49ers

Wilton Speight now with 49ers after playing for Jim Harbaugh, Chip Kelly

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MATT MAIOCCO

Wilton Speight now with 49ers after playing for Jim Harbaugh, Chip Kelly

SANTA CLARA – The coincidence did not immediately hit quarterback Wilton Speight, who last week agreed to a three-year contract to join the 49ers as an undrafted rookie.

Speight played the bulk of his college career at Michigan for Jim Harbaugh. For his final year of eligibility, he transferred to UCLA, where he played for Chip Kelly.

So after starting at quarterback in college for two recent 49ers head coaches, Speight is now a member of the 49ers. Go figure.

“It didn’t really cross my mind until Chip texted me right after and was all fired up,” Speight said after a practice at 49ers rookie camp. “He said, ‘You’ll love it there.’ I got to the equipment room, and all the equipment guys have been here X-amount of years for both staffs. That was the first time they talked to me about it.”

Speight certainly looks the part of an NFL quarterback. Listed at 6-foot-6, 232 pounds, Speight has the size and physical tools. The ball came out of his hand cleanly with tight spirals during his debut on the 49ers’ practice field in the non-padded work during rookie camp.

Speight, however, experienced an up-and-down college career. In the spring of 2015, he received a very public reprimand from Harbaugh, who had been recently fired as 49ers coach. As part of a Harbaugh profile in HBO’s "Real Sports," the coach was shown berating one of his quarterbacks.

“I’m just telling you the right way to do it,” Harbaugh snapped at the player. “If you want to look at me with that look, go (expletive) somewhere else.”

The player’s jersey number and face were blurred, in an apparent attempt to obscure which player Harbaugh was addressing. That, clearly, did not work.

“Everyone knew it was me because I was taller than he was,” said Speight, who was recruited to Michigan to play for previous coach Brady Hoke.

“He (Harbaugh) told me if I had a sour look on my face to transfer to Princeton or something like that. That was on the HBO special, so everybody knew he and I, obviously, butted heads a little bit. And that carried over a little into fall camp, and I just put my head down and worked and got up to second string that year.”

Speight rose from being the Wolverines’ fifth-string quarterback to the starter as a sophomore. He appeared in 12 games in 2016, as Michigan rose as high as No. 2 in the national rankings in mid-November. Speight completed 204 of 331 passes for 2,538 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season. His relationship with Harbaugh grew in the process.

“In order for the team to be successful and have a smooth operation, it needs to be a solid relationship,” Speight said. “And especially since he played quarterback at the University of Michigan, there were a lot of similarities and common things that we shared.

“And, also, everyone said we looked alike and he ate that up. He loved that. We had a great relationship.”

Speight's best football appeared to be in front of him. But his junior season came to an early end when he sustained three fractured vertebrae in his back in the fourth game of the season at Purdue. Speight sat out the final nine games of the season and decided to consider all his options for his final year of college eligibility. He said he and Harbaugh spoke frequently during the process.

“He and I had an open talk, an open door policy,” Speight said. “He knew I was going to do what was best for me, and that was for me to go be the quarterback at UCLA at that time.”

Speight was eligible to play immediately as a grad transfer, and he won the starting job for Week 1 in Kelly’s first season as UCLA coach.

“My experience was awesome, working with Chip,” Speight said. “It was a totally different approach and style, X’s and O’s wise, but also off the field, and the scientific approach that Chip takes.

“Chip and I watched a lot of film with Nick Foles, and I noticed a lot of similarities in terms of build and how I moved in the pocket and stuff like that.”

In Kelly’s first season as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, Foles threw 27 touchdown passes and just two touchdowns in Kelly’s offense. But Kelly was fired after three seasons with the Eagles. He lasted just one year with the 49ers.

Speight sustained a back injury in the first game with UCLA and did not return to action until late-October. He was back on the field for the highlight of UCLA’s season, an upset victory over crosstown rival USC.

Speight was not among the 17 quarterbacks invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, but he did get a couple of opportunities to show his skills to a large group of NFL scouts and evaluators.

Michigan tight end Zach Gentry and receiver Grant Perry got in contact with Speight about the possibility of him attending the pro day this spring at his old school. Michigan did not have any quarterbacks graduating, and they wanted someone familiar to throw them passes. But, first, Harbaugh had to approve the idea of Speight taking part in the Michigan pro day.

“They asked me to take it to him because he and I had a close relationship, still have a close relationship,” Speight said. “So I just picked up the phone, gave him a call. He answered and immediately said, ‘That’s a great idea.’

“I think, first and foremost, it helped his current players. But it also helped me, his former quarterback.”

Four days later, Speight took part in the UCLA pro day. The 49ers also gave Speight a private workout in Southern California, and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day was in constant contact with him throughout the draft process.

[RELATED: Observations and notes from 49ers rookie camp]

Speight received post-draft interest from four teams, he said. He opted to sign with the 49ers over offers from the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Speight joins a 90-man roster that alreaady features Jimmy Garoppolo, C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. He went out to his first day of 49ers rookie camp on Friday feeling secure about his knowledge of the playbook and ready to provide assistance to any of his new offensive teammates who might need help.

“I woke up this morning knowing the playbook inside and out," Speight said. "I wanted to come out and show well and be able to lead the guys, and be a confident guy that if somebody needed to ask a question because they weren’t sure, I’d be their guy to answer it.”

49ers Mailbag: Could Terrell Suggs be staying in the NFC West?

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JENNIFER LEE CHAN

49ers Mailbag: Could Terrell Suggs be staying in the NFC West?

The 49ers have established good depth this season and have managed to keep rolling despite 15 players going on injured reserve since training camp.

The defensive line has been an area of great depth since the additions of Dee Ford in a trade and Nick Bosa in the draft. But that unit has taken some recent hits.

The possibility of the 49ers adding some depth leads off this edition of 49ers Mailbag:

I do not see any possibility – or reason – for the 49ers to put in a roster claim for 31-year-old cornerback Janoris Jenkins. But Terrell Suggs is a different story.

The 49ers have seen their depth at edge rusher diminished with season-ending injuries to Ronald Blair and his replacement, Damontre Moore. Also, Dee Ford is not expected to play in the final three games of the regular season. Ford’s hamstring injury could carry over into the postseason, too.

Therefore, it would make sense for the 49ers to make a claim for Suggs, whom the Arizona Cardinals waived on Friday. The problem is that the 49ers are No. 31 in the priority claim list. So, 30 teams would have to pass on Suggs.

As if a reminder is needed, the list of teams in front of the 49ers in the order of waiver claims includes the Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Rams. It would not shock me if either (or both) put in claims for Suggs to prevent the 49ers from getting him. (If that were the case, and no other teams submitted a claim him, Suggs would end up with teh Rams.)

As for Jenkins, whom the New York Giants waived on Friday, whose spot is he going to take? Not Ahkello Witherspoon. Not Emmanuel Moseley. And Richard Sherman is due back soon. The 49ers have a good thing going, and I don’t see them going after Jenkins.

Both Suggs and Jenkins – and the rest of the football world – will find out on Monday. That’s when the waiver-claiming period ends for both players.

While in his 30s, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan always stayed with the hot player. He turned 40 on Saturday. My guess is Shanahan will be the same person into his early-40s.

In recent weeks the hot running back was Raheem Mostert. He leads the team in rushing yards (608) and rushing average (6.0). He has never started a game in his NFL career, but when the 49ers were in a do-or-die situation against the New Orleans Saints, Mostert was on the field.

That tells you all you need to know.

The 49ers believe Mostert is one of the best special-teams players in the NFL. I tend to agree with that assessment. He is now producing like one of the top running backs in the league, too.

So, yes, with the more he’s asked to do on offense, the more it seems he is pulled away from special-teams coordinator Richard Hightower. But he still has a role on special teams.

Last week against the Saints, Mostert played 38 snaps on offense and was on the field for 16 plays of special teams. He is playing a little bit less on special teams than typical, but the 49ers still him use in that phase of the game because he is so darn good.

That’s a difficult one, but I think the price might be too high to retain Arik Armstead on a one-year franchise deal.

Remember, this is a team that hopes to be able to sign DeForest Buckner and George Kittle to long-term extensions.

It’ll cost the 49ers approximately $18 million to place the franchise tag on Armstead. Unused cap money rolls over, so that would be $18 million fewer dollars to pay out elsewhere.

As for cap casualties, I don’t see any way the 49ers can retain running back Jerick McKinnon at his scheduled salary. And there is no way they will keep wide receiver Marquise Goodwin whatever the price.

The reason the 49ers have kept both Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard behind Jimmy Garoppolo is because they honestly believe they are among the team’s 53-best players. They view Mullens and Beathard as valuable assets to the organization.

Also, remember, only 46 players suit up for games. So it really does not matter if they keep a player at another position on the 53-man roster because that player would not be suiting up for games, anyway.

Certainly, Robert Saleh will get some attention for head-coaching openings. His work as 49ers defensive coordinator should get him in the door as a candidate, and he will undoubtedly be impressive in the interview process.

Two individuals who could be candidates to become offensive coordinators with play-calling responsibilities are passing game coordinator Mike LaFleur and run game coordinator Mike McDaniel.

Shanahan declined to grant permission to Green Bay for LaFleur and Arizona for McDaniel to hire those two assistants because he considered those coaching positions to be lateral moves. The head coaches in both of those places call the offensive plays, just as Shanahan does with the 49ers.

I do not believe the 49ers are going to breeze through this game because of the injuries, as well as the difficulty of bouncing back from such an emotional victory. Also, the Atlanta Falcons are playing better football. It is not going to be easy.

It will be difficult, no doubt.

But I think you also have to look at the players who have been lost for the season due to injuries. Here’s how I rank the importance of the players lost to season-ending injuries:

1, Nose tackle D.J. Jones
2, Center Weston Richburg
3, Linebacker Kwon Alexander
4, Edge Ronald Blair

The remainder of the guys on injured reserve were not going to be big factors down the stretch of the season.

Those four listed above are all very good players, but I believe as long as the rest of the injured guys who are going to miss the game Sunday – Richard Sherman, Jaquiski Tartt, K’Waun Williams, Jullian Taylor and Ford – can return in time for the playoffs, the 49ers should be fine.

Dante Pettis, I would assume, will be in uniform. He has been cleared to play after sitting out two games with a knee injury. Jordan Matthews was signed this week to be the 49ers’ sixth receiver, so I would not envision him suiting up for the game.

49ers activate Kentavius Street off IR to take D.J. Jones' roster spot

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USATSI

49ers activate Kentavius Street off IR to take D.J. Jones' roster spot

After missing the first 29 games of his NFL career due to a knee injury sustained in a pre-draft workout, 49ers defensive lineman Kentavius Street is set to play in his first game in nearly two years.

The 49ers activated Street off injured reserve Saturday to take the roster spot vacated when defensive tackle D.J. Jones was placed on injured reserve. Jones is out for the season with a severe high-ankle sprain.

“It’s something I’ve been preparing for for a while now, so I’m extremely excited for the opportunity,” Street said this week about the likelihood he would be activated to the 49ers’ 53-man roster.

Street is a versatile defender who can line up at any position along the 49ers’ defensive line. He will be counted on to be a rotational player and provide depth. The 22-year-old primarily played defensive end during the offseason program and training camp, but could see more action at defensive tackle.

“The great thing about our defense is, whether you’re inside, outside, playing on the tight end, playing on the guard, it’s relatively the same," Street said. "It’s just a bigger person in front of you. It’s not really much of a change.”

[RELATED: 49ers' spotlight on Garland in pivotal game vs. Falcons]

Jones started 11 games at nose tackle before sustaining the season-ending injury on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Street was expected to be a second- or third-round draft pick 2018 before he tore his ACL during a workout with the New York Giants. He spent his entire rookie season on the non-football injury list. Street experienced discomfort in training camp and was moved to injured reserve one day after the team’s cut to 53 players.