49ers

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.”

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

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USATSI/AP

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. 

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

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AP

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.