49ers rookie Ahkello Witherspoon's football passion burns at an all-time high


49ers rookie Ahkello Witherspoon's football passion burns at an all-time high

SANTA CLARA – Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was an ecology and evolutionary biology major at Colorado who has plans to become a surgeon after his NFL career concludes.

That revelation alone might have scared off some teams after growing concerns over long-term injuries associated with playing the sport and a spate of early NFL retirements in recent years.

But midway through his rookie season, Witherspoon said during a wide-ranging interview on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” that his passion and determination to have a successful career have only increased since entering the NFL draft.

“I’m even more excited to build a career in this league,” said Witherspoon, 22, a third-round pick of the 49ers. “I thought I knew what it was and I was excited coming in. But then getting a taste of it and being in it, it’s even more inspiring and it makes me want to work even harder.

“In terms of the violence and what could go wrong, I just live with faith in God and fear is second. If something happens, it was meant to happen. I could die walking out of this building right now. That’s kind of the mindset I have. You can control what you can control. It’s as simple as that, and that’s the approach I take.”

Witherspoon’s regular season got off to a rocky start. After being inactive for the 49ers’ first four games of the season behind starting cornerbacks Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson, Witherspoon made his NFL debut Oct. 8 against the Indianapolis Colts.

He played six snaps before exiting the game and being diagnosed with a concussion. Witherspoon, who first played football as a senior at Christian Brothers High in Sacramento, had two concussions in his past, he said.

“It’s part of the game,” he said. “If it happens, it’s unfortunate. You just want to come back healthy and keep playing.”

Witherspoon has taken over a starting job in the 49ers’ defense. His emergence also enabled the 49ers to trade inconsistent Robinson to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick.

Witherspoon is learning how to apply his intelligence to optimize his success on the football field. Smarts can only carry him so far, and then he has to learn how and when to clear his mind and just play the game.

“I feel like I’ve found that balance where pre-snap, you want to see things, analyze, understand what could come and what could happen,” Witherspoon said. “But once that ball is snapped, you just got to react and respond to what the receiver is doing. And that’s one thing I’ve definitely improved upon.”

49ers sign OL Laken Tomlinson to three-year extension

49ers sign OL Laken Tomlinson to three-year extension

Guard Laken Tomlinson appears to have wrapped up a starting position on the 49ers’ offensive line, as the club signed him to a three-year extension on Thursday.

Tomlinson, who started the final 15 games of last season at left guard, is now signed through the 2021 season, the 49ers announced.

“Laken is a very talented player who has improved consistently since joining the team one week before last year’s season opener,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in a statement. “This offseason, his hard work and dedication paid off as he continued to progress and performed at a high level. We were confident we could work out a contract extension with Laken and we are fired up to get that done before training camp.”

The 49ers acquired Tomlinson in a trade from the Detroit Lions for a 2019 fifth-round draft pick shortly before the start of last season. The Lions selected Tomlinson with the No. 28 overall pick from Duke in 2015.

The 49ers did not pick up the fifth-year option on Tomlinson for the 2019 season, which would have cost $9.625 million. Instead, the 49ers and Tomlinson agreed to a three-year extension worth up to $18 million with $10 million guaranteed, reports the NFL Network.

Tomlinson, 26, started 24 of 30 games in his first two seasons with Detroit. He entered the 49ers’ starting lineup in Week 2 and every game for the remainder of the season.

The 49ers appear to have four starting positions set along the offensive line, with Tomlinson and tackle Joe Staley on the left side. Veteran center Weston Richburg is slated to start at center, while rookie Mike McGlinchey is settling in at right tackle.

Joshua Garnett, Jonathan Cooper and Mike Person will compete at right guard during training camp, which opens on July 25.

Rookie LB Fred Warner is setting the tone for 49ers, but he might be a little too loud


Rookie LB Fred Warner is setting the tone for 49ers, but he might be a little too loud

When the 49ers selected inside linebacker Fred Warner of BYU in the third round of the draft, it was easy to see how he fit into the team's plan with the degree of uncertainty surrounding Reuben Foster.

While Foster remained away from the team’s offseason program for five weeks, Warner felt a need to get up to speed quickly if he was needed to be a starter for Week 1 of the regular season. Warner said he was determined to learn as quickly as possible at whatever position he lined up.

“They want consistency over a guy who can make a play here and there,” Warner said on The 49ers insider Podcast. “Because if you’re a liability and you’re out there missing assignments, stuff like that, that’s going to get you cut. You have to be able to retain this information very quickly and be able to produce on the field and put a good product out there. That’s the biggest thing.”

The 49ers consider the middle linebacker (mike) and weakside linebacker (will) positions as nearly interchangeable. The major difference is the mike position is the player who communicates in the huddle. Malcolm Smith is lining up with the first team at mike, while Foster is at will. Warner is leading the second team at mike.

Foster joined the 49ers’ offseason for the final four weeks after a judge dismissed two felony charges of domestic violence. Warner knew all about Foster, the player, before meeting him as a teammate.

“He’s a very physical player, and something I didn’t know about him that I know now, he’s probably the smartest guy in the room,” Warner said. “This dude has the memory of an elephant. He doesn’t have to write notes down. He just retains things very quickly. And I think that’s what allowed him to play at such a high level as a rookie last year, aside from his physical talent.”

Warner has also learned a lot from Smith, who played six NFL seasons before sitting out last year with a torn pectoral.

“We’ve worked after practice on man coverage on tight ends and running backs.,” Warner said. “Even though that might not be something we touch on in practice or a meeting, he just wants to touch on that with me because he said, ‘If you can do this, you can play on any team in the NFL.’ “

One of the few critiques of the rookie during the offseason program is that Warner, who said he was a quiet kid as a youngster, has been a little too loud.

“He’s very smart and he plays like it on the field,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said during the first week of OTAs. “He doesn’t hesitate. He’s a rookie out there, but he’s calling the plays maybe even too loud because I can hear him from the offensive side. But, he doesn’t mind speaking up. He’s confident in what he’s doing.”

Warner said he wanted to win the confidence of his teammates, so that might have contributed to his increased decibel level.

“I want to make sure that when I get in that huddle and I’m talking to these guys, that they know that I know what I’m doing and I’m ready to go,” Warner said. “I’m the one who’s going to set the tone in the huddle before the play even happens.”