vernon Butler (quadriceps) both missed practice on Wednesday. Davis injured his ankle in the Divisional Round win over the Ravens last Saturday night. As of right now, the impressive 21-year-old should be considered questionable to play against the Chiefs in the AFC Championship on Sunday, but keep an eye on his practice status through the rest of the week. He was unable to haul in any of his four targets against Baltimore's defense last week after going for four catches and 85 yards in the wild-card win over Indianapolis the week prior. He's hard to trust for consistent production behind Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley. If Davis can't play this weekend, Isaiah McKenzie could see an expanded role.