The regular season inches closer and closer for the San Francisco 49ers. Will we see a full season from Dee Ford? Can the defense rely on him?
Who’s on the hot seat? DE Dee Ford
Why his seat is warm: Knee issues limited Ford to 11 games and he averaged just 19.4 snaps per game in 2019. Ford had “extensive” cleanup surgery on his left knee in the offseason in hopes of playing a larger role in 2020. Considering that Ford is in the second year of a five-year, $85 million deal with a $17.6 million cap number in 2021, his future with the team will depend on whether he can produce at a level commensurate with his contract. With key players such as tackle Trent Williams and cornerback Richard Sherman set to be free agents and next year’s cap expected to dip, the Niners could part with Ford’s contract if he is unable to stay healthy and produce. — Nick Wagoner
Reed showed his route-running skills during a one-on-one drill with Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the passes.
Reed made a nifty catch against tight coverage from 49ers safety Tarvarius Moore. Then, he caught another pass on a quick slant against Moore. Then, starter Jaquiski Tartt took over against Reed, and Reed ran smooth and sudden routes to create separation for two more receptions.
“We wanted to ease him back in today, give him a couple routes in one-on-one, give him a couple plays in team (drills) – not too much.” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “When you’re not out for a while, you got to go out and get your first practice in, take that monkey off your back.
“Hopefully, he accomplished that today from his standpoint, mentally. But physically, I thought he looked real good.”
The answer is an emphatic no, Shanahan said Tuesday.
“I’m real happy with our safeties,” Shanahan said. “Nothing against Earl, but there wasn’t interest just because we have our team. We have the guys we want in our spot and I think this is how we planned it. We have some good competition, too, with the guys who are behind them. We’re excited about our group.
While running backs Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman figure to get the majority of the carries, it’s not hard to envision McKinnon serving as a third-down specialist capable of lining up all over the formation and taking advantage of favorable matchups against bigger, slower defenders.
It’s something the Niners haven’t done much of in three years under Shanahan even though they’ve had some success when throwing to backs. While 49ers running backs averaged a league-leading 9.78 yards per reception in 2019, they were tied for 19th in the league in catches with 77 and were ninth in receiving yards (753).
Since Carlos Hyde had 59 catches for 350 yards in 2017, the Niners have not had a tailback finish a season with more than 27 receptions or 261 receiving yards. What’s more, fullback Kyle Juszczyk has accounted for 30.4% of receptions and 37% of receiving yards among running backs on the 49ers over the past three years.
Which means McKinnon could carve out a substantial role.
“I’ve definitely had a lot of battles with Fred, both pass game and run game,” Kittle said via Zoom on Tuesday. “Fred’s the heartbeat of that defense. He’s the quarterback of them. It’s been really fun. He has gotten a lot better.”
Kittle remembers then-rookie Warner getting “cooked” on a route he ran during OTAs in 2018. That doesn’t happen anymore.
“Now, he’s definitely guarding those routes,” Kittle explained. “He’s reacting to all those plays. You can really tell how far he’s come.
“He’s an incredible linebacker. He was, in my opinion, a Pro Bowl linebacker last year, and I think he’s going to be better this year.
“Just being able to play against him every day makes me a better tight end. It’s just really fun to have someone like that on your team.”