49ers

Will 49ers look for safety help after Jimmie Ward broke his collarbone?

Will 49ers look for safety help after Jimmie Ward broke his collarbone?

One week of 49ers organized team activities is in the books.

Nearly a quarter of the 49ers’ 90-man roster is sidelined by injuries. The good news is that none of the unexpected ailments is expected to keep anyone out of action into the start of the regular season.

Let’s open the 49ers Mailbag to see what’s on the minds of those chiming in on Twitter (click here to follow @MaioccoNBCS):

Will SF be looking to sign another safety (Tre Boston, Eric Berry, etc) since Jimmie Ward got injured? (@Irfannzo)

I do not get that sense.

Here’s something I feel confident about stating: If you believe the 49ers have major weaknesses at the safety positions, the organization disagrees with you.

Jimmie Ward is expected to be out eight to 12 weeks (I’m hearing the 12-week estimate is being ultra-cautious). The 49ers believe, if healthy, Ward is their best defensive back. Period. So if they believe he is going to be ready from this injury in plenty of time for the regular season, then they also believe there is no reason to react.

Of course, this latest injury only adds to the long list of broken bones Ward has experienced since becoming an NFL player. So the 49ers must also be comfortable with the backup.

The backup free safety, Adrian Colbert, was the no-questions-asked starter at that position last year at this time. He did not build on the promising end to his rookie season, and now he figures to be No. 2 on the depth chart.

There is a segment of 49ers fans who are asking about Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. But applying the same reasoning as the drawback to Ward, those players do not make much sense, either. Berry, 30, has missed 29 games the past two seasons due to injuries. Thomas, 30, has missed 19 games the past three years with injuries. Ward, 27, has missed 21 games the past three years.

As for Boston, he is seen as more of a hybrid safety, and not necessarily the kind of player who is a fit for the 49ers’ need. Boston, 26, remains unsigned, and could be heading for his fourth team in four years.

Plus, if the 49ers believe a healthy Ward is better than all the available options – and, yes, that’s what I believe the 49ers believe – then, why would one of those veteran players come to the Bay Area on a one-year contract to be an insurance policy?

Are the 49ers wrong in their assessment of the safety positions? We’ll find out. But I do not believe they feel an urgent need to bring in a veteran – at this time.

Which RB will get the most touches in the regular season? (@EliasMata)

The big question with Jerick McKinnon is whether he will be the same player in his first season back from ACL surgery. It might take him a while. Therefore, Tevin Coleman is most likely to be the back who gets the most touches – both as a runner and a receiver.

Coleman is the clear favorite with the next three players in line, McKinnon, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, unable to participate in OTAs.

What do the 49ers have for a succession plan for McGlinchey when he replaces Staley? Will we see that in the draft next year? (@TnNinerfan)

Joe Staley enters the final year of his contract. He will be at left tackle for as long as he wants to play – and as long as he continues to play at a high level. Mike McGlinchey moves four spots to this left when Staley steps aside.

By the end of this season, the 49ers should have a good idea whether Shon Coleman or Justin Skule -- or someone else on the team -- can start at right tackle for the future. If the long-term answer is not on the team, they will look toward the 2020 draft.

How worried should we be about Bosa’s injury situation (@ssschreffler)

Nick Bosa sustained a grade-1 right hamstring strain during OTAs on Tuesday. That’s not a big deal at all. Other top defensive rookies, Quinnen Williams (calf) and Josh Allen (knee bruise), are also missing time with their respective teams.

If the 49ers want to get Bosa back on the field for the end of OTAs or the mandatory minicamp, they can do that. My guess is they’ll shut him down, as a precaution, to get him ready for the opening of training camp in late-July.

But when you take into account his history, then I can completely understand the concern. It was Bosa's only real drawback as a draft prospect.

Who do you predict will play more snaps on the defensive line in 2019 between Armstead and Thomas? (@Citizen510)

Arik Armstead is a very good run defender. That’s his forte. Solomon Thomas is still trying to find his niche. I think they will both get a lot of playing time, but my guess is Armtead sees more playing time.

The 49ers’ adjustments on the defensive line should benefit both players. So, ultimately, the 49ers will ride the player who gets hotter as an inside pass rusher in nickel situations.

Matt, who do you think the favorite is to start at SAM now that the 49ers are moving to a more traditional 4-3 front in their 9-wide scheme? (@Chazcast)

Mark Nzeocha lined up at the strong side position with the first team last week during OTAs. But I’ll go with Malcolm Smith as the starter, as long as he’s healthy. The 49ers would not have restructured Smith's contract and brought him back if they viewed him as a backup and special-teams player.

My wife and I take "gamecations" from Santa Fe, NM every year. Which away game do feel is best to go see this season? Unfortunately, we chose Seattle last season. (@ShanoPerez)

OK, now we’re talking. I love this stuff.

First, a word of advice: Make it about more than the game. If your enjoyment of a football trip is based solely on the outcome of a game, there’s a good chance you’re going to come away disappointed.

Seattle is absolutely one of my favorite road trips because the stadium is walking distance from any hotel downtown. Moreover, the restaurants, craft breweries and sites are as good as it gets.

New Orleans is unlike any NFL city in the country. Yes, Bourbon Street is dirty and stinks, but the food is so great. As I see it, New Orleans and Washington are the clear favorites for top 49ers road trips for 2019.

[RELATED: Jimmy G back on the field, expects to be ready for camp]

Ordinarily, Seattle easily ranks ahead of Los Angeles, but that game falls on Week 17 this year. That makes it a crap shoot of what you’ll be getting. Arizona is good, but I dropped it down to last place this year because not a lot of people can get away for a Thursday game.

I also believe the rest of the trip should build up to the game, not the other way around.

Ryan Clark calls 49ers a 'pretender,' but their play proves otherwise

Ryan Clark calls 49ers a 'pretender,' but their play proves otherwise

One NFL analyst says it's time to start taking the 49ers seriously. Another feels just the opposite.

"They are pretending," ESPN's Ryan Clark said of San Francisco on Wednesday's episode of NFL Live. "They are faking us out. They are imitators, pretenders, whatever you want to say. They are not the real deal at 2-0."

Clark insisted that the 49ers should be the lowest-ranked of the nine current 2-0 teams in the league, which is interesting, considering they've won their two games more decisively than all but one of the others. San Francisco leads the NFC in points scored, and outside of the Cowboys, they've scored at least 15 more points than every other team in the conference. They also have the best point differential of any team in the league not named the New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have won their two games by a combined total of three points. They beat the Bengals by a single point at home. The 49ers just walloped the Bengals by 24 points in Cincinnati. Seattle's other victory came over a Pittsburgh team that lost its starting quarterback in the first half.

Dallas has beaten the lowly Giants and Redskins -- not exactly murderer's row. The Bills have beaten the Jets and Giants for their two victories, both on the road -- just like San Francisco. Both of Buffalo's games have been played in the same stadium, though. The 49ers just spent two weeks in Tampa Bay and Youngstown, Ohio.

Nonetheless, the former NFL defensive back views the 49ers' undefeated record as the least legitimate, due mainly to questions surrounding their quarterback.

"Listen, I still don't believe in Jimmy Garoppolo," Clark continued, "and I know a lot of people said he's gotten over some of the struggles of the preseason and he's fully back from the injury. Kyle Shanahan did a great job of scheming people open against the Cincinnati Bengals but [Garoppolo] was not sharp against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They won that game because Jameis Winston was just actually worse."

To say Jimmy G looked rusty in Week 1 is certainly fair. To give him no credit for San Francisco's offensive explosion in Week 2 is most certainly not.

[RELATED: Rice thinks 49ers are Super Bowl contenders after 2-0 start]

ESPN's Adam Schefter agrees with that latter sentiment.

"So what?" Schefter said in reference to Clark's comments on Thursday's "Murph & Mac Podcast" on KNBR. "Ryan Clark is thinking of the 49ers from last or the previous years. This is a different team. The defense is better. The running game is strong. Jimmy G has another year in the system.

"And yes, there are questions. Let's not anoint them as potential Super Bowl contenders yet. There are definite questions that this team has to answer, but the team is still 2-and-0 on the road."

'Super Bowl contender' might be an overreach. That said, 'pretender' might be one, too.

49ers' Richard Sherman not surprised by Ahkello Witherspoon's resurgence

49ers' Richard Sherman not surprised by Ahkello Witherspoon's resurgence

SANTA CLARA — Ahkello Witherspoon has come into his third NFL season locked in, looking like a completely different player than he was less than a year ago. Fellow 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman couldn’t be more proud. 

Witherspoon was on a steep upward trajectory as he closed out his rookie season in 2017. Not only had he earned a starting position with the 49ers, but he also was now going to be playing across from and learning from Sherman, one of the most respected cornerbacks in the league. 

Before the 2018 season, Sherman saw Witherspoon’s talent and believed in him enough to invite him to his ‘Cornerback Summit’ down the street from 49ers headquarters at Stanford. At Sherman’s alma mater, Witherspoon found himself working out with with the likes of All-Pro cornerbacks Darius Slay, Aqib Talib and Xavier Rhodes.

The media portrayed Witherspoon as having “arrived,” but things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Witherspoon’s sophomore season in 2018 did not live up to the expectations and hype. Quarterbacks tested him and won, as they avoided throwing towards Sherman’s side of the field. People outside of 49ers headquarters wondered if the attention was too much for the young cornerback from Colorado University. 

Sherman’s belief, however, never waned and that has been the key to Witherspoon’s resurgence. The veteran cornerback spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about what has changed for the third-year defensive back. 

“Just his mentality, how he approaches things it’s how he deals with adversity,” Sherman said. “It’s been really cool to just see him evolve from last year to this year. He’s worked at it meticulously, he’s stayed detailed, he’s stayed locked in, when things weren’t going how he wanted them to, he made sure his mentality was always right and it’s lead to the success he’s had.”

It may seem like a small detail, but Witherspoon admits he's changed his approach. His most important adjustment? Having a short memory.  

“I think it’s really just caring a little less,” Witherspoon told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It sounds kind of backwards but I used let a catch kind of weigh on me for three or four plays. Now if you got a catch, it doesn’t matter because I’m still the best corner on the field. If you give up a catch it just happens. It happens to the best people.” 

Sherman can see a night-and-day difference in Witherspoon from 2018. 

“It’s a lot different than last year,” Sherman said. “He didn’t respond as well to certain things that happened to him. He knew that, and he understood and worked to change that.” 

The bond between the two cornerbacks is very evident at practice and in games. When Witherspoon makes a big play, like his pick-six in the season opener, he looks to Sherman immediately -- like a younger brother seeking out approval. 

“I just feel like it’s kind of putting on a show,” Witherspoon explained. “When you have somebody that supports you that much, and you make a play, it’s kind of like you look to him like, ‘Man I’m out here doing it. There it is again.’ 

“So just seeing him, having that connection on the field, it’s inspirational going on to the next play.”  

Sherman’s belief was exactly what Witherspoon needed to propel him into his third season. Sherman still gives the younger cornerback all the credit for being able to turn his approach to the game around. 

“I believe in him and he believes in himself,” Sherman said. “But I think that sometimes you get into that spot where you feel that no one is in your corner and nobody is supporting you. I think I was one of the positive voices for him at a time where there weren’t a lot of positive voices outside of his family.” 

[RELATED: 49ers rookie Samuel doesn't need many snaps for big stats]

Witherspoon’s soft-spoken demeanor remains the same, but now there’s an underlying confidence behind it. He almost seems to stand taller knowing how far he’s come, while recognizing that this is still the beginning of his journey. 

“Last year I was learning as a player and learning as a man and I think this year you can see the growth.”