‘Chemistry you can’t force:’ 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan on team’s offseason dynamics
Rookie Dante Pettis on Tuesday had his strongest practice of the spring, at least among those that have been open to reporters. Playing mostly on the outside in place of Marquise Goodwin, who was sidelined, Pettis caught four passes during 11-on-11 drills, including a deep one down the sideline on a perfectly thrown pass from C.J. Beathard.
The 49ers' second-team offense was in hurry-up mode, and Beathard took the snap from the opposition's 35-yard line with 14 seconds on the scoreboard. Rookie Tarvarius Moore, a third-round pick, had good coverage on the play, but Pettis had a half-step advantage and hauled in Beathard's pass inside the five-yard line. On the next snap, Beathard found Aaron Burbridge open in in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown against rookie safety Terrell Williams Jr.
Given his second-round status and the fact that he's the team's top punt returner, Pettis is virtually guaranteed to make the 53-man squad. Burbridge is fighting for a spot. But he's looked solid so far this spring and he also has special teams value as a gunner on punt coverage. That is, he has at least a solid chance this summer.
Goodwin was on the sideline in warm-up clothes. Judging by the fact that he was dancing and gyrating to the music being played, his issue does not appear serious. In addition, the 49ers revealed today that receiver Trent Taylor had an operation to remove bone spurs from his lower back a few weeks ago. The procedure is not considered serious and Taylor should be back early in training camp if not the start of training camp. Another receiver, Max McCaffrey, also did not practice… Strong-side linebacker Dekoda Watson went down with a calf injury midway through practice. His absence bumped Pita Taumoepenu up to the second string. (Eli Harold is the starter at the position).
Jimmy Garoppolo and the first-team offense had an up-and-down day, one that included a couple of false starts early in practice. Garoppolo threw a nice pass just over the defense to Pierre Garcon on a crossing route. Garcon, however, juggled the ball as he was going out of bounds and it was incomplete. The two hooked up on a similar play later in the practice -- Garoppolo went with a nifty sidearm delivery to avoid an oncoming pass rusher -- but the connection between them has been difficult at times this spring and it's clear that they never played with one another a year ago. Garcon was lost for the season with a neck injury the day before the 49ers traded for Garoppolo.
Garoppolo also had a bad-throw interception on a series in which the offense began backed up deep in its own territory. He tried to squeeze a pass to Burbridge in coverage and it was picked off by cornerback Tyvis Powell. For the first time this year, Richard Sherman warmed up with teammates and went through individual drills. But both he and Jimmie Ward (ankle) sat out practice. That made Powell and Ahkello Witherspoon the first-team cornerbacks. Moore and Greg Mabin played with the second team; Rookies Tarvarus McFadden and Emmanuel Moseley were with the third team.
Before practice began, Kyle Shanahan said that running back Joe Williams was doing well, but like any young player, he needed to focus on certain things, including holding on to the football. The words proved prescient when, toward the end of practice, Williams caught a short pass, then promptly lost the ball after he was stripped by inside linebacker Mark Nzeocha. Williams is competing with Raheem Mostert and undrafted rookie Jeff Wilson for the role of No. 3 running back. Jeremy McNichols did not practice Tuesday and has been out most of the spring.
"It’s just about doing it day in and day out and protecting the football, what do you do when the run doesn’t look good, what do you do without the ball in your hands and just everything," Shanahan said of Williams. "Being the same guy every day. Joe has come a long way this year and I’m really excited about him coming back to training camp.”
Malcolm Smith was back at practice after sitting out an OTA session last week. He was the starter at "Mike" linebacker while Reuben Foster played with the first team at "Will" linebacker. It was the first time that combination ever has practiced together, at least in front of reporters. Rookie Fred Warner also got a chance to work alongside Foster with the first-string defense later in practice and it will be interesting to hear what Shanahan has to say Wednesday about whether Smith is in danger of losing his starting role to Warner.
Also rotating were right guards Mike Person and Joshua Garnett. Person began the practice with the first-string offensive line, Garnett was there toward the end of the session.