49ers

Traded by 49ers, Vance McDonald finally gets to see how the other half lives

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AP

Traded by 49ers, Vance McDonald finally gets to see how the other half lives

Vance McDonald is walking from Santa Clara to Pittsburgh today, singing “I Am 16 Going On 17.” He got a nice contract from the 49ers as Trent Baalke’s legacy signing, and now he doesn’t have to play for the team he signed for.

Now that he’s a Steeler, though, his future may be more problematic. Mike Tomlin might prefer Jesse James, his current tight end, or backup Xavier Grimble because his name is Xavier Grimble. But McDonald is now looking at a 10-win team with a sharper uniform in a more football-rabid town rather than a four-win team that thought red numbers on a black jersey was a good idea in a town that doesn’t mind leaving half of its stadium empty to sunstroke.

In other words, the Steelers didn’t win the trade and neither did the 49ers. Vance McDonald did.

Players usually don’t win much of anything in the modern NFL. They get paid, they get their bodies ravaged, their money and contracts disappear at a moment’s notice and an office dweller’s whim – it’s a swell life until it isn’t.

But in this small way – bad team to good team – McDonald triumphed. His time in San Francisco was intermittently happy, with injuries and impressive plays intertwining into a fairly nondescript footprint. But all evaluations of 49ers in the last three years should be heavily asterisked because of the turmoil-enriched failures that began atop the organizational chart and ground through to the equipment staff (for rhetorical excess use only; the equipment guys did fine).

But as a Steeler, McDonald gets to see how the other half lives, in a place where he will be known on sight from Primanti Bros. to the airport. If he has a decent year, he will be worshiped a great Scots god.

And he can start to wax nostalgic for that catch in the ’13 NFC Championship game, and imagine that there might be more where that came from.

Plus, he got paid. Happy times, from his pal Trent.

Solomon Thomas expects 49ers' D-line to form dominating combinations

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USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES

Solomon Thomas expects 49ers' D-line to form dominating combinations

While Solomon Thomas is determined to prove he is worthy of his lofty draft status of two years ago, he is under no pressure to do it alone.

The 49ers’ defensive line is stacked with five players who entered the league as recent first-round draft picks.

Only Dee Ford, chosen No. 23 overall by the Kansas City in 2014, is on his second NFL contract. The 49ers acquired him in a trade for a second-round pick in 2020 after the Chiefs designated him as their franchise player.

Ford, 28, has registered double-digit sacks in two of the past three seasons, include a career-best 13 last season. DeForest Buckner, the No. 7 overall pick of the 49ers in 2016, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl after a career-high 12 sacks.

Thomas, Buckner, Arik Armstead, chosen No. 17 overall in 2015, and recent No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa give the 49ers depth, as well as plenty of hope the defensive line can emerge as the clear strength of the team.

“Yeah, and we kind of love it,” Thomas said of the expectations for the season. “We’re excited for this year. We have some great players. Picked up a great player, a great kid, Nick Bosa. I love working with Nick so far. And Dee Ford has been a great leader. He’s a great player. He’s got one of the best first steps in football. It’s insane.”

Armstead had a strong season as a run defender and is looking to improve dramatically on his three sacks last season. Thomas admittedly struggled on the field in 2018 while trying to cope with the death of his sister, Ella, shortly after the conclusion of his rookie season.

[RELATED: Solomon Thomas eager to show why 49ers drafted him with No. 3 pick]

The 49ers’ defensive line figures to consist of a rotation of those five players, along with Ronald Blair on nickel downs and nose tackle D.J. Jones in the base defense.

Ford and Bosa are strictly edge players, while Buckner is exclusively a defensive tackle. Armstead and Thomas are considered defensive end in base situations and inside pass-rushers on nickel downs.

“We’re excited,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a fun year. We have great guys. Everyone in the room has a chance to contribute and be great and make this a great and fun year and a dominating year. That’s our goal, and that’s what we’re trying to do every day.”

Jimmy Garoppolo says 49ers QBs all stand to benefit from competition

Jimmy Garoppolo says 49ers QBs all stand to benefit from competition

SANTA CLARA – Unlike a year ago, there is competition inside the 49ers’ quarterbacks meeting room.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s spot is set as the starter, but Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard are competing for the backup job. Wilton Speight joined the three returners when he signed as an undrafted rookie from UCLA.

“It’s a good group,” Garoppolo said. “We all help each other out, especially in-between reps. You come to the sideline and coach might be busy looking at whoever’s in there, and you can talk to each other about it, just what they saw and if you mess something up, how you can fix it, things like that.”

Mullens finished last season on an impressive eight-game run. He completed 64.2 percent of his pass attempts with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 90.9.

His 2,277 yards passing are the fourth most in NFL history for a quarterback in his first eight starts, ranking behind only Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.

As well as Mullens played, his spot is not assured this year.

The 49ers still have a high opinion of C.J. Beathard, a third-round pick in 2017 who took over after Garoppolo’s injury last season. Beathard entered both of his first two seasons in the NFL as the team's unquestioned No. 2.

Beathard completed 60.4 percent of his passes last season with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions and an 81.8 passer rating. Beathard started five games – all 49ers losses – and his confidence appeared to take a beating as he absorbed one hit after and other and was sacked 18 times in 187 dropbacks.

On a short week, coach Kyle Shanahan went with Mullens against the Raiders in Week 9. Mullens had a near-perfect game and never gave Shanahan a reason to make a change back to Beathard.

[RELATED: Jimmy Garoppolo braces for full practice at start of 49ers training camp]

Mullens and Beathard are expected to split the 11-on-11 practice snaps during the offseason program while Garoppolo is relegated to just 7-on-7 drills. The competition for the backup role will intensify in training camp.

“It’s a good group of guys and a very competitive group of guys, which makes us all better,” Garoppolo said.