49ers

Losses are helping Kyle Shanahan figure out who he wants to keep around

Losses are helping Kyle Shanahan figure out who he wants to keep around

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers are in their first phase of rebuilding, as the team’s 53-man roster currently consists of 33 new faces.

Coach Kyle Shanahan likes the approach the organization has taken in building a team that won just two games last season, which led to the firings of coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke. And there is a positive, he said, from the team's 0-5 start.

“I knew we had to really improve it before I came, playing against us last year and just studying it on tape,” Shanahan said. “So I knew we were going to have to add some resources. What made this such an enticing spot is we had the ability to do that from a salary cap standpoint and draft picks, so it was exciting.”

The 49ers currently have $62.9 million in salary cap space. The 49ers will carry over all the unspent money to the 2018 salary cap.

General manager John Lynch and Shanahan did not pursue a potential trade for a franchise quarterback, nor did they opt to select a quarterback early in the draft. The options should be better after this season, whether they pursue a veteran such as Kirk Cousins or Jimmy Garoppolo in the offseason or one of the top quarterbacks in the draft.

The organization opted to not pursue quick-fixes at any position, as they hope to build a roster with a young, ascending nucleus of players.

“You always want to win right now, but you don’t want to do it at the expense of hurting yourself over time,” Shanahan said. “It is a long season. What’s the best for you throughout 16 games and what’s the best that when you’re done with 16 games that’s going to make you better for the next year? You try to take everything into account.”

The 49ers have lost their past four games by a combined 11 points. As the 49ers look to the future, Shanahan said all this losing also reveals the kind of character on the team’s roster.

“A lot of people can fool you when you’re 5-0. Everybody’s happy, everybody’s perfect. It’s very easy to do everything,” Shanahan said. “When you’re 0-5, a lot of true colors come out with people and you get to find out the guys you want to go to war with and the guys who are going to be a part of turning this thing around.”

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.