49ers rookie cornerback Witherspoon tackles critiques of his style

49ers rookie cornerback Witherspoon tackles critiques of his style

After the 49ers maneuvered in the first round to pick up two of the top three players on their draft board, the club had to wait until the second pick of the third round to make another selection.

The addition of Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, a Sacramento native, was not viewed with the same widespread applause as the 49ers’ first-round picks of Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.

In sizing up Witherspoon, one AFC scout told NBC Sports Bay Area, “He won’t hit anyone.”

That’s a critique Witherspoon heard repeatedly in the run-up to the NFL draft. Even the man who drafted him – a former hard-hitting safety who was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – admits Witherspoon's lack of physical play was a concern.

“It needs to improve,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of Witherspoon. “It’s something that we raised to him and we didn’t hide from it. I said this and showed him the film, ‘That bothers me, help me out here,’ and he was aware that it does need to improve and (he’s) committed to making it improve.”

Witherspoon, who signed the mandatory four-year contract with the 49ers on Friday, is still a football neophyte. He played four sports as a senior at Christian Brothers High. He was a late bloomer in football due mainly to his stature. By the time he played as a freshman at Sacramento City College, he had grown seven inches in 16 months and was rewarded with a scholarship to Colorado.

“It’s something I need to be more consistent with,” Witherspoon said. “Every team I spoke to said they’ve seen it in spots in my game, and just bring it all the time.

"It’s just experience. He (Lynch) pulled up clips of me doing it well and doing it poorly. And he showed me, ‘This is kind of what’s encouraging to me is that it’s not a fear thing. You’re willing to do it.’

“It’s just new experience. I can’t explain it. When you’re out there on the football field, seeing two guards pull, it’s something new that you’re seeing. Instead of diagnosing it, you’re just going and blowing it up. And that’s kind of what he told me he was going to have me come in and do – just keep exposing myself to new situations.”

The 49ers were clearly drawn to Witherspoon’s impressive physical traits. At 6 foot 3, 198 pounds, Witherspoon has drawn comparisons to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 40.5 inches.

He credits his experience as a high-level soccer outside midfielder to develop the kind of footwork needed to play cornerback at a high level; his experience as an outfielder in baseball helps him tracking the ball; and basketball helped him hone short-area quickness and agility.

Drills at the NFL scouting combine are not the only place Witherspoon posts impressive scores. He graduated high school with a 4.4 grade-point average

Witherspoon has nine credits remaining to complete his biology degree from Colorado. He expects to finish his undergraduate degree within the next two offseasons, he said. Witherspoon said he plans to go to medical school whenever his professional football career is over.

“It’s regardless,” Witherspoon said. “Yeah, med school is happening, no doubt, whether it (takes) a year or 12. This is my passion. I’ve always been interested in how things work. . . I want to be a surgeon. I don’t know what area of surgery, but that’s my goal.”

Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season


Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season

Frank Gore is returning home to, in all likelihood, finish his professional football career.

Gore, 34, signed a one-year contract to enter his 14th NFL season with his hometown Miami Dolphins, the team announced Friday.

Gore grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School before playing collegiately at the University of Miami.

He played the first 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers and is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards – just 75 yards behind No. 4 Curtis Martin.

After rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns with the 49ers, the club declined to offer him a multi-year contract following the 2014 season. Gore played the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gore remains one of the most popular players in 49ers history. When asked recently if he would be willing to “retire” as a member of the 49ers after his final game, Gore reacted enthusiastically about the possibility.

1, Emmitt Smith 18,355
2, Walter Payton 16,726
3, Barry Sanders 15,269
4, Curtis Martin 14,101
5, Frank Gore 14,026

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.”