Garnett focuses on pass-blocking as he eyes first NFL start

Garnett focuses on pass-blocking as he eyes first NFL start

The 49ers determined Joshua Garnett was the best run-blocking guard in this year’s draft.

Now, he is working hard to catch up with his pass protection. That has been the emphasis for Garnett, who figures to see significant playing time – and, perhaps, his first NFL start -- on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

“It’s something I’ve been trying to focus on ever since I got here,” Garnett said. “I feel like I’m making strides, and trying to get better every day, trying to build on things I did before and come out a brand new player each day.

“I think coming out of Stanford, everyone knew I was a big, powerful run-blocker. But I feel the pass pro is something I’m putting a lot of time and effort in.”

The 49ers wanted Garnett, the Outland Trophy winner, so much that they did not want to take the chance of another team getting him. General manager Trent Baalke engineered a deal with Kansas City in which the 49ers traded up nine spots to get back into the first round to grab Garnett with the No. 28 overall pick.

Coach Chip Kelly declined to say this week whether Garnett or Andrew Tiller, who started the first five games at right guard, would be in the starting lineup against the Bills. Kelly said the competition was ongoing.

“He’ll continue to play more and we’ll just kind of see how that goes based on how we are in training,” Kelly said of Garnett. “Hopefully, you’ll see both of those guys depending on how we go from a training standpoint.”

The 49ers would like to see more consistency with their run game. Although Carlos Hyde has gained 377 yards rushing, his average is 4.0 yards per attempt. Backup Shaun Draughn is averaging just 2.1 yards on his 25 rushing attempts, while Mike Davis has 5 yards on five carries.

Garnett played a season-high 18 snaps in the 49ers’ 33-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 6. Garnett was responsible for a sack late in the game that resulted in a safety. He blamed the sack on a “simple technique thing” that offensive line coach Pat Flaherty worked with him to identify and correct.

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.”