49ers

49ers camp report: Aaron Burbridge making his mark among receivers

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USATSI

49ers camp report: Aaron Burbridge making his mark among receivers

SANTA CLARA – Only 13 players remain among the players coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch inherited with the 49ers when they took over 18 months ago.

Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge is one of them. He must be doing something right.

After all, Burbridge was a sixth-round pick in 2016 from Trent Baalke’s final draft class. And Burbridge missed all of last season with a significant hamstring tear. He is still around, and making a serious bid for a roster spot among a deep group of 49ers receivers.

It is a crowded field, as the 49ers are likely to keep only six receivers on their 53-man roster. Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden and Max McCaffrey spent time on the roster last season, while Burbridge was on injured reserve. Plus, the 49ers drafted Dante Pettis and Richie James.

“It feels good to be back out here playing ball, in general,” Burbridge said. “I’m more comfortable with the offense. I’m more comfortable with the new coaching staff and everything, so everything is going way more smooth this year.”

Burbridge is considered an ace on special teams. He is continuing to develop his skills as a wide receiver, and has enjoyed an active camp. On Tuesday, quarterback C.J. Beathard found him on a deep pass during 11-on-11 work, and he caught a touchdown pass during a 7-on-7 period.

But Burbridge does the little things, too. Cornerback Greg Mabin was lined up against Burbridge in press coverage. Burbridge knew he wasn’t getting the ball, so he made an adjustment to drive Mabin off the line of scrimmage to create traffic for a linebacker, enabling tight end Cole Wick to make the reception.

“The coaching staff saw something in me and kept me around, and I feel like it’s my job to go prove that they might the right decision to keep me here,” Burbridge said. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”

Offensive Play of the Day

Tight end Garrett Celek ran a sideline route against the tight coverage of strong safety Jaquiski Tartt. Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass fluttered 30 yards down the field, and Celek and Tartt each appeared to get a hand on the ball. Celek maintained his concentration and hauled the ball into his body with one hand and got both feet in-bounds.

Defensive Play of the Day

Free safety Adrian Colbert cut under Marquise Goodwin’s deep post pattern to make a leaping interception of a Garoppolo pass. Colbert came down with the pick, then made some nifty moves while returning it 75 yards for a touchdown. The play prompted some verbal back-and-forth, as well as some non-verbal dialogue between Goodwin and Colbert on opposite sidelines while the second units took the field.

Sherman Intercepts Garoppolo

Cornerback Richard Sherman was matched against veteran wide receiver Pierre Garçon for each of his one-on-one practice reps. Garçon caught a deep pass from Garoppolo on the first play. The second deep pass was incomplete, and Sherman intercepted Garoppolo, trying to hit Garçon on an in-cutting route, on the final one-on-one rep. Later, during a 7-on-7 red-zone drill, Sherman broke up a Garoppolo pass on a fade route intended for Garçon.

Injury report

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead sustained a hamstring injury during Sunday’s practice and the club lists him as “week to week.” Rookie Jullian Taylor saw his first action with the first-team defense in Armstead’s absence at the “big end” position. Taylor is a seventh-round pick from Temple.

"He’s got size. He’s got power and he’s been playing real well," Shanahan said of Taylor. "So we were going to do that anyways and give him a chance because he’s earned it by of some of the reps he’s been doing. Then, it made it pretty easy because of what happened to Arik two days ago. Seemed pretty good out there, but we’ll see again when I watch the tape.”

Tight end Cole Hikutini (groin) will miss at least a week of practice, and could be worked slowly back onto the practice field next week. Guard Joshua Garnett (knee) missed his second day work, but is expected back soon.

Cornerback Jimmie Ward and linebacker Brock Coyle left practice during individual drills with what Shanahan described as “tightness.” Linebacker Reuben Foster was also slowed by a nagging quadriceps condition. Shanahan said he was not too concerned.

Cleared for practice

Linebacker Malcolm Smith, who missed four practices with a lower-leg injury, worked with the first-team defense, alongside Reuben Foster, after receiving clearance. Smith was one of five 49ers players who were cleared for practice after opening camp on injury lists. The others who put on pads for the first time in camp were guard Jonathan Cooper (knee), receiver Trent Taylor (back), linebacker Dekoda Watson (calf) and rookie safety Marcell Harris (Achilles).

Rookie defensive lineman Kentavius Street, who sustained a torn ACL in a pre-draft workout with the New York Giants, remains on the non-football injury list and is likely to sit out the entire season.

Transactions

After the injury to Hikutini, the 49ers decided to add some depth at tight end with the signing of Wes Saxton to a on-year contract. Saxton (6 foot 4, 235 pounds) originally signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted rookie in 2015. He has spent time with the Jets, Washington, Buffalo and Detroit during his career. The Lions released him on June 14. The 49ers cut three-year veteran cornerback C.J. Goodwin to make room for Saxton.

This ‘n’ That

Beathard hit tight end George Kittle for a deep pass against the coverage of Chanceller James... Rookie receiver Richie James had a 35-yard pass reception from Garoppolo against Tartt... DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas had would-be sacks during 11-on-11 drills... Veteran linebacker Korey Toomer leveled Wick with a hit after a reception along the sideline... Rookie cornerback Tarvarius Moore broke up a Nick Mullens pass at the sideline intended for Kendrick Bourne... Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Alan Knott was in charge of the "Rookie Hype Machine." He ran toward the crowd and performed a front flip/roll before running the length of the bleachers to get the fans fired up... Referee Ron Torbert headlines a group of NFL officials who will be working the 49ers' practices this week. The officials will discuss the rules changes with the players during a meeting.

Four 49ers players to watch in Saturday's preseason game vs. Texans

Four 49ers players to watch in Saturday's preseason game vs. Texans

HOUSTON – When the 49ers face the Houston Texans on Saturday night in the second preseason game for both teams, it will represent the final setting of three important days of work in the Lone Star State.

The starters for both teams will play as much as a quarter. It's another opportunity to make favorable impressions after two fruitful joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We just ran about 150 plays in two days (of practices) in 100-degree heat,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “Most of those guys got probably 50 reps in two days. So that’s just really good work.”

Still, the game under the lights will serve as an important evaluation for both teams. Here are four 49ers to watch...

RB Jeremy McNichols

The 49ers expect to be without their top two running backs until Week 1 of the regular season. Jerick McKinnon is out with a calf strain, while Matt Breida sustained a separated shoulder. That will provide a big opportunity for the other running backs in camp.

McNichols tops the list. He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from Boise State last year. He opted to turn down the Buccaneers' offer of the practice squad to join the 49ers' practice squad. McNichols will get a lot of playing time on Saturday after gaining 15 yards on three carries against the Dallas Cowboys last week. He ran with the starters this week in practice.

McNichols is competing for a roster spot, along with Joe Williams, Raheem Mostert and veteran free-agent pickup Alfred Morris. Although Mostert appears to have an advantage to make the team, based on his play on special teams, the door is open for one of the others to make his mark. McNichols has put himself into position -- based on his running and receiving skills -- to get an extended opportunity to show what he can do.

CB Jimmie Ward

Ward had a short day of practice on Wednesday when he and Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins got into a fight and were ejected. Ward should get plenty of playing time as he makes the transition from free safety, where he opened last season as the starter.

Ward will again start at left cornerback in place of Richard Sherman, whom the 49ers are bringing along slow after a hamstring strain. Ward struggled, giving up a touchdown, against the Cowboys last week. He figures to be be tested against Hopkins.

RG Joshua Garnett

Garnett returned to practice this week and appears to be moving well after sitting out two weeks of practices after banging his surgically repaired right knee against a teammate early in training camp.

The onus is on Garnett to prove he has what it takes to earn a starting job. Currently, the 49ers believe they can trust veteran offensive lineman Mike Person. Garnett needs to earn his way into the good graces of the coaching staff. Veteran Jonathan Cooper has also been slow to work his way into the competition, as he is coming back slowly from a knee injury of his own.

LB Fred Warner

The door is open for Warner to open the regular season as the starter with Reuben Foster set to serve a two-game suspension. Warner, a third-round draft pick, has played with a great deal of physicality. He also has the skillset to be a standout in coverage.

Warner did not play in the exhibition opener due to a chest injury. He practiced fully against the Texans this week and should be able to gain the kind of experience in this game that will help him in his quest to be Foster’s fill-in.

How Dwight Clark's idea for 'Letters to 87' caught on with 49ers fans

How Dwight Clark's idea for 'Letters to 87' caught on with 49ers fans

Dwight Clark considered it a shared experience.

He came down with the most improbable, important and well-timed pass reception in 49ers history, but the impact of the play was more than he could have ever imagined.

The story of the NFL would be incomplete without a large section devoted to “The Catch.” But Clark always seemed to feel he was not alone as he leaped and fully extended his 6-foot-4 frame to make a finger-tips grab of Joe Montana’s pass on Jan. 10, 1982.

And, sure enough, the story of many lives would be incomplete without mention of Dwight Clark, too.

“The way he connected with the fans, personally, really brought them together,” Montana said. “Once you met Dwight, it was hard not to like him. His personality was fun, upbeat and jovial -- always.”

Through the years, Clark enjoyed hearing the perspectives and stories of fans -- many of whom had not yet been born when the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game and went on to the organization’s first Super Bowl.

As Clark battled ALS, he made a request during the final interview of his life.

“I’ve often thought if I could get the word out somehow to get the stories, I should put a book together of the stories that these 49ers fans lived through at that moment,” Clark said on The 49ers Insider Podcast on Feb. 27. “Hopefully, long after I’m gone, 49ers fans will still enjoy that play and that year, that team that started it all off.”

The word got out that Clark wished to receive letters from the public, and his fans did not disappoint. The letters poured in. Some were hilarious. Some were emotionally moving. Some recounted the personal experiences of that day. Others described the wide-ranging impact that Clark’s play had on a life, a family.

Each of the letters conveyed a sense of love and appreciation for Clark as a player but, mostly, as an individual.

Clark died on June 4, 2018. Two weeks before that, a group of friends visited him at his ranch in Whitefish, Montana. The group sat around Clark’s bed and read letters to him for nearly two hours.

“Letters to 87,” a documentary that explores Clark’s unique bond with his fans, will premiere on NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at approximately 8 p.m. (following Giants Postgame Live).

“He really seemed to understand from a fan’s perspective how it felt, what it was,” former 49ers teammate Keena Turner said. “And he seemed to really want the fans to walk away feeling good about the interaction in the moment.

“He felt a genuine love that came, and he wanted to reciprocate. He wanted the fan to understand that it was a shared feeling.”

The impact of listening to the letters was something Clark carried with him. Former 49ers owner and close friend Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. was not in the room that day, but he heard plenty about it from Clark himself.

“He was thrilled,” DeBartolo said. “Getting the letters made him very, very happy. He was sick, but he was just thrilled to know he wasn’t forgotten.”

Ronnie Lott was among the people in Clark’s bedroom on Sunday, May 20, when the letters were read to Clark.

“When he wanted fans to express their feelings, he was trying to capture the same feeling that he had when he did it and how did they feel?” Lott said. “Were they as excited as he was?

“When fans write their letters, there’s a spirit there. There’s a connection. That connection was something we can take for granted.”