49ers

Kilgore's strong play prompts 49ers to release Zuttah

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USATSI

Kilgore's strong play prompts 49ers to release Zuttah

SANTA CLARA – Daniel Kilgore did not exactly welcome the competition when he learned 49ers acquired Pro Bowl center Jeremy Zuttah in the offseason.

But now that Zuttah is out of the picture with Kilgore clearly winning the competition for a starting job, it is easy for him to realize the threat brought out the best in him.

“This is my fourth head coach in four years and a new GM,” Kilgore said. “It’s human nature to think the worst in every situation. I bowed my chest a little bit and kind of got upset and mad. But at the same time, you got to respect the competition.

“They brought in a heck of a guy to compete with. For me, it just took my game up to another level. It took my workouts and my whole demeanor in the offseason to another level, just knowing my job was on the line.”

Zuttah underperformed in the team’s first 10 practices while Kilgore quickly established himself as the best fit for the 49ers' new offensive scheme. The 49ers’ biggest weakness might be at the offensive guard positions, and the team determined Zuttah would not help there, either.

“I think it says a lot about how Kilgore has been playing,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s done a real good job in practice with that center spot. Really kind of grasping that with the ones. Then just going through our whole plan for the preseason, how we’re going to play these guys and the guys we really needed to look at. It just looked to us that we weren’t going to give Zuttah a lot of playing time throughout the preseason.

“He’s a guy I have a lot of respect for. He’s done a lot of good things in this league. I told him this morning, I had a hard time doing that to him. We wanted to give him a chance to go somewhere else instead of keeping him here and making him go through that.”

Kilgore has wrapped up a starting job. Now, the 49ers are sifting through their options. Left guard Zane Beadles and right guard Brandon Fusco are working with the first team. Kilgore is getting some work at guard, as the 49ers try to determine whether their strongest unit could consist of Kilgore at one of those spots with veteran Tim Barnes at center.

“Just trying to go through all possibilities,” Shanahan said.

Guard Joshua Garnett got off to a solid start in training camp before slowing down in Week 2. He is scheduled to undergo a cartilage cleanup procedure on Thursday that is expected to keep him out four to six weeks.

“I know I’m hoping that he has a chance for Week 1, but I know that’s going to be a battle,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers open the regular season Sept. 10 against the Carolina Panthers.

QUICK SLANTS
--The 49ers went through their first non-padded practice since Day 2 of training camp. The coaching staff introduced some of Kansas City’s scheme, and the tempo was not as high intensity as Shanahan wanted to see.

“So, that was our first time doing that as a group and I just didn’t like the tempo of it,” Shanahan said. “I kind of expected it,”

--Rookie tight end George Kittle’s hamstring tightened up during practice on Tuesday. He was held out of practice on Wednesday. He is not expected to play Friday at Kansas City when the 49ers open their exhibition season.

--Linebacker Reuben Foster was back working with the first-team defense. But he aggravated a left ankle condition and sat out the remainder of practice.

--Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard had a strong practice, including a perfectly thrown 50-yard pass to a wide-open Victor Bolden, which he dropped. Beathard is in competition against Matt Barkley for the No. 2 job behind Brian Hoyer. Barkley will be the second quarterback to play against Kansas City.

--Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon made his best play of camp, as he ran stride-for-stride deep down the field with receiver DeAndre Smelter to intercept Barkley’s pass.

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.