49ers

Hyde's opportunity to prove he deserves role in 49ers' rebuilding

Hyde's opportunity to prove he deserves role in 49ers' rebuilding

SANTA CLARA -- Running back Carlos Hyde enters the final year of his contract, and the 49ers have created flexibility in their plan for future seasons.

Hyde has a chance to convince the organization’s decision-makers he’s worthy of a role in the long-term rebuilding project with a contract extension after this season.

Hyde, 26, is coming off his best season since arriving on the scene as a second-round draft pick in 2014. He replaced Frank Gore as the starter to open the 2015 season. Hyde rushed for 988 yards and six touchdowns with a 4.6-yard average in 13 games last season.

Now, he must prove himself to a new coaching staff, including his fourth head coach in four seasons. Hyde is working with the 49ers' first-team offense during the offseason program. Six running backs split 19 rushing attempts during a practice last week, and Hyde carried the ball seven times.

“He’s doing an outstanding job,” 49ers running backs coach Bobby Turner said of Hyde. “But, again, I’m not surprised. You don’t always get what you expect, so I’m constantly inspecting my players consistently. But he’s eager. He’s eager to learn, and at this point in time he’s doing a good job.”

The 49ers appeared to enact their succession plan at running back during the draft. Turner and coach Kyle Shanahan were proponents of selecting Utah running back Joe Williams in the fourth round. General manager John Lynch, who had removed Williams from the team’s draft board, reconsidered his feelings on Williams and traded up to select him with the No. 121 overall pick.

“You have to know what you’re looking for,” Turner said. “You coach all the players up, and then it’s up to them. And, truthfully, I know when to get out of the way.

“There are a lot of people that’s involved in coaching the running backs, because everybody thinks they can coach the running backs. And so my ability is -- and the reason I’ve been doing this a long time -- is knowing when to get out of the way. I’m going to coach, coach, coach, coach, but get out of the way and let the players play, and let them run free.”

Williams showed all of the traits that convinced Turner and Shanahan he was a good fit for the team’s zone run scheme. The night before the fourth round of the draft, Shanahan told Peter King of the MMQB how much he wanted Williams.

“I’m telling you right now: If we don’t get him, I’ll be sick,” Shanahan said. “I will be contemplating Joe Williams all night.”

Turner has not seen anything during the 49ers’ offseason program that leads him away from his belief that Williams could thrive in the team’s system.

“He has the tools, the qualities of other players that’s worked well in the system,” Turner said. “But, again, there’s the toughness, and I’m not going to pinpoint everything, but he’s hungry, he has the physical tools, he has that speed, that foot quickness, and when it comes down to it, the mental toughness.”

“You pick up things, tone of voice and all those things. So, yeah, we all have adversities, and things like that. But I love what I saw in Joe.”

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

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USATSI

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

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AP

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.