49ers

49ers' defense starts 2018 NFL season strong in loss to Vikings

49ers' defense starts 2018 NFL season strong in loss to Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS -- While most of the disappointment in the 49ers’ locker room Sunday stemmed from the team’s offensive struggles, coach Kyle Shanahan believed his team’s defense generally played well enough to win.

The 49ers opened the season with a 24-16 loss to the Vikings in which the defense got off to an encouraging start.

“I thought our pass rush was good,” Shanahan said. “We held them to 17 points [on offense]. Holding that team to 17 points, I thought that would be good enough for us to win.

“I thought we could have tackled a little bit better, from what I saw, but I thought they played good enough to win.”

The Vikings outgained the 49ers 343 yards to 327. Minnesota ran 10 more plays from scrimmage than the 49ers, who had 20 first downs to the Vikings’ 19.

“I think we played all right,” said 49ers defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who recorded 2½ of the 49ers’ three sacks of Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“We have to clean up a lot of stuff on defense, especially tackle. We had a lot of missed tackles. We just have to stay more disciplined.”

Rookie linebacker Fred Warner had a strong NFL debut, checking in with a team-high 12 tackles and one forced fumble.

“Middle linebacker is one of the toughest positions to come in as a rookie and play and be effective,” 49ers veteran cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I think he did an admirable job.”

Warner certainly appears to be capable of becoming a fixture in the 49ers’ defense for a long time. The 49ers have yet to see veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith, who signed a contract on the first day of free agency in 2017 and still hasn't stepped onto the field for a regular-season game.

Smith was inactive Sunday with a hamstring injury after missing all of last season with a torn pectoral. Smith's replacement, Brock Coyle, was diagnosed with a concussion. Coyle now must pass through the NFL's return-to-play protocol in order to be eligible to play next week against the Lions. Reuben Foster is serving a two-game suspension and isn't eligible to return until the Week 3 game at the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sunday's game featured the return of Sherman, whose final season with the Seahawks ended in early November because of an Achilles tear.

“I felt fine,” Sherman said. “It’s a mental game just as much as it’s a physical game, and the concepts they were running were relatively simple. I put myself in position to be successful. I took my risks here and there where I had the opportunity to figure the plays out.”

Cousins completed 20 of 36 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Most of his big plays appeared to come on busted coverage, where the 49ers' secondary left Vikings receivers all alone. Cousins delivered his TD passes to Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph before 49ers defenders Ahkello Witherspoon and Jaquiski Tartt could turn to look for the ball.

“Of course you want guys to look back and make that play,” Shanahan said. “I definitely think there were some we could have, but when you get beat off the line early in a play, then those are the ones you can’t.”

2019 Senior Bowl: Cornerbacks have distinct look of 49ers, Seahawks fit

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2019 Senior Bowl: Cornerbacks have distinct look of 49ers, Seahawks fit

Jim Nagy, whose job as executive director of the Senior Bowl is to piece together the lineup of invited participants, arranged for a group of familiar-looking cornerbacks.

Nagy worked for the Seattle Seahawks for five seasons as a Southeast region scout. The Seahawks’ prototype for cornerbacks is the same the 49ers have adopted under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s scheme.

Richard Sherman is the prototype. The Seahawks and 49ers look for tall, physical corners to re-route receivers at the line of scrimmage and disrupt timing in the passing game.

“A lot of people in the league probably look at this roster and say, ‘Man, Jim is looking for the same thing he did in Seattle.’ There are a bunch of big, long guys in this group,” Nagy said. “The league is going that way as a whole just because of the success that Seattle’s had.

“There are a slew of guys coming down here who are perfect fits for the Niners.”

The 49ers invested third-round picks the past two years in Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore. Promoting more competition and increasing depth is a priority this offseason.

Here’s a look at some of the top prospects for the 49ers’ scheme at the Senior Bowl:

Lonnie Johnson Jr., Kentucky, 6-3, 206
With his size and athleticism, Johnson fits the model of what teams that play the cover-3 system are coveting. However, he recorded just one interception in his two seasons at Kentucky.
Projected: Early rounds

Rock Ya-Sin, Temple, 6-2, 190
Played completely under the radar during his three seasons at Presbyterian College before a transfer to Temple for his final season. He is relatively new to the sport but he has the smarts and skill to rise up draft boards.
Projected: Mid rounds

Isaiah Johnson, Houston, 6-4, 203
He’s got the attributes with his height and 33-inch arms. Nagy said he expects him to run in the low-4.4s. If he can stick with wideouts during the one-on-ones, he will help himself tremendously.
Projected: Mid rounds

Mark Fields, Clemson, 5-11. 180
When the Senior Bowl was looking to add a cornerback this week, the 49ers were consulted. This is the guy they wanted to be added to the group.
Projected: Late rounds

North cornerbacks

Amani Oruwariye, Penn State, 6-1, 201
He has the size and movements to be one of the first cornerbacks off the board. He also has the ball skills, as he showed with seven interceptions over the past two seasons. He will be rested this week in man coverage.
Projected: Early rounds

Kris Boyd, Texas, 6-0, 195
He is smart and experienced. He has the toughness in run support, too. The big question is whether he has the top-flight speed to keep plays in front of him.
Projected: Early rounds

Richard Sherman has message for Antonio Brown in his bid to join 49ers

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Richard Sherman has message for Antonio Brown in his bid to join 49ers

Richard Sherman knows what it's like to leave the only franchise he's ever known to join the 49ers.

So, what does he think about Antonio Brown's desire to play in San Francisco?

"Good luck to him," Sherman told TMZ on Thursday night in Los Angeles.

The All-Pro receiver wants out of Pittsburgh and to come to the 49ers "really badly," according to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice.

Steelers owner Art Rooney II has said the team won't release Brown but will explore all other options, including a trade. Rooney also said he expects discussions regarding Brown's future to heat up in mid-March when the new league year begins.

Sherman, who signed a three-year, $27.15 million contract with the 49ers last March, was asked about his time in the Bay Area.

"So far, so good," Sherman told TMZ.

Before Sherman could get away, he was asked if he had a message for Brown.

"Go wherever it makes him happy," Sherman said.