49ers

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 23-3 Week 1 loss vs Panthers

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 23-3 Week 1 loss vs Panthers

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 23-3 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the opening week of the regular season on Sunday at Levi's Stadium:

1. The kid is all right
Things did not look good when 49ers rookie linebacker Reuben Foster went down in obvious pain with a right leg injury during the first quarter.

Foster is a dynamic player. He might already be the best player on the team. And the 49ers' defense got off to a good start with Foster flashing his sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability.

Foster’s injury was reason for massive concern, as it prompted the 49ers’ medical staff to bring a cart onto the field to take him back to the locker room for further observation. Thankfully for the 49ers, X-rays were negative. Although Foster was finished for the day, he still walked back to the sideline and stood to watch the remainder of the game.

The early indications are that Foster’s injury could keep him out a week or two, but a long-term injury was avoided. Foster promised, "I'll be back soon. Very, very, very soon."

2. Help is on the way
The 49ers knew they needed help at the guard positions. On the day of the 49ers’ final exhibition game, general manager John Lynch completed a trade to acquire former first-round draft pick Laken Tomlinson from the Detroit Lions.

Left guard Zane Beadles has really struggled, beginning in training camp. On Sunday, he surrendered a sack-fumble against Panthers defensive lineman Wes Horton in the first half that led to Carolina's first touchdown. Let’s not put too much blame on Beadles, but it certainly looks as if it’s only a matter of time before Tomlinson replaces him.

Running back Carlos Hyde did OK with 45 yards on nine carries, but they fell behind by so much that they had to abandon the run game in the second half. The 49ers gave up four sacks and at least eight quarterback hits. And of all the places where the 49ers had issues on Sunday, the spot where they might have a more talented player currently behind a starter is at left guard.

3. It’s going to take time
Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system is proven, but it also might be too complex to expect this collection of players to get it mastered so early in his tenure. The 49ers had pre-snap penalties, issues with the play clock and more than a few physical errors, too.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer was largely accurate, completing 24 of 35 pass attempts (68.6 percent). Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin should have caught Hoyer’s first deep ball, which almost assuredly would have led to the 49ers taking a first-quarter lead. Other times, Hoyer seemed to hold the ball too long when passes should have come out sooner.

Hoyer’s third-quarter interception -- a play that basically eliminated the possibility of a 49ers comeback -- was a matter of a demanding play call coupled with Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly doing an outstanding job of baiting the quarterback. Hoyer turned his back entirely to the defense to sell a play fake. Kuechly had diagnosed exactly what was happening and got into position for the pick while Hoyer was not looking down the field. Kuechly stepped in front of 49ers tight end George Kittle for the interception.

Let's make one thing clear about the 49ers' quarterback situation: There is a significant gap between Hoyer and rookie backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, so there’s no reason to even be thinking along those lines at this point.

Inactives: 49ers LB Reuben Foster to play vs Cowboys

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Inactives: 49ers LB Reuben Foster to play vs Cowboys

After missing the last five games with a high right ankle sprain, rookie linebacker Reuben Foster is active for Sunday's game against the Cowboys.

Foster was injured just 11 plays into the season opener against the Panthers.

The 49ers have deemed these seven players inactive for the Week 7 showdown against Dallas:

WR Victor Bolden, DB Dexter McCoil, FB Kyle Juszczyk, LB Mark Nzeocha, LB Pita Taumoepena, DL Aaron Lynch and OL Erik Magnuson.

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

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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).