49ers

Ten questions as 49ers open training camp

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AP

Ten questions as 49ers open training camp

The 49ers report to training camp Thursday with 51 of the 90 players on their offseason roster coming to the organization since the arrivals of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan.

So, yes, there are a lot of questions surrounding the 49ers, who finished last season 2-14 and the second-worst team in the league behind the Cleveland Browns.

Here are ten questions from followers on Facebook that seem to be most on the minds of 49ers fans on the eve of reporting day:

1. How much better is the coaching staff compared to last season's coaching staff? (Raymond Robles)
That remains to be seen, but there is little doubt Kyle Shanahan has in place a proven NFL offensive system. General manager Trent Baalke did not give Chip Kelly much talent with which to work last season, but there is plenty of doubt whether Kelly’s scheme can sustain success in the NFL.

Shanahan has installed a traditional NFL offense. The fullback position will be a key component. Long-time running backs coach Bobby Turner has routinely produced exceptional results.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was not Shanahan’s first choice. Shanahan wanted an experienced coach on that side of the ball, but could not land Gus Bradley or Vic Fangio. Saleh got high marks from players after the offseason program, but the true indication will be the results of the 49ers’ defense during the regular season.

2. Hoyer is the presumptive starter, but what chance do you think Beathard beats out Barkley for the backup spot? (James Bramow)
There has never been a question since the moment the 49ers signed Brian Hoyer that he steps in as the starting quarterback. After the 49ers could not land Matt Schaub, the 49ers lined up Matt Barkely as the backup.

Hoyer and Barkley open camp as the solid Nos. 1 and 2 on the roster. C.J. Beathard, whom the 49ers selected late in the third round, will likely remain as the No. 3. The plan is to bring him along slowly, so it seems unlikely he has much of a chance to move up the depth chart unless an injury forces some shuffling.

3. What's the future looking like for Carlos Hyde with San Francisco 49ers? (Steven James)
Hyde is the best running back on the 49ers’ roster. The only question is whether he is the best running back for the 49ers’ new scheme. Hyde enters the final year of his contract. The 49ers made the moves in the offseason to build more depth and line up his replacement for the 2018 season. Shanahan and Turner really wanted Joe Williams, and they convinced Lynch to draft him in the fourth round. The future of Hyde with the 49ers depends on how he performs once the pads go on. His physical style of play is what distinguishes him from the others.

4. Will Carlos Hyde and Vance McDonald open camp as the starters? (Joe Ruckus Marsh)
Hyde will certainly open camp as the starter. I’d assume McDonald will enter the first huddle of training camp with the No. 1 offense, too. But there is no question McDonald will face stiff challenges to maintain his role on the team.

5. Is George Kittle the real deal? (Israel Vasquez)
We will see when things start getting serious. But the first indication from Kittle during the offseason program is that he has a chance to be a significant contributor as a rookie. He was very active in the passing game, especially as a red-zone target. He also has good speed, which he showed to get down the field and make some plays. If his blocking holds up, he could easily win a starting job.

6. Who are gonna be the starting WRs? (John Tinsley)
Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin appear to be clear favorites to win the starting jobs on the outside. The 49ers have three solid starting options at slot receiver, led by veteran Jeremy Kerley, whom the new regime re-signed after he led the club in receptions and receiving yards last season. Draft pick Trent Taylor had a strong camp. Bruce Ellington is talented but he has been unable to remain healthy enough to show anything.

7. Who do you think has the inside track to start at center: Zuttah or Kilgore? (D.j. Byrd)
Jeremy Zuttah made the Pro Bowl last season with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has played well – when healthy – since taking over as the starter in 2014. Zuttah might actually be competing for two spots. There’s a decent chance that Kilgore assumes the starting role at center and Zuttah is moved to one of the guard spots. This way, they’re both winners.

8. The new 4-3 front seven with all the new faces, how's the rotation going to look like? (Eric Page)
The favorites to win the starting jobs along the line are big end Solomon Thomas, nose tackle Earl Mitchell, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and “Leo” Arik Armstead. Quinton Dial faces a stiff challenge to learn the new scheme, as he must develop the movement skills to play a one-gap scheme. Elvis Dumervil and Aaron Lynch will compete to work their way into pass-rush specialist roles. Chris Jones enters camp in good position to serve behind Buckner in a backup role. Tank Carradine and Ronald Blair will compete for spot duty behind Thomas.

9. Who will start along side NaVorro Bowman? (Daniel Velazquez)
The 49ers signed Malcolm Smith because of his knowledge and production within the new defensive system. Smith looked good in the offseason program. But the 49ers also fell in love with Reuben Foster and traded up to get him at the back of the first round.

When the 49ers last saw Foster, they expected him to be medically cleared for the opening of training camp. (Foster underwent offseason shoulder surgery that was widely reported as a condition that scared off some NFL teams.)

There is no rush to get Foster onto the field. But he is such a talent that it will be difficult to keep him on the sideline. My guess is that Smith opens as the starter and they add more and more to Foster’s plate until he is deemed ready for an every-down role. His understanding and execution of the defense will determine when he takes over on a full-time basis.

10. How much of a learning curve will there be for the defense going from a 3-4 to a 4-3? (David Hartless)
The 49ers plan to play a much more aggressive style of defense. The defensive linemen will be responsible for one gap, and they will be asked to charge up the field to disrupt plays in the backfield.

That sounds great, but it also leaves the defense susceptible to more big plays. Strong safety Eric Reid, stationed closer to the line of scrimmage, will have a key role in the run game. Free safety Jimmie Ward will be asked to make plays in the passing game.

Saleh’s defense, however, will be simple. Because of the limited number of calls, the defense should be more comfortable doing fewer things. The 49ers will likely have fewer blown assignments and gives them a chance to make a significant improvement over last season, when the club was the worst defense in the NFL.

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.