OTA notes: 49ers' vertical passing game needs time

OTA notes: 49ers' vertical passing game needs time

SANTA CLARA – Quarterback Brian Hoyer might have confidence in his ability to throw the ball down the field, but during the 49ers’ practice Thursday the vertical game was non-existent.

“The way he throws is different than the way Matt Ryan throws. No better, no worse,” said 49ers passing game specialist Mike LaFleur, who was on Kyle Shanahan’s offensive staff with the Atlanta Falcons the past two seasons. . “It’s just getting used to our receivers. The angles they’re taking. It takes time. It took Matt real time.

“It’s going to take the guys (receivers) going down the field time to get that timing, that rhythm. What angle? How far can he actually throw it. Because I know Hoyer has a lot of confidence in his arm and how far he can throw it. And we have some guys that can run and get down the field.”

On Friday, they held their final session of organized team activities before holding two days of practice next week at the squad's mandatory minicamp. Thursday's practice was open to the local media.

The 49ers quarterbacks completed 21 passes to 14 different receivers during Thursday’s practice. Few of the passes were completed down the field.

Here are some notes from the practice session:

--Rookie slot receiver Trent Taylor and veteran Pierre Garçon caught a team-high three passes apiece. Jeremy Kerley, DeAndre Carter and running back Matt Breida caught two apiece.

--The 49ers’ defense produced seven “sacks” during the practice with undrafted rookie Jimmie Gilbert break through for three sacks. Gilbert is lining up with at strongside linebacker. Tank Carradine, DeForest Buckner, Chris Jones and NaVorro Bowman also had sacks.

“Hopefully, it’s a learning experience and we’re better for it,” 49ers offensive line coach John Benton said. “But (I’m) not happy about it today.”

--Bowman broke up two passes, including a Hoyer pass intended for Carlos Hyde out of the backfield that ended up in linebacker Malcolm Smith’s hands for an interception. Bowman could have come up with a leaping interception in the end zone, but the ball slid through his hands. Bowman also ran stride for stride with tight end Blake Bell on a deep Hoyer incompletion.

--On the first play of an extended red-zone session, Smith was in position to make a big hit on Kerley on a crossing pattern at the 5-yard line.

--Cornerback Dontae Johnson had an interception off a pass that deflected off Garçon’s hands. Johnson and Keith Reaser lined up with the 49ers’ first-team defense while presumptive starting cornerback Rashard Robinson worked on a side field due to a minor injury. Reaser broke up a pass intended for Garçon.

--The 49ers made two transactions, including the official signing of veteran pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil to a two-year contract. The 49ers also signed former New Hampshire offensive lineman Andrew Lauderdale, who originally signed with the New Orleans Saints but was waived two weeks later.

To make room for Dumervil and Lauderdale, the 49ers waived offensive lineman Evan Goodman (Arizona State) and safety Malik Golden (Penn State).

--Hyde got the handoffs on seven of the 49ers’ 19 run plays during 11-on-11 drills.

--Running back Raheem Mostert dropped what would have been a 4-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Matt Barkley. Three plays later, rookie tight end Cole Hikutini had C.J. Beathard’s 4-yard pass slip through his hands in the end zone.

--It was a rough day for the tight ends. Rookie George Kittle had a false start, and Garrett Celek and Vance McDonald dropped passes.

--The 49ers are trying to figure out with Joshua Garnett fits best along the offensive line. Benton said he initially felt as if Garnett was best on the right side, where he played most of last season. But in recent days, Benton said he believes he’s playing both sides equally.

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


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


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.