SANTA CLARA – The running back 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan hand-picked to replace Carlos Hyde showed why he could be in line to have a big season with his new club.
On the first play of the 49ers' first practice of training camp, Jerick McKinnon got to the corner on an outside run, turned upfield and scampered untouched down the left sideline. Later, he snuck out of the backfield and was all alone -- after linebacker Reuben Foster and nickel back K'Waun Williams collided -- and caught a swing pass from Jimmy Garoppolo for a big gain.
“If you look at what coach Shanahan does, all his backs do both,” McKinnon said, “I’m excited to be here and take my game to the next level.”
After four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, McKinnon admitted he initially had a difficult time adjusting to the intricacies of his new offense during the offseason program. But a lot of studying, and some extra work at Garoppolo’s get-togethers, has McKinnon feeling a lot more comfortable at the beginning of training camp.
“When I was first got here, I was lost,” McKinnon said with a laugh. “I was really lost. My head was spinning with the different protections that I got to learn, the different concepts I got to learn. Basically, I had to take my old way of thinking that I’d been doing for four years and switch it up into a new one.
“I guess it’s complex when you’re new to it. But once you start studying and learning more, you get it. So I don’t know if I’d call it complex any more. I’m starting to get it.”
Play of the day
Linebacker Brock Coyle started 10 games last season at middle linebacker after starting five games in his previous three NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Coyle continued to elevate his play toward the end of the season and finished fourth on the team with 62 tackles. He did not participate in the practices during the offseason program after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he made his presence felt in the first practice of camp.
Coyle was in position to break up a Garoppolo pass for Bolden early in practice. Then, he made the best play of the day when he cleanly stripped tight end George Kittle of the ball a nanosecond after Garoppolo’s pass arrived at its target.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh seemed to agree that Coyle might be generally underrated as a player around the league, but he added, “He’s not underrated in this building.”
Coyle is among the group of linebackers competing for roles this season. Malcolm Smith, who did not practice due to a lower leg injury, and Reuben Foster are projected as the starters. Coyle, Fred Warner, Korey Toomer, Elijah Lee and Mark Nzeocha are competing for action for the first two games of the regular season, when Foster is set to serve a two-game suspension.
Player of the day
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, coming off his breakout season, looked sharp running routes and making catches. He caught a deep crossing route from Garoppolo against the coverage of Adrian Colbert early in practice. He also caught a deep ball between Reuben Foster and Colbert, then beat Ahkello Witherspoon for a 20-yard reception.
“His speed is electric,” Colbert said of Goodwin. “Nobody in the league is as fast as him, in my opinion.”
Third-round pick makes pick
Cornerbacks Tarvarius Moore and Tyvis Powell came up with interceptions during 7-on-7 drills against quarterbacks C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens. Moore’s interception came on a 50-50 ball intended for Dante Pettis. Both Moore, a third-round draft pick, and Pettis, a second-rounder, had their hands on the ball. But when they tumbled to the ground, it was Moore who emerged with the football.
Witherspoon, a second-year player, made a dramatic improvement from last summer in training camp into the regular season. Witherspoon replaced Rashard Robinson in the starting lineup and started nine games. Now, there is no question he is a starter opposite of Richard Sherman.
“When he first got here, he was this little scrawny corner that everyone said wouldn’t hit anybody,” Saleh said. “And now he’s a man.”
This ‘n’ that
Cornerback Richard Sherman, cleared to participate in training camp after sustaining a torn Achilles in November, lined up at left cornerback with the 49ers' first-team defense. He played a variety of press and off coverage and appeared to be moving well. The 49ers plan for Sherman to take part in practices two days in a row, then take one day off throughout camp. . . While Trent Taylor spent Day 1 on the physically unable to perform list as he rounds into shape following offseason back surgery, the 49ers had four players back fielding punts during special-teams drills: Pettis, D.J. Reed, Richie James and Victor Bolden. . . . Cassius Marsh and Jeremiah Attaochu, who are competing for jobs as nickel pass-rushers, both looked explosive in one-on-one drills. Marsh beat rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey on one speed rush, while Attaochu got the better of left tackle Joe Staley. . . Kendrick Bourne failed to come down with a catchable deep ball on the sideline, but he bounced back with a 20-yard catch from Beathard against Moore. . . . The defense won the day, limiting Garoppolo to 4-of-9 on passing in team drills. Beathard completed five of eight pass attempts.