The real reason the 49ers parted ways with KD Cannon

The real reason the 49ers parted ways with KD Cannon

One of the more notable undrafted rookies the 49ers landed this year did not even last one week on the team's 90-man roster.

At the conclusion of the rookie minicamp, the 49ers unceremoniously parted ways with Baylor wide receiver KD Cannon. The 49ers filled his roster spot with the signing of unheralded Georgia Southern wide receiver B.J. Johnson, who was invited to attend the minicamp on a tryout basis. The New York Jets claimed Cannon off waivers.

While there were questions about the urgency with which Cannon performed during the practices, 49ers wide receivers coach Mike LaFleur said the Johnson-for-Cannon swap had more to do with the team being impressed with Johnson.

“Nothing happened with KD Cannon,” LaFleur said. “It had nothing do with KD. It was more of a testament to what B.J. showed.”

Cannon ranks No. 3 all-time in Baylor receptions (195), receiving yards (3,113) and touchdowns (27). But he was not one of the 32 wide receivers selected in the draft. The 49ers invested a fifth round draft pick in Louisiana Tech slot receiver Trent Taylor.

Cannon was waived after the 49ers’ rookie minicamp last month, while the 49ers kept undrafted rookie wide receivers Victor Bolden (Oregon State) and Kendrick Bourne (Eastern Washington).

Johnson’s best college season came as a senior when he caught 42 passes for 600 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson is 6 foot 1, 210 pounds, while Cannon is listed at 5-11, 182.

LaFleur said the 49ers liked the toughness he showed while fulfilling his blocking responsibilities in Georgia Southern’s run-based offense.

“When we brought him here, seeing that size, seeing his hands, we thought, ‘This is a guy we definitely want to work with,’” said LaFleur, who noted that Johnson has been spending time with veteran Pierre Garçon. “He’s done a really good job. He really loves it.”

Johnson concluded practice on Thursday with a sprawling intermediate reception in the middle of the field on a pass from fellow rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard. When Johnson realized nobody had touched him while he was on the ground, he got to his feet and finished off the 67-yard touchdown with linebacker Donavin Newsom and safety Malik Golden in pursuit. (The 49ers waived Golden on Friday.)

LaFleur said a premium is placed on how well a player separates and how he performs on plays in which the ball is not thrown his way. The 49ers' coaching staff is always watching, he said.

“There’s one ball out there every single time we snap the ball, but we’re watching every single thing you do,” LaFleur said. “We’re watching if you’re, first of all, on your details. Second, we’re watching if you don’t get the ball. Are you separating? When you don’t get the ball and someone else gets it, are you transitioning to go block for that guy?”

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.