Niners Focusing on Improving in the Red Zone

Even in OTAs this week, 49ers are exploring ways to score more touchdowns when getting inside opponents' 20-yard line in 2014

The 49ers have some of the best and most exciting offensive players in football.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick can be scintillating. Tight end Vernon Davis may be the NFL’s best tight end. The offensive line is filled with Pro Bowlers. And wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are proven 1,000-yard receivers.

Yet time and again over the past three seasons, the Niners have fallen short in the red zone. Once they get inside an opponent’s 20-yard line, the chances of San Francisco scoring a touchdown have hovered just about 50 percent.

In 2013 and 2012, the 49ers ranked only 15th in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, converting for TDs on 53 and 54.6 percent of their chances. In 2011 the 49ers ranked 30th in the league, at just 40.6 percent.

Meanwhile, teams such as the Broncos and Bengals were scoring TDs at a rate of more than 70 percent.

So, already this offseason, the 49ers are putting in work to be better in the red zone in 2014.

In organized team activities (OTAs) this week, the offense has been running red-zone drills, reports Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. And Kaepernick in particular this week has been looking for Brandon Lloyd, the longtime veteran who signed with the team as a free agent this offseason.

Of Lloyd’s 37 career TDs, 19 have come from within the red zone.

Lloyd , 32, and veteran Stevie Johnson, acquired from the Bills, should give Kaepernick many more options close to the end zone, especially if the defense focuses on stopping Crabtree, Boldin and Davis.

“I think that’s something that we know we’ve struggled with here, the red zone,” Kaepernick told Barrows after one practice this week. “And that’s something we’re constantly trying to improve. And (Lloyd’s) had success down there. So if there’s something we can pick up from him, how he runs routes, how he sets things up, that’s something we want to take and try to make it ours.”

Head coach Jim Harbaugh told Bay Area reporters this week that the additions to the wide receiver group have made Kaepernick feel that for the first time “he has a stable of receivers now.”

And Kaepernick says working with the two veterans since they joined the team earlier this spring has been seamless.

“They’re like Anquan, like Crab, in that they have easy body language to read – when they’re coming out of their breaks – and they do things so smoothly that it makes it a lot easier on the quarterback,” Kaepernick said.

The last two 49ers seasons have ended with Kaepernick unsuccessfully trying to connect with Crabtree in the end zone from inside the 20, first in the Super Bowl and then last year’s NFC Championship Game.

“I think a lot of times, it’s just a miscue here, a miscue there,” Kaepernick told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think if we can clean those things up, we’ll be a lot more efficient this year.”

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