49ers

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

CHICAGO – The 49ers trained for the expected low-30s temperature and snow at Soldier Field with a week of workouts in the 80-degree heat of Florida.

However, the team’s specialists got some practice handling wet footballs during the 49ers’ final practice in Orlando, Fla.

Special-teams coordinator Derius Swinton and his assistant, Michael Clay, made a game of it. Long-snapper Kyle Nelson had to execute 10 perfect snaps to holder Bradley Pinion for field goals. Then, Pinion moved back to punt formation, where another 10 in a row were required.

But they had to be perfect while Swinton and Clay squirted water on the ball and at the hands of Nelson and Pinion, who also received a blast of water in his ear hole at one point.

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“We always look up to see if there’s a chance of rain or snow, and we go, ‘Wet-ball drill,’ ” Nelson said. “They (Swinton and Clay) get to have fun, squirting water on us and use the water bottles.

“They make it as bad as possible.”

Nelson and Pinion teamed up to execute perfectly on all 20 field goals and punts.

“If I can do this, in a game it’s going to be even easier,” Nelson said. “They make it a lot harder in practice than it is in a game, so when we get to a game, everything is not as fast.”

The weather conditions on Sunday against the Chicago Bears will likely challenge Nelson, Pinion and kicker Phil Dawson as much as anyone. Dawson has been tracking the weather forecasts for more than a week to get mentally prepared for what he might face.

“Soldier Field is notorious for being a tough place to kick because of the wind and the field itself,” Dawson said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “The footing is pretty poor. So when you add snow and moisture to the equation, it’s going to be one of those days.

“You need to have conversations with your coaches and let them know – be honest with them – about the difficulty. But you have to do that without it affecting your confidence to go out and get the job done.”

Said Nelson, “It takes more focus in bad weather. The snaps have to be a little more perfect. Bradley has to focus more on catching the ball, and Phil has to concentrate on the approach and be more cautious.”

49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon faces make-or-break 2019 after PCL injury

49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon faces make-or-break 2019 after PCL injury

SANTA CLARA — After a challenging start to the season, 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was getting back to the level of play that impressed many at the end of his rookie year.

But Witherspoon’s season was cut short with a sprained PCL on Sunday, and he will spend the final two games on injured reserve. Coach Kyle Shanahan said Witherspoon will need to prove himself again at the beginning of his third season.

“We’ll look at all the tape and put it all together,” Shanahan said Monday. “Wish he could’ve finished these last two games. I think he definitely was finishing better than he started. 

“But, his story is not written yet. He’s got to improve. Hopefully, he’ll come back here ready to go next year and take off the way he finished.”

Witherspoon had the additional challenge of playing opposite of veteran cornerback Richard Sherman this season. With opposing quarterbacks not wanting to risk throwing towards Sherman, they picked on Witherspoon’s side more regularly. 

In 14 games this year, Witherspoon registered 37 total tackles, 30 of them solo. He totaled 32 tackles in his rookie season (28 solo) and two interceptions in 12 games. 
 
Witherspoon will have his work cut out for him when he starts his third season. It looks as though he will be in competition with cornerback Tarvarius Moore.

Moore did a commendable job taking over when Witherspoon was injured midway through the first quarter of the 49ers' 26-23 win over the Seahawks. He finished the game with seven total tackles and two passes defended. 

While all players, including Witherspoon, will need to prove themselves again, Shanahan saw improvement over his last several games. 

“I thought he got a lot better in his coverage,” Shanahan said. “Just more consistent. Playing a little more physical in his coverage, too. I know he had some PI calls over the last month, ones that I wouldn’t want him to play differently. I thought he did a real good job on all those. I liked how he got more aggressive throughout the year.”
 
Prior to Witherspoon's injury, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh spoke about the challenge the cornerback faced after his rookie campaign -- as well as his recent mindset. 

“He’s been gradually getting a lot better,” Saleh said last week, “and getting refocused and just understanding that in this league the three most dangerous words are ‘I got it.’ As soon as you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. 

“So, he’s got great intent and he’s got the same mindset he had a year ago. When he plays with that mindset and builds into it, it’s a good lesson for everybody. You never have it in this league. Teams are always trying to find you. As soon as you let them find you, they’ll find you. He’s been good.”

While the staff sees the potential in Witherspoon, he will need to start next season where he left off: Aggressively, and with intent. 

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.”