49ers

49ers notes: Evaluating Reuben Foster-Fred Warner linebacker duo debut

49ers notes: Evaluating Reuben Foster-Fred Warner linebacker duo debut

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Chiefs took advantage of the 49ers’ eagerness at inside linebacker in the first half Sunday with some misdirection plays.

It was a rough opening game for the 49ers’ young linebacker duo of Reuben Foster and Fred Warner, but chalk it up to a learning experience in the 49ers’ 38-27 loss at Arrowhead Stadium.

Foster was encouraged with how he and Warner played together and seemed to improve as the team progressed.

“It went well,” Foster said. “It’s like me and Fred never missed a game together, like we’ve been playing together since high school or middle school. It felt amazing with him next to me, calling the plays out.”

The 49ers expect Warner and Foster to line up side-by-side for years to come. Foster was a first-round draft pick last year. He returned to action Sunday after serving a two-game suspension. Warner has started every game at middle linebacker since arriving this year as a third-round pick from BYU.

Veteran Malcolm Smith made his 49ers debut Sunday, and the natural inside linebacker lined up outside in the team’s base defense. Smith played 34 snaps, as Kansas City’s multi-receiver personnel groupings dictated the 49ers deploy their nickel defense for most of the game.

Warner registered a game-high 11 tackles, and Foster was credited with seven. Smith had one tackle and a quarterback hurry.

[RELATED: 49ers report card vs. Chiefs]

Questionable calls

The 49ers were flagged for 14 penalties totaling 147 yards, but some of the bigger calls came with plenty of questions about referee Tony Corrente’s crew.

On a third-and-16 from the 49ers’ 32-yard line, nickel back K’Waun Williams was called for pass interference in the end zone against Chris Conley on a Patrick Mahomes pass that did not appear catchable. Instead of a long field goal attempt, the Chiefs had a first down at the 1, and scored on the next play.

C.J. Beathard took one snap and found tight end George Kittle in the end zone for what appeared to be a 7-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. If the touchdown had stood, the 49ers would have trailed by a touchdown with five minutes remaining.

But fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who lined up as a wideout on the right side, was flagged for a pass interference when Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford stepped in front of him to cut off his in-breaking route. Kittle made the catch behind where Juszczyk and Ford came together.

“I was shocked, actually,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I thought we were going to get a call there, so I was real surprised our fullback got a call of pass interference.”

FOX analyst Dean Blandino, the former head of NFL officiating, even criticized the call on the TV broadcast.

"This is not a pick play," Blandino said. "This is a flag that really should not have been called."

Grounds for a comeback

The 49ers fell behind by four touchdowns before scoring 17 unanswered to get back in the game in the second half. The defense finally made some stops, but the offense got going because it did not give up on the run game.

“I think we just focused on the run,” Kittle said. “We didn’t say, ‘Hey, we have to air it out now because we’re losing by 28 points.’ “

Matt Breida led the 49ers with 90 yards on 10 carries, and Alfred Morris added 67 yards on 14 rushing attempts.

“Whenever you can run the ball, it opens up the passing game,” Kittle said.

Injury report

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s expected season-ending knee injury was the most serious, but it wasn't the only injury the 49ers sustained Sunday.

Safety Adrian Colbert appeared in 28 plays before leaving the game in the second quarter with a hip injury. Rookie D.J. Reed replaced Colbert and played the final 52 snaps of the game.

Cornerback Richard Sherman is scheduled to undergo an MRI on his left calf area. He left the game after playing 36 snaps. Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been battling an ankle injury, replaced him.

Cornerback Jimmy Ward left the game because of cramps. In the five snaps he missed, rookie Tarvarius Moore filled in.

Foster took a shot to the midsection and missed one play.

Breida appeared to hyperextend his knee, but he came back into the game and played well.

Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas also was shaken up after colliding with teammate DeForest Buckner while hitting Mahomes. He left the game briefly.

Right guard Mike Person aggravated a foot injury and left the game for seven plays, replaced by Erik Magnuson.

This ‘n’ that

Antone Exum started at strong safety in place of Jaquiski Tartt, who was out with a shoulder injury. Exum recorded nine tackles, his first career sack and a forced fumble. . .

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead was credited with a sack when Mahomes ran out of bounds in the second quarter. It was Armstead’s first sack of the season and the seventh of his career. . .

Kicker Robbie Gould extended his own club-record streak with field goals of 39 and 35 yards, giving him 31 consecutive successful attempts. Gould has made at least one field goal in 23 consecutive games, dating to Dec. 11, 2016. However, Gould missed an extra-point try in the third quarter.

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What Dee Ford thinks is 'most important' for Jimmy Garoppolo in 2019

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AP

What Dee Ford thinks is 'most important' for Jimmy Garoppolo in 2019

Dee Ford can relate to Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The edge rusher, who signed with the 49ers as a free agent this offseason, entered last year coming off of a back injury that cut short his 2017 season. Ford's injury required surgery, and his surgeon feared that Ford would not be able to walk again. But Ford worked his way back and was better than ever last season, recording a career-high 13.0 sacks with the Kansas City Chiefs and signing a monster contract after being traded to San Francisco. 

Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3 against Ford's Chiefs in 2018, and has recovered in time to once again enter this year's training camp as the 49ers' undisputed No. 1 QB. Because of that, Garoppolo already has taken his biggest step towards bouncing back. 

"I'm happy to see Jimmy healthy because I'm [also] coming off of a serious injury," Ford said on NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" on Tuesday. "That's the most important thing that I see with Jimmy. He's healthy. He's confident."

If the 49ers are going to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, both Garoppolo and Ford are going to need to do things they have not yet done at this point in their respective careers.

Garoppolo has started just eight games with the 49ers, and has not played in more than six in a single NFL season. His performance in five starts with the 49ers in 2017 was enough for the team to reward him with a record-setting contract, but he has yet to sustain that level of play -- let alone play at all -- for more than a handful of campaigns. 

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for 49ers' 2019 season]

Ford, meanwhile, has not recorded double-digit sacks in consecutive campaigns. The 28-year-old will be relied upon to lead a revamped defensive line and pass rush, and any drop-off from his final season in Kansas City could quickly turn a projected area of strength into one of weakness.

But Ford showed what he was capable of when he was healthy last season, and he and the 49ers will be counting on Garoppolo to do the same. 

49ers training camp questions: Which defensive linemen will play together?

49ers training camp questions: Which defensive linemen will play together?

Editor's Note: This is the second installment in a five-part series on the 49ers' key competitions during training camp. Today, defensive end.

Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas are slated for similar roles this season.

Armstead, who is playing this season on the fifth-year option, and Thomas, a third-year pro, are viewed as defensive ends on base downs and interior pass-rushers in nickel situations.

There is enough playing time to go around for everyone on the 49ers' defensive line, but the priority will be set through competition beginning this week in training camp.

After all, Armstead and Thomas will also be going up against Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa for playing time when the 49ers deploy their base defense. Then, Armstead and Thomas will battle against each other for more snaps next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in passing situations.

Armstead is entering his contract season. The 49ers are paying him $9 million for his fifth year in the NFL. Armstead's strength is his run defense, but the club also believes he has potential as a pass-rusher that can be unlocked in the team's new wide-9 alignment.

Armstead is coming off his best season, appearing in all 16 games with career-highs in tackles (48) and sacks (three).

The team believes Thomas is on track for a breakout season. He made little impact in his first two years after the 49ers selected him with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2017 draft. Thomas admits his on-field performance was impacted by trying to cope with the tragedy of his older sister's death by suicide last year.

Thomas appeared refocused and determined to make a contribution during the team's offseason program. But he will have to earn his way onto the field among the most talented group of defensive linemen the 49ers have assembled in a while.

Ford was the 49ers' biggest veteran acquisition in the offseason, coming from Kansas City in a trade for a second-round draft pick. Ford registered a career-best 13 sacks last season. Kansas City placed the franchise tag on Ford before working out the deal to send him to the 49ers.

Ford will unquestionably be in the field on pass-rush downs. But listed at 6-foot-2, 252 pounds, Ford could be targeted in the run game as a defensive end on base downs.

[RELATED: Training camp questions: Backup quarterback]

Bosa, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, was universally regarded as the best edge rusher in the draft. His immense lower body strength also should enable him to set the edge in run defense. Depending on how quickly he adapts after sitting out the offseason program with a mild hamstring strain, Bosa could be used as a pass-rush specialist as a rookie.

Armstead, Thomas, Ford and Bosa will all see plenty of action through the course of the season. But the competition among this group will determine which combination -- along with Buckner -- takes the field when a game is on the line.