49ers' defense responds after big plays by Shanahan's offense in minicamp

49ers' defense responds after big plays by Shanahan's offense in minicamp

SANTA CLARA – Before the 49ers hit the practice field on Tuesday, safety Eric Reid talked about how offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan is always trying to set up the defense to surrender a big play.

The use of the run game to lay the groundwork for a big play through the air became apparent Tuesday during the first day of the team’s mandatory minicamp.

After run plays for Carlos Hyde and Tim Hightower, 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer used a play fake to and coax a blown assignment in the secondary, allowing rookie tight end George Kittle to break free for a 60-yard touchdown.

A short time later, Hoyer struck down the field again, this time with a pass that traveled 45 yards in the air for speedster Marquise Goodwin, who beat the coverage of cornerback Keith Reaser and safety Jimmie Ward for a touchdown.

“When you're moving the ball and scoring points, and hitting stuff in rhythm people can feel it,” said Shanahan, the team's head coach who calls in the plays to the quarterback. “It's usually contagious and it gets going. Then usually you go in and human nature, you feel good about yourself and the other team doesn't and they come out and kick your (butt) the next day.”

The 49ers’ offense did not have to wait that long to come back down to earth. That came during a red zone sequence a short time later.

The offense managed to get into the end zone just once in 10 plays, and that came from the fourth unit. Undrafted rookie quarterback Nick Mullens’ touchdown pass to undrafted tight end Cole Hikutini against the coverage against cornerback Zach Franklin.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman collected an interception of a Hoyer pass while in coverage against Kittle in the end zone. Linebacker Malcolm Smith batted down a pass. DeForest Buckner had an interception, Aaron Lynch got a would-be sack on a C.J. Beathard pass that safety Vinnie Sunseri intercepted. Dekoda Watson had an interception, and Tank Carradine batted down a pass.

Here are other notes from the practice:

--Mike Shanahan, the Super Bowl-winning coach and father of Kyle, watched the practice session from the sideline.

--Veteran Elvis Dumervil, who agreed to a two-year contract last week, reported to the team but was held out of practice.

“I just want Elvis to come in here, learn the schemes, and really get a chance to meet everyone,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I did want to get him signed fast to get him in here, but we didn’t think getting him involved in the work and everything was important at least for now.”

--Eli Harold got first-team snaps at the Sam linebacker with Ahmad Brooks being held out of practice due to an undisclosed condition.

--Rashard Robinson did not practice. Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser worked at the cornerback positions with the first team. Johnson broke up a pass intended for Pierre Garçon.

--Lynch had a strong day, including his second sack of the day while working with the second-team against right tackle Garry Gilliam.

--Backup quarterback Matt Barkley hit tight end Garrett Celek on a 25-yard seam route.

--Tank Carradine had a couple of quarterback pressures, along with Arik Armstead. Practice concluded with rookies Pita Taumoepenu and Jimmie Gilbert combining for pressure/sack on Beathard.

--Jeremy Zuttah, who earned a Pro Bowl trip with the Baltimore Ravens last season at center, saw action at right guard with the second-team defense. Zuttah missed a large portion of organized team activities with a hamstring strain.

--The 49ers announced the signing of quarterback C.J. Beathard to the mandatory four-year contract for a draft pick. Beathard was selected in the third round. Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, whom the 49ers selected No. 3 overall, is the only remaining unsigned 49ers draft pick.

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.