49ers hit hard by first-half injuries vs Falcons


49ers hit hard by first-half injuries vs Falcons

ATLANTA – The 49ers were beaten badly in the first half while four of their players exited the game with injuries.

Wide receiver Quinton Patton sustained a foot injury in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons and was immediately ruled out from returning. Jimmie Ward (shoulder), linebacker Nick Bellore (elbow) and tight end Blake Bell (shoulder) also left the game with first-half injuries.

Patton and Bellore were ruled out, while the 49ers announced the returns of Ward and Bell as “questionable.” Bell sustained a right shoulder injury on a 45-yard reception in the second quarter. Ward was taken off the 49ers’ sideline and back to the locker room on a cart.

The Falcons scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions for a 28-13 lead at halftime.

The only time the 49ers stopped the Falcons came at the goal line when linebacker Michael Wilhoite stripped running back Devonta Freeman of the ball just before he got into the end zone.

With Patton out of the lineup, the 49ers were without their starting outside receivers. Torrey Smith did not make the trip to face the Atlanta Falcons due to a concussion he sustained a week earlier against the New York Jets.

The 49ers’ biggest weakness was at inside linebacker after Bellore was injured on the team’s third defensive play.
Linebacker Gerald Hodges, who started the previous eight games, was deactivated for violating team rules, the 49ers announced before the game. His deactivation left the 49ers with just two inside linebackers in uniform to open the game.

Vinnie Sunseri replaced Bellore for the remainder of the first drive, which ended with Freeman’s 5-yard touchdown run. On the next series, veteran safety Antoine Bethea took over at inside linebacker. Then, it was Ahmad Brooks’ turn.


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”

49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks


49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks

The 49ers hosted two veteran cornerbacks on free-agent visits the past two days and could be signing either Jaylen Watkins or LaDarius Gunter as they wind down their activity on the free-agent market.

“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “I’ll never say never. We’ve had a couple of guys visit in the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ll do something there. But for the most part, we’re wrapped up and pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

The 49ers do not have much depth behind presumptive starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. The team is also likely to add to its depth in the draft.

The 49ers met with Gunter (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) on Thursday. Gunter, 25, started 15 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He recorded 54 tackles and broke up 12 passes. He signed with the Packers in 2015 as an undrafted rookie from Miami.

Gunter was waived at the beginning of last season and the Carolina Panthers claimed him. He appeared in just four games with Carolina, which did not tender him as a restricted free agent.

The 49ers on Wednesday met with Watkins, 26, a versatile defensive back who appeared in 36 games with five starts in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watkins (5-11, 195) played three snaps on defense and 17 plays on special teams in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. He entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round draft pick from Florida.