The San Francisco 49ers practiced on the far-field Saturday, which makes it hard to see who is winning in the trenches during team periods. With injuries along the offensive line, the Niners continue to shuffle guys upfront. For the second day in a row, the quarterbacks had plenty of time to throw, which is promising. Let’s start with the quarterback.
I’m going to focus on the starter as both Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard continue to struggle. Mullens threw an awful interception to Ahkello Witherspoon. His decision-making has been poor, and Beathard isn’t any better.
I thought Jimmy Garoppolo had his best practice up until the final team period. You can’t hit the quarterbacks, but Garoppolo is developing some great habits in the pocket that will help him during the season. He’s not running out of clean pockets or flinching under pressure. To me, that’s far more important than what you’re about to read that Jimmy did in practice. If you’ve watched Tom Brady when he has all day to throw, he’s standing straight up in the pocket and looks calm and comfortable. That’s been Jimmy in practice. I think he’s doing an excellent job stepping up in the pocket. I’ve noticed that he’s letting his receivers run underneath the deep ball. That was an issue last year. Throwing to his wideouts this offseason looks to have paid off.
Towards the end of practice, Jimmy showed where he could improve. He needs to work on moving defenders with his eyes still. The offense had a red zone period, and Garoppolo threw it right to Jimmie Ward—who made a nice play and undercut the route—but Ward dropped the pass right in the numbers. There was another throw where Garoppolo threw a fade to George Kittle, who had Emmanuel Moseley covering him, but Jimmy G didn’t keep the ball inbounds. You have to give your guy a shot, especially with that size difference.
Garoppolo threw a would-be pick-six to Richard Sherman for the second day on virtually the same route concept. Sherman covered another route and peeled off on Kittle’s “over” route from the other side of the field. Garoppolo stared Kittle down the whole way, making it an easy read for Sherman. Kyle Shanahan called it a “learning moment” for Jimmy.
The ball was on the ground a lot today, and I don’t fault the quarterbacks for any of those exchanges. If you were hoping for Salvon Ahmed to make the team, he fumbled twice today. That’s a cardinal sin in Shanahan’s eyes.
Jerick McKinnon tends to bounce runs to the outside when he doesn’t have to. On one play, he tried to reverse field when there was room to run on the play-side. McKinnon’s strength is in the passing game, where he continues to be a mismatch. He came open on a wheel route, but Garoppolo left the pass short and inside so McKinnon couldn’t make a play.
Raheem Mostert ran with a lot of power during practice. There was plenty of contact, though there was no tackling to the ground. The “thuds” were loud whenever Mostert met a linebacker. Mostert made a couple of nice runs where he found a crease. There was one play where Mostert leaked out of the backfield, and took a short pass, then outran everyone. Mostert continues to separate himself from the other running backs.
Kendrick Bourne called Trent Taylor a “third-down guru that knows how to get open.” If it’s 3rd & 6 or less, you’re going to have a difficult time staying with Taylor. He’s a chain mover underneath.
Bourne scored on the final play of practice after Sherman was sitting on routes. He ran a nice double move and walked into the end zone. Bourne did have a couple of drops and didn’t hold onto a pass in a contested situation, but he looks better this year. I don’t think Bourne’s quicker or faster, I just think Bourne is evolving as a receiver. The 49ers will need him to.
Brandon Aiyuk was quiet on Friday, but that wasn’t the case on Saturday. Aiyuk was open deep on all three of his routes down the field. He ran by Witherspoon a couple of times and Moseley once. Aiyuk also scored near the goal line after beating Sherman on an underneath route. The offense is throwing a lot at Aiyuk, and he seems to be handling it well. On the deep pass to Moseley, Aiyuk didn’t secure the catch. Credit Moseley, but it’s a play Aiyuk will need to make during the season. On a post route against Witherspoon, Aiyuk would’ve easily scored, but Mullens, for whatever reason, didn’t throw it. The Niners first-round pick can flat out fly.
The highlight of 1-on-1’s came when Aiyuk “mossed” Dontae Johnson on a fade route.
Kittle only had one target, so there wasn’t much action for the tight ends today, especially with Dwelley out. Charlie Woerner received a few snaps with the starters when the team was in 12 personnel. Woerner is an effective blocker.
Before today, Colton McKivitz had struggled mightily. From 1-on-1’s to team drills, McKivitiz was lights out. He rotated in with the first team at right guard due to Ben Garland’s injury and Daniel Brunskill having to slide over at center. McKivitz looked like he belonged.
Daniel Brunskill continued to shine at center and, in my opinion, is the long-term answer there. Brunskill understands blitzes coming at him and has consistently given Garoppolo a clean pocket to step up in.
The line as a whole was much better on Saturday against the run. They’re not road-graders, but there were running lanes, and the backs could cutback. This unit was much better overall.
It was tough to get a good look at the defensive line today. Kevin Givens had a tackle for loss during team periods. He continues to flash, as does Solomon Thomas, who said he’s up to 282 pounds, which is about 15 pounds heavier than he was a year ago.
Thomas threw some slight shade at the team during his press conference, saying playing defensive tackle is where he made his hay in college, and it’s nice to be back to playing inside full-time this year. Thomas acknowledged that he’s had to move around due to injuries. Thomas has incorporated Aaron Donald’s “jump-arm over” move where you literally leave your feet. Thomas won a couple of reps during 1-on-1’s with this move.
There were some quality collisions today, mostly coming from the backups. Mark Nzeocha was in the open-field against JaMyal Hasty. Most players are going to lose this battle, but Nzeocha not only got a square hit but knocked Hasty off balance.
Newly signed Evan Foster isn’t technically a linebacker, but he plays so much in the box that it seems like it. He’s a great athlete and stayed with the running backs during 1-on-1’s. He can lay the wood, too. Foster had a couple of big hits during practice. As you could imagine, Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander quickly ran on the field and celebrated.
It’s not on the field related, but Alexander goes out of his way to bring the energy. He ran across the field to start the practice to get the group of linebackers fired up. He’s continuously livening the mood, and you can see how it rubs off on the defense.
Moseley was back with the starters today. I mentioned how he had a nice finish against Aiyuk after being beaten initially off the line of scrimmage. Moseley still needs to become more consistent, but I still give him a leg up against Jason Verrett so far. He’s more aggressive, and it shows.
Verrett didn’t have a bad day. The only play I saw him give up came on a comeback to Tavon Austin for a first down.
Witherspoon was closer to bad than he was good. Some of the media tweeted about his interception and pass breakup, but both were awful throws. Aiyuk burned Witherspoon as I mentioned, but he gave up two plays back-to-back, one where J.J. Nelson would have easily scored if the pass wasn’t severely under-thrown. What’s nice is that Witherspoon is competing, and he’s not phased when he does make a mistake. During 1-on-1’s, Shawn Poindexter caught a fade over him, but Witherspoon locked down Dante Pettis on the next rep.
One thing that’s clear: If the starters do go down, Marcell Harris and Johnathan Cyprien will be fine, and that’s all you can ask for from your backups.
Tarvarius Moore played in the slot/near the line of scrimmage today but didn’t see any action.
Jaquiski Tartt is still kicking himself for dropping an interception. The ball went right through Poindexter’s hands and into Tartt’s lap, but he couldn’t hold on. I could sense Shanahan’s frustration late in practice as he started to pull out trick plays and double moves. The offense ran “leak” to Kyle Juszczyk—who had a fantastic 1-on-1 session—but Tartt sniffed it out and covered the route. Tartt’s route recognition continues to impress.
Jimmie Ward continues to be excellent in camp. I mentioned his pass break up in the end zone. During 1-on-1’s, there was a rep where Ward didn’t let Pettis off the line. He had another play where he broke up a pass. Ward’s versatility will allow the defense to do a lot this season.