49ers

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

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AP

Shanahan sees versatile McKinnon as piece that was missing from 49ers' offense

The player Kyle Shanahan studied on video was a lot better than the player he saw on the stat sheet.

The 49ers coach said he places a lot more emphasis on how he projects a player in his offense than what the player did with his former team.

And that is why the 49ers placed a large priority on signing former Minnesota Vikings running back Jerick McKinnonon the first day of the free-agent signing period. McKinnon comes to the 49ers on a four-year, $30 million contract with $11.7 million guaranteed.

McKinnon's stats might not suggest he is anywhere near a top running back in the NFL, but Shanahan sees it differently. And that is why the 49ers opted to pursue McKinnon instead of Carlos Hyde.

“I don’t know the numbers until I like the guy,” Shanahan said. “I always watch the guy first, and turn on the tape and get lost in it for a while. There were so many things I liked about him, visualizing how we would use him and stuff he would do. And even though there wasn’t a ton of it, you still got to see him do some stuff that we do a lot. Where he did it, he excelled a ton and was very good at it.

“Eventually, I look at the numbers and it did surprise me. Then you go back and you try to see why. I’m not going to get into all the whys, but I know all the stuff we liked about him, we cut up those numbers. I think they would’ve been good numbers.”

In four NFL seasons as a part-time player, McKinnon (5-9, 205), averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. The past two years, he gained 539 and 570 yards with rushing averages of just 3.4 and 3.8 yards.

Hyde (6-foot, 230) is a bigger back with more production in his career. He rushed for 988 and 938 yards in 2016 and ’17 with averages of 4.6 and 3.9 yards.

Shanahan said he looked at every player who was available, and McKinnon was the player he evaluated to be the best of all the free agents. Shanahan has long valued running backs who are versatile in the run and pass games with an ability to make defenders miss.

“A good run is when you get more yards than what it was blocked for,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes, runs are blocked for negative 1 (yard) and the best run in the game was a 1-yard carry.

“Sometimes the one that most people could do is a 60-yarder because it was a busted coverage or a busted front and nobody was there. Numbers do tell stuff, but it’s never an absolute."

The 49ers signed McKinnon to be the starting running back with Matt Breida likely mixing into the action. The 49ers could also be in the market to add to the competition and depth through the draft.

Shanahan is likely to deploy multiple players, just as he did successfully with Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. McKinnon is expected to take Freeman’s role. In each of Shanahan’s two seasons as Falcons offensive coordinator, Freeman accounted for more than 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 1,056 and 1,079 yards while catching 578 and 462 yards in passes.

“I’m just excited to be in the offense that I feel is a perfect fit for me,” McKinnon said on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

“Things that coach Shanahan has done with the backs like he did in Atlanta with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, I see myself doing those kinds of things. For me, I feel like the scheme is right. The fit was just perfect for me. I feel like I can’t be in a better situation as a player.”

Shanahan said he liked McKinnon as a draft prospect in 2014 out of Georgia Southern but it was more difficult to evaluate him because he mostly played quarterback in college.

But in studying McKinnon while with the Vikings, he saw a runner who has speed and elusiveness while also exhibiting the strength to break arm tackles. He set the record at the NFL Scouting Combine for running backs with 32 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press in 2014. But McKinnon's best asset might be his ability to be a factor in the passing game in blitz pickup, while also being a dependable receiver out of the backfield or in the slot.

“When it comes to separating and beating linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage, I definitely think he’s an issue for teams,” Shanahan said. “I think this league, when it comes to third downs and things like that, you move the chains based off of matchups, which allows you to get points in the long run. I think Jerick is very versatile and we can do a lot of things with him.

“He’s good enough to make it as a runner alone in this league. He’s good enough to make it in the pass game as just a third down threat alone, but when you can do both of those, it gives you a lot of freedom as a coach.”

Report: NFL teams viewed Kaepernick as a starting QB, collusion case reveals

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USATSI

Report: NFL teams viewed Kaepernick as a starting QB, collusion case reveals

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted out of his deal with the San Francisco 49ers last March, and went unsigned for the entirety of the 2017 season. That, reportedly, may not have been because of his playing ability. 

Testimony from witnesses under deposition in Kaepernick's collusion case against the NFL and "internal franchise documents generated as part of the free-agency evaluation process" indicated that multiple teams viewed Kaepernick as good enough to be a starting quarterback, Pro Football Talk reported Monday, citing a source with knowledge of the situation.

Kaepernick filed a grievance under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement in October, alleging that he was unsigned after first sitting, than kneeling, during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality throughout the 2016 season. He started 11 games in 2016, throwing for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns, and four interceptions. His interception percentage (1.2 percent) was sixth-lowest among starting quarterbacks (minimum 10 starts) that year, and he finished 17th in passer rating (90.7).

Recapping Reuben Foster's day in court and what happens next

Recapping Reuben Foster's day in court and what happens next

Linebacker Reuben Foster remains away from his 49ers teammates during the offseason program as he faces three felony charges, including two for domestic violence.

Foster’s case took a major turn on Thursday with explosive testimony from his ex-girlfriend who accused him on Feb. 11 of dragging her down stairs by her hair, punching her 10 times in the head with a closed fist and destroying her cell phone.

The 49ers declined comment on the developments, as a decision is expected next week on whether the case against Foster will move forward. An NFL spokesman told NBC Sports Bay Area that the league will “continue to monitor all developments in the matter.”

Here is a rundown of the developments and testimony at the Hall of Justice in San Jose on Thursday:

The bottom line
Judge Nona L. Klippen, heard testimony and arguments for more than four hours. Typically, a judge will make an immediate decision after a preliminary hearing whether there is probable cause to advance a case to trial.

In this case, Klippen said she needed more time to consider the evidence and sort out “a number of different statements.”

Foster did not take the stand. He spoke in court just once – “Yes, your honor” -- when he waived his right for an immediate judge’s decision. Judge Klippen will make her ruling on Wednesday, May 23, at 3:30 p.m. If the judge determines there is probable cause, a trial could then be scheduled for July. If she does not find probable cause, one or more of the charges could be dismissed.

Foster’s only noticeable reaction during testimony came when he shook his head, indicating he disagreed with Los Gatos police officer Katrina Freeman when she testified Foster appeared agitated when she spoke to him on Feb. 11 at the Los Gatos home after the alleged incident.

The testimony
Prosecutor Kevin Smith called four witnesses to the stand in hopes of strengthening the Santa Clara County District Attorney office’s case to prove probable cause and send Foster to trial. But none of the four appeared to provide convincing testimony against Foster, as Foster’s attorney, Josh Bentley, expertly navigated cross-examination.

The key testimony to the DA office’s case, Foster’s accuser, ended up being a star witness for Foster’s defense.

Foster’s ex-girlfriend, Elissa Ennis, testified against the advice of her lawyer, Stephanie Rickard. Ennis was the second witness called to the stand. She admitted she was angry and wanted to destroy Foster’s career after he said he would break up with her. On the stand, she admitted lying to a 911 dispatcher, police, hospital staff and her mother when she told them Foster injured her during an argument on Feb. 11.

Why did Ennis say she lied? She said she was angry, hoped to destroy Foster's career and wanted money from him. She admitted to stealing more than $8,000 of his money, as well as jewelry, including two Rolex watches, which remain in a safe deposit box in Louisiana. She said Foster has not given her any money -- "not a dime," she said -- since the alleged incident in Los Gatos.

When Bentley asked her why she would appear under oath and risk prosecution for perjury, theft and lying to police, she answered, “I had to do the right thing.”

The first witness was the motorist who stopped to allow Ennis to use his cell phone. He said Ennis appeared calm as she made a couple of phone calls, including to 911. The calls were made, testimony showed, after Foster tried to remove Ennis and her clothes from the house. Ennis twice re-entered the house, the second time through forced entry through a glass door at the back.

The final two witnesses were detective James Wiens and Freeman, who was one of 12 officers on the scene at the Los Gatos home on Feb. 11. The prosecution aimed to establish that Ennis provided the most accurate account of the alleged incident with her initial statement to investigators.

The recantation and video
Wiens, the lead investigator from Los Gatos police, was assigned the case. One day after Ennis told police that Foster dragged her down the stairs by her hair, punched her approximately 10 times, threw their bulldog across the room and spit on her, she told Wiens via phone from Louisiana that she made up the story. Freeman testified that the dog did not appear injured.

Wiens said Ennis first told him about a fight with another woman in San Francisco that caused the injuries. Wiens said she said she had been drinking and got into an altercation outside a bar near Union Square.

On the stand, Ennis said she had not been drinking and was involved in a road rage incident near Pier 39 in San Francisco. She got into what she described as a 15-minute fight. A 22-second clip of that fight was posted on Instagram. The video was flagged and deleted, apparently due to nudity. In the struggle, Ennis’ top was ripped off.

The video was not shown in open court, other than when Bentley played it for Wiens twice to refresh his memory. Wiens acknowledged that some of Ennis’ injuries could have occurred from the specific actions captured on the video.

Wiens admitted to initial skepticism about the veracity of Ennis’ account of the fight and could not confirm the date, time or location of the altercation that involved Ennis from the video recording.

The prosecution also suggested Ennis and Foster spoke on the phone a day or two after the alleged incident in Los Gatos. Wiens said Ennis’ mother told him that she saw Ennis speaking on the phone in the early morning hours a day or two after the alleged incident. When Ennis’ mother said, “I know you’re talking to Reuben,” Elissa Ennis just rolled over.

Upon cross-examination from Foster’s attorney, Josh Bentley, Wiens admitted he had no evidence Ennis and Foster spoke. The defense likely belived this interaction is relevant because it is believed in many cases in which an alleged victim of domestic violence recants her story, a turning point occurs when the woman begins to see the alleged abuser as the victim.

The photo evidence
Photos were placed into evidence that show apparent injuries to Ennis’ neck, face, hands and knee.

The prosecution said if Ennis had gotten into a fight the night before the alleged incident with Foster, her hands would have shown more evidence of the struggle. Bentley pointed out that two fingernails appeared damaged and some of the documented abrasions could have been from fingernails during a struggle.

Officer Freeman, who wore a body camera and referred repeatedly to her initial report while on the stand, said Ennis told her that Foster punched her 10 times with a closed fist. Bentley asked the officer if Ennis’ injuries did not appear consistent with someone who had been punched repeatedly by a professional football player.

“It’s not my job to make an opinion,” Freeman said.

Bentley countered, “I’m asking for your opinion.”

Said Freeman, “People punch differently.”

The weapons charge
In addition to the two domestic violence charges, Foster has also been charged with felony possession of an assault weapon. Foster legally purchased the weapon, a Sig Sauer 516, in Alabama. Bentley described this case as a wobbler, which means it could be considered a felony or a misdemeanor. The defense asked the judge to consider the less-serious of the options. Bentley pointed out the gun is legal in many states and was not used in any criminal act.

Smith, the prosecutor, stressed that the gun is illegal under California law and was not safely stored. It was found on a bathroom floor after Ennis directed law enforcement to its location within the Los Gatos house.

The Ennis-Foster relationship
Ennis originally told police she and Foster had been dating for five years and lived together for two years. On Thursday, she said they had known each other two to three years. She said she would travel to the Bay Area a couple of times a month beginning in August 2017 and stayed with Foster, who moved to Los Gatos just before Christmas.

There was testimony that Foster smashed Ennis’ phone, once after she was “invading his private space” to record video of him sleeping. Another time, she said, Foster broke the phone after she “politely” threw it at him. Ennis pushed back on the idea Foster broke her phone, saying it was his phone -- that he paid for it, and she was merely using it.

Bentley argued in his closing statement that the felony charge of attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime is not applicable because no crime was committed in the first place.

When Foster sold the Corvette that Ennis had been driving, she admitted to planning to take photos and sell them to TMZ. She said under oath that she was looking to profit from the situation.

Ennis also admitted to falsely accusing another former boyfriend of domestic violence in 2011 when he said he threatened to break up with her. Ennis was arrested in 2011 and charged with two counts of aggravated assault in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Bay Area News Group reported. The case was dismissed nearly two years later.

At the end of her testimony, which lasted approximately 90 minutes, the prosecution asked Ennis if she still loved Foster.

“I don’t love him,” she said, crying. “I need help for myself.”

Ennis said she would seek unspecified treatment at a clinic upon her return to Louisiana.