49ers

Why Richard Sherman believes 49ers' Jason Verrett might surprise people

Why Richard Sherman believes 49ers' Jason Verrett might surprise people

SANTA CLARA -- A rash of injuries has only allowed cornerback Jason Verrett to play in 25 games over his four-year NFL career.

But veteran cornerback Richard Sherman believes Verrett's debut with the 49ers might surprise a lot of people. 

“He’s a dog,” Sherman said. “He’s rugged, he’s going to be in their face, he’s going to be tooth and nail, he’s going to claw, he’s going to grind it out. He’s going to be just the kind of player that he was before the injury.” 

Sherman, who has dealt with his own Achilles rehabilitation, knows about the expectations of returning to the field, not only from himself, but from others.

“People talk about injuries like you can control them,” Sherman said. “‘You know, he used to be scrappy, he used to be this, but look at him now.’ The guy didn’t want to be hurt. The guy didn’t want the knee injury, the Achilles, but it happens and that’s part of his journey. 

“I think that he’s excited to go back out there and I think a lot of people in this organization, people who haven’t seen him play, will see a corner that they didn’t realize was as talented and as good as he is.” 

Sherman opened up about what he and Verrett have talked about.

“We’ve had conversations just the mentality of coming back, the confidence level," Sherman said, "the trust that you have in your own body that it’s going to react the way you expect it to. 

“The maneuvering confidently into your cuts, and into your workout, and not having fear of it rupturing again, or tearing, or the leg being too weak. Just the mentality going through the peaks and valleys of rehabilitation. It’s tough but he’s a at a great place now.” 

Head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke to Verrett after his second day of practice just to check in on how he was feeling after such a long hiatus. 

“I see a guy who is getting his confidence back,” Shanahan said. “Verrett has worked as hard as anyone. Really, I just went up to him in that period because I didn’t get a chance to talk to him yesterday after practice, so I just went up to say congratulations on getting through your first day.

“I just wanted to go check on him and see what that mental deal was for him because when guys have been hurt that much and they come back and they work at that high intensity for the first time, its not like he’s been playing pick-up football at the YMCA the last few months, this is his first time playing football."

Shanahan liked what he heard from Verrett. 

“That is a very big head game for him," Shanahan said. "He survived yesterday, I wanted to see what he said and he was very happy and encouraged how it was, and we will keep ramping it up as we go."  

Prior to the start of training camp, general manager John Lynch also expressed interest in seeing what Verrett is capable of on the field. 

“We’re very excited that he’s feeling healthy,” Lynch said. "I think there will be some management of him. Obviously, you don’t want to throw a guy like that out there in terms of reps, but we’re kind of doing that with the whole team and we’re excited about Jason.”

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Shanahan confirmed that they will be careful with Verrett, working him back into the fold gradually. 

“We’ve just got to be smart with him because we all know there’s a history there,” Shanahan said. “But, the way he looks right now, you wouldn’t know that. He’s put the work in and I’m pumped for him to be in this situation and we’re going to have to protect him from himself more than anything.”

Jeff Wilson celebrates birthday with his one and only offensive play

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AP

Jeff Wilson celebrates birthday with his one and only offensive play

SANTA CLARA – On the biggest play of the game, 49ers running back Jeff Wilson was on the field for his first offensive snap.

“That might be all you get, so you better be ready for it,” Wilson said.

On Sunday, that was all Wilson got. And, boy, was he ready.

One day after turning 24, Wilson had a celebration -- the result of his ability to remain focused and loose. Wilson rose to the occasion to beat an all-out blitz with a 25-yard catch and run on a quick pass from Jimmy Garoppolo as the key play in a 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Wilson’s first career touchdown reception gave the 49ers the lead with 31 seconds remaining Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers added a touchdown on the final play of the game, when the Cardinals fumbled in desperation mode and D.J. Reed returned it 4 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers improved to 9-1 on the season, and Wilson was the latest unexpected hero to emerge.

Matt Breida was sidelined with an ankle sprain, and the 49ers did not get much production on the ground from Tevin Coleman or Raheem Mostert. Coleman had 14 yards on 12 attempts, while Mostert gained 13 yards on six carries.

After a delay for a booth review, the 49ers entered the huddle trailing 26-23 with 37 seconds remaining with the ball at the Arizona 25.

Coach Kyle Shanahan made the decision to put Wilson in the game because he was effective running the upcoming play during the practices leading up to the game.

“Honestly, we were in the huddle initially and it was Tevin next to me and then I went to the sideline and was taking to Kyle and came back and all of the sudden it was Jeff next to me,” Garoppolo said. “You got to tip you hat to him to be ready in that situation. As big of a moment as that was, I think it was his first offensive snap, and I mean to do that, it’s incredible.”

The play opened up for Wilson when Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called an all-out blitz, leaving the middle of the field open and Wilson matched up against edge rusher Chandler Jones, who leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks.

On the previous play, tight end Ross Dwelley caught a 3-yard pass on a third-and-3 situation. Shanahan said he was going to go for it on fourth down, if Dwelley had been stopped short. And when the 49ers got the first down, it gave them time to get Wilson into the game for his one play.

“It was neat watching him just because that was the play we were calling as long as we got the first (down),” Shanahan said. “When they were reviewing it and watching Jeff do high knees in the huddle, trying to get warmed up for the route. Glad he had the time to get loose.

“You had five guys in protection and they are usually bringing six, so it can be a very bad call or it can be a very good call. It’s going to be one or the other when it’s over.”

Wilson said he knew Jones would be matched against him when he saw Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick move a few feet to his left. That indicated to Wilson that Reddick would blitz and if Wilson exited the backfield around the left side, Jones would be responsible for covering him.

“I knew he was one of the better guys on their defense, but I also knew he was a D-end,” Wilson said of Jones. “His hips aren’t that good. He can’t move side to side, especially when his whole body was turned. So it was a simple, one step, cut across his face, go get the ball.”

Wilson made the inside move on Jones, who stumbled and fell. Wilson caught the pass and outran safety Jalen Thompson and split Budda Baker and Patrick Peterson to arrive untouched into the end zone.

The game-deciding play was not the only time Wilson stepped on the field, of course. He also served as one of team’s core special-teams players. He said he also stayed mentally sharp due to the nature of the game and being in another close, thrilling finish.

“I stay warm by watching. My teammates give me thrills,” Wilson said. “You do a little stretch here and there, and I play special teams, as well. Special teams always keep me loose.”

George Kittle likes what he's seen from Ross Dwelley taking his spot

George Kittle likes what he's seen from Ross Dwelley taking his spot

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Ross Dwelley cannot replace George Kittle in the 49ers’ offense, but he came up with some huge plays in the 49ers’ 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

While Kittle missed his second consecutive game with knee and ankle injuries, Dwelley stepped up with four catches for 14 yards. His statistics were not prolific, but they were important contributions in San Francisco's ninth victory in 10 games this season.

The 49ers were trailing 16-0 in the first half before Dwelley caught touchdown passes of four and five yards from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Those were the first two touchdown catches of his NFL career.

Then, he had a huge first-down pickup on a third-and-3 play late in the fourth quarter to set up the Garoppolo-to-Jeff Wilson pass that provided the winning points in the closing minute.

Kittle spoke in the locker room after the game on the condition that he only be asked questions about Dwelley, who has started six consecutive games for the 49ers due to injuries to fullback Kyle Juszczyk and, now, Kittle.

“I don’t think anyone really saw that coming when he first got here and the strides he’s taken in these last two years is incredible,” Kittle said of Dwelley, who came to the 49ers last season as an undrafted rookie from the University of San Diego.

“A lot of that is on our coaching staff and tight ends coach [Jon Embree], but a lot of that is on Ross and the time he spends in here getting his body right and mentally. He’s just doing such a great job for this team.”

Kittle compared Dwelley's ascendance to the way quarterback Nick Mullens stepped in last season when he was needed after injuries to Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard. Kittle said he has not had to spend a lot of one-on-one time with Dwelley during the time he has taken over as the starting tight end because Dwelley is on top of things.

“Fortunately, a guy like Ross doesn’t really need a lot of help,” Kittle said. “He’s been preparing to play. He prepares every game like he’s going to start, and he’s going to play every single rep, so he just hopped in, pretty similar to Nick last year.

“He just hops in, and he’s ready to go, and there’s not a lot of, ‘Hey, get your toes wet.’ He’s just out there going full speed, and that’s what you want out of the guy.”

The 49ers hope to get Kittle's services back next week for the team’s Sunday night game against the Green Bay Packers. Kittle leads the 49ers with 46 receptions for 541 yards and two touchdowns in seven games.

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Dwelley has 14 catches on the season for 66 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a clutch third-down conversion two weeks ago that helped the 49ers clinch their Week 9 victory over the Cardinals.