49ers

49ers rookie Ahkello Witherspoon's football passion burns at an all-time high

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USATSI

49ers rookie Ahkello Witherspoon's football passion burns at an all-time high

SANTA CLARA – Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was an ecology and evolutionary biology major at Colorado who has plans to become a surgeon after his NFL career concludes.

That revelation alone might have scared off some teams after growing concerns over long-term injuries associated with playing the sport and a spate of early NFL retirements in recent years.

But midway through his rookie season, Witherspoon said during a wide-ranging interview on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” that his passion and determination to have a successful career have only increased since entering the NFL draft.

“I’m even more excited to build a career in this league,” said Witherspoon, 22, a third-round pick of the 49ers. “I thought I knew what it was and I was excited coming in. But then getting a taste of it and being in it, it’s even more inspiring and it makes me want to work even harder.

“In terms of the violence and what could go wrong, I just live with faith in God and fear is second. If something happens, it was meant to happen. I could die walking out of this building right now. That’s kind of the mindset I have. You can control what you can control. It’s as simple as that, and that’s the approach I take.”

Witherspoon’s regular season got off to a rocky start. After being inactive for the 49ers’ first four games of the season behind starting cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson, Witherspoon made his NFL debut Oct. 8 against the Indianapolis Colts.

He played six snaps before exiting the game and being diagnosed with a concussion. Witherspoon, who first played football as a senior at Christian Brothers High in Sacramento, had two concussions in his past, he said.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “If it happens, it’s unfortunate. You just want to come back healthy and keep playing.”

Witherspoon has taken over a starting job in the 49ers’ defense. His emergence also enabled the 49ers to trade inconsistent Robinson to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick.

Witherspoon is learning how to apply his intelligence to optimize his success on the football field. Smarts can only carry him so far, and then he has to learn how and when to clear his mind and just play the game.

“I feel like I’ve found that balance where pre-snap, you want to see things, analyze, understand what could come and what could happen,” Witherspoon said. “But once that ball is snapped, you just got to react and respond to what the receiver is doing. And that’s one thing I’ve definitely improved upon.”

49ers claim former Jaguars defensive lineman off waivers

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USATSI

49ers claim former Jaguars defensive lineman off waivers

The San Francisco 49ers' defensive line will have a new member coming off of the bye week.

The 49ers claimed defensive lineman Sheldon Day of waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday. The Jaguars waived Day on Saturday in order to make room for the return of rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook off of injured reserve. 

Day, a 2016 fourth round pick, posted 11 tackles and two tackles in 22 games over the last two seasons with Jacksonville. He played fewer than 30 snaps in all seven games with the Jaguars this season. 

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead, defensive tackle Tank Carradine, and defensive tackle Chris Jones are all on injured reserve, while defensive lineman Aaron Lynch missed the 49ers' last game in Week 10.

San Francisco ranks 22nd in the league in sacks, 23rd in pass defense, and 31st in rush defense. 

LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

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LeBron James: Colin Kaepernick ‘had a vision like Martin Luther King’

LeBron James is an avid football fan. He's now an even bigger Colin Kaepernick fan than the sport. Following the Cavaliers' practice on Sunday, James opened up on Kaepernick and his absence from the NFL. 

"I've commended Kap, and for him to sacrifice everything for the greater good for everyone, for what he truly believed in, the utmost respect to him," James said to ESPN. "Obviously he had a vision like Martin Luther King and like some of our all-time greats that people couldn't see further than what they were doing at the point and time. And Muhammad Ali and things of that nature."

James believes the masses don't truly understand what Kaepernick was doing when he first took a knee as a protest against social and racial injustices in America. For his actions, James respects Kaepernick choosing his beliefs over his sport.

"When it's something that's new and it's something that people are not educated about or don't understand what your beliefs are all about, people are so quick to judge and people are so quick to say that what you're doing is wrong," James said. "For him to sacrifice the sport that he plays and to sacrifice the things he's done his whole life because he knew what he believed in, I salute him. I salute and respect that."

Add James to the list of those who believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee last season. The more games he watches, the more James sees the evidence on the wall. 

"I don't represent the NFL. I don't know their rules and regulations. But I do know Kap is getting a wrong doing, I do know that," James believes. "Just watching, he's an NFL player. He's an NFL player and you see all these other quarterbacks out there and players out there that get all these second and third chances that are nowhere near as talented as him. It just feels like he's been blackballed out of the NFL. So, I definitely do not respect that."

Kaepernick, who recently turned 30 years old, appeared in 12 games for the 49ers in the 2016-17 season. Through the air he completed 59.2 percent of his passes and ended the year with 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Kaepernick also added 468 yards and two more scores on the ground. 

"The only reason I could say he's not on a team is because the way he took a knee," James said. "That's the only reason. I watch football every Sunday, every Thursday, every Monday night. I see all these quarterbacks -- first-string, second-team, third-team quarterbacks -- that play sometimes when the starter gets hurt or are starters that play. Kap is better than a lot of those guys. Let's just be honest."

For his career, Kaepernick has thrown for 12,271 yards and 72 touchdowns to 30 interceptions. With his speed as a dual-threat quarterback, Kaepernick has also gained 2,300 yards rushing and 13 more touchdowns.