49ers rookie Marcell Harris puts debut behind him, bounces back vs. Seahawks

49ers rookie Marcell Harris puts debut behind him, bounces back vs. Seahawks

SANTA CLARA — 49ers rookie safety Marcell Harris says now that he has gotten into the swing of things, his learning curve is no longer as steep. 

Harris explained that, after missing his senior season in Florida after an Achilles injury, it was a big step to get his first start at Century Link FIeld on Dec. 2 against the Seattle Seahawks. 

“After I got my feet wet in that game,” Harris said, “I kind of knew what I was stepping into, knowing how the game was going to move, and knowing what I was going to be in, alignments and everything. After that it’s downhill from there.” 

Harris, like many of the younger members of the 49ers secondary, has been sent into play in a “trial by fire” situation. Since his first start in Seattle in Week 13, he has played every defensive snap and some on special teams. 

The rookie had a challenging start, missing three tackles and allowing a reception in the team’s loss in Seattle but has improved with more play just as defensive coordinator Robert Saleh suggested he would. 

Harris redeemed himself in his second game, registering seven total tackles against the Denver Broncos -- two of which were for a loss. In the 49ers' win over Seattle on Sunday, he racked up six solo tackles, one for a loss. 

Coach Kyle Shanahan said Harris’ growth over three starts is clear. 

“He was definitely much better this game than he was versus Seattle the original time. I thought he took it the right direction versus Denver and I thought it continued yesterday. 

“Definitely a few plays he’s like to have back, so by no means was it perfect, but what I like about him is he competes. Even when he does mess up, he’s doing it full speed and doesn’t mind tackling. He throws his body around.”

Harris’ development also impressed veteran cornerback Richard Sherman. He compared the rookie’s two starts against his former team. 

“This time guys were ready,” Sheman said. “Guys were prepared. It wasn’t Marcell’s first game anymore, he played his tail off.”

[RELATED: 49ers CB Ahkello Witherspoon suffered sprained PCL, season likely over]

It was a collective team win over the division rival Seahawks, and Shanahan highlighted one of Harris’ most important plays. 

“He made a really key play on a screen,” Shanahan said. “I think it was a second and long where they had a good play call. They had a screen on us and and thee-by-one versus a pressure, so there was only one guy left. 

“It was Marcell with lead blockers and he did a good job. I think he tackled him for a six-yard gain when if he doesn’t do that it probably would have been a 50-yard gain.” 

When asked what has changed since the team’s blowout loss in Seattle, Harris said he thinks that the 49ers are just playing to their potential, and that it will carry over to next season. 

“The defense has always been top-tier,” Harris said. “We just need to keep finishing and stacking this wins. There’s no telling how far we can go.” 

How Jerick McKinnon impacts 49ers' negotiations with Raheem Mostert

How Jerick McKinnon impacts 49ers' negotiations with Raheem Mostert

49ers running back Raheem Mostert wants a raise or to be traded. The problem for him is, he doesn't really have any leverage. Regardless of what he deserves, that's just the reality of the situation.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan favors a running back-by-committee approach. He will be able to employ that, regardless of whether or not Mostert wants to be a part of it. The 49ers have ample depth at the position, even after trading Matt Breida earlier in the offseason.

Tevin Coleman isn't going anywhere. Cutting him would result in a $2 million dead cap hit, and San Francisco can't afford to waste cap space at the moment.

Jeff Wilson scored five touchdowns on 30 total touches last season. He seemed to make a play whenever given an opportunity, and the coaching staff has plenty of faith in him.

The 49ers also signed undrafted free agents JaMycal Hasty and Salvon Ahmed, who originally might have been ticketed for the practice squad, but there's a reason why San Francisco pursued them. Shanahan has a long track record of creating productive rushers out of thin air, and Mostert's performance last season only backs that up.

But there's one major wild card in San Francisco's backfield: Jerick McKinnon.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Having signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers on the opening day of free agency in 2018, McKinnon was hand-picked by Shanahan to transform San Francisco's offense. Though never a bell cow, he offered the speed and matchup versatility that Shanahan covets. McKinnon rushed for 570 yards and hauled in 51 receptions for another 421 yards in his final season before joining the 49ers, and in Shanahan's system, the possibilities were endless.

And then, all dreams were dashed.

McKinnon tore his ACL one week before the start of the 2018 season, and then sat out the entirety of the 2019 campaign after requiring additional surgery. After not stepping foot on the field in a single game over his first two seasons with the franchise, McKinnon agreed to a pay reduction for the 2020 season that will see him make $910,000 in base salary, a sign of his commitment to the team. He was scheduled to make $6.8 million in 2020 prior to the restructuring.

Given his injury history, the 49ers would be wise to be cautious with their dependence on him. That said, he has had nearly a full year to recover from the most recent surgery, and last month his trainer said McKinnon is "in the best shape of his life."

He had been working with Rischad "Footwork King" Whitfield, and on Wednesday, McKinnon posted more workout videos to his Instagram Story.

The 49ers are optimistic they'll finally be able to unleash McKinnon this coming season, with Mostert recently going so far as to predict that McKinnon will "surprise people." If he's healthy, there's no doubt Shanahan will be itching to involve him in the offense, creating yet another potential matchup nightmare for the opposing defense. Plenty can happen between now and then, but San Francisco has to be feeling good about the progress "Jet" has put on tape.

[RELATED: How Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows price of success]

If the 49ers go into the season feeling like they can count on McKinnon, Mostert inevitably will get fewer touches. There are only so many to go around, especially with receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd liable to take a few of their own. Mostert rightfully feels like he deserves a significant raise, but that's under the assumption he is going to be the lead back in Shanahan's system.

That might still be the case, regardless of McKinnon's status. But the 49ers haven't forgotten about McKinnon, and until they do, the odds are against Mostert getting what he wants.

What Raheem Mostert's agent says client wants in 49ers trade demand

What Raheem Mostert's agent says client wants in 49ers trade demand

49ers running back Raheem Mostert's trade demand carries another motive, according to his agent.

Within an hour of announcing Mostert's trade demand Wednesday, Brett Tessler told NFL Media's Ian Rapoport that Mostert "simply" wants his salary "in line" with teammate Tevin Coleman's.

Coleman's $4.55 million base salary is nearly $2 million more than Mostert's $2.575 million, according to Over the Cap. Mostert's salary is not guaranteed, whereas $2 million of Coleman's became guaranteed on April 1. Coleman can earn nearly $4.9 million after workout and roster bonuses, and Mostert can make up to $2.825 million if he hits all his roster bonuses.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Mostert (151) and Coleman (158) had nearly the same number of total touches during the regular season, with each player rushing an identical 137 times. But Mostert led the team in regular-season rushing yards (772) and rushing touchdowns (eight), becoming the 49ers' top back down the stretch and having over twice as many carries (117) and touches (126) as Coleman (55; 58) from Week 13 onward.

Prior to that stretch, Mostert had 113 rushing attempts and 127 touches in the preceding 31 games. Coleman, meanwhile, signed with the 49ers as a free agent in 2019 after averaging 165.5 touches per season in four years with the Atlanta Falcons.

[RELATED: How Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows price of success]

Whether the 49ers meet either of Mostert's demands remains to be seen.

He still has two years left on his contract (including 2020), and the 49ers currently have the NFL's eighth-highest salary-cap number on running backs. San Francisco has just over $12 million in salary-cap space, but that number conceivably could diminish if star tight end George Kittle's contract extension includes a reworked 2020 cap number.

Kittle's set to count just over $2.2 million against the cap this season. Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who has the NFL's highest cap number at the position, counts just shy of $12.5 million against the cap.