49ers

Lions target young 49ers cornerback to avoid Richard Sherman on passes

Lions target young 49ers cornerback to avoid Richard Sherman on passes

SANTA CLARA -- Ahkello Witherspoon is finding out what life is like for a cornerback whose 49ers teammate on the other side is Richard Sherman.

Sherman is 30 and coming off Achilles surgery, but the 49ers’ first two opponents still clearly hold him in high regard. On Sunday, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford decided to not even bother challenging Sherman, deciding to focus instead on testing Witherspoon.

“That’s just the nature of my job,” Witherspoon said following the 49ers’ 30-27 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. “I don’t even care who’s on the other side, I have to be ready every single play. That’s the mindset I have. That’s the focus I have.

“With Richard Sherman being over there, I have an opportunity to make even more plays. I look forward to that.”

Hobbled by an ankle injury that limited him in practices on Wednesday and Thursday, Witherspoon made no excuses after giving up a number of plays, including two touchdowns.

In the fourth quarter, Witherspoon was called for defensive holding and pass interference in a three-play span. That prompted the 49ers’ coaching staff to insert Jimmie Ward into the game at right cornerback to take Witherspoon's place.

”He was questionable all week with just how he was practicing, having some stuff bothering him going into the game,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “That’s no excuses or anything. If you’re out there, you’ve got to play well, and just saw him hobbling a little bit, so got someone else in there.”

When asked if he still had his confidence, Witherspoon answered, “Yeah, can’t shake it.”

Sherman shared his advice for Witherspoon, who started nine games as a rookie last year after the 49ers selected him in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft.

“You have 24 hours, win, lose or draw,” Sherman said. “Regardless of the outcome or how you play, you have 24 hours. You look at the tape, you correct your mistakes and you move on. That is what you do regardless. If he played and had five picks, I would tell him the same.

“It doesn’t matter how good you played or how bad you played one week, this is the NFL. The next week is a whole new beast. You are facing a whole new team, whole new scheme. If you caught five picks, they are going to test you again. If you got five balls caught on you, they are going to test you again, regardless. That is this league, and I think that he is going to bounce back.”

49ers' Arik Armstead faces make-or-break stretch after bye week

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AP

49ers' Arik Armstead faces make-or-break stretch after bye week

Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future.

In this installment, we look at the player whose future with the 49ers could be determined by his play in the final six games.

The 49ers are in search of closers.

Protecting a three-point lead with just under three minutes remaining in regulation Monday night, the 49ers put the four defensive linemen considered their best pass rushers onto the field to snuff out quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Defensive end Arik Armstead did not play a snap for the remainder of the game. He had a spot on the sideline as a spectator, along with Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

“I would have liked to see them in there more on the last drive,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “They didn't get in there enough.”

Thomas is going nowhere after two seasons. But the 49ers have to make a decision with Armstead, who is completing his fourth NFL season.

Armstead was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2015 draft. In April, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option for the 2019 season on Armstead. As a defensive end selected from picks 11 to 32, that option is $9.046 million.

But the money does not become fully guaranteed until the start of the 2019 league year in March. Up to that point, the money is guaranteed for injury only. So the 49ers will have a window of more than two months after this season to decide whether Armstead is worth keeping around as the team’s highest-paid defensive player for next season.

[CHAN: Richard Sherman, DeForest Buckner lead 49ers' defense through Week 10]

Does Armstead fit the 49ers’ defensive scheme? Does he provide the club with an element that general manager John Lynch cannot get at a less-expensive cost in free agency?

Armstead already has played more games (10) than he did in each of the past two seasons, when he was relegated to just eight and six in 2016 and 2017 because of shoulder and hand injuries.

Armstead has nine sacks in his 40-game NFL career. On Monday, he was used primarily on run downs.

He is tied with Cassius Marsh for second on the 49ers (behind DeForest Buckner) with 26 total quarterback pressures – consisting of three sacks, six hits and 17 hurries on 220 pass-rush snaps this season.

Armstead has yet to find his niche in the 49ers’ scheme on those all-important nickel pass-rush situations. Against the Giants, Sheldon Day and Ronald Blair were the players selected to join Buckner as interior pass rushers during crunch time.

He will get opportunities in the final six games, but Armstead might have to prove to the 49ers he's worthy of that hefty price tag for next season to still have a spot on the team.

49ers' Joe Staley loves Frank Gore just as much as Jim Harbaugh does

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AP

49ers' Joe Staley loves Frank Gore just as much as Jim Harbaugh does

Close your eyes, erase the nightmares of torn ACLs for Jimmy Garoppolo and Jerick McKinnon, and remember the good old days. 

Jim Harbaugh was leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Frank Gore was carrying the rock like he will until the year 2034. And Joe Staley was leading the way with blocks for Gore. 

That trio certainly misses those days, just like you do. 

[CHAN: Richard Sherman, DeForest Buckner lead 49ers' defense through Week 10]

On Tuesday, Harbaugh, now the head coach of the University of Michigan, congratulated Gore, now with the Miami Dolphins. Gore now has rushed for at least 500 yards in 14 consecutive seasons.

"I would also like to congratulate Frank Gore," Harbaugh said to the media, unprompted. "The record he set this past Sunday -- and Frank is my favorite player of all time that I've ever coached. Fourteen years of each year rushing for over 500 yards, passing Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith is incredible. ... All respect to that accomplishment by Frank." 

Gore, who has rushed for 528 yards this season at 35 years old, took notice to the kind words from his old coach. 

Staley spent eight seasons blocking for Gore, and the veteran misses his old friend. Time to remember the good times again. 

And now we get to the Spider-Man meme version of this story. 

Can it be 2012 again?