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49ers minicamp review: Injuries allow little-known WRs to step forward

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Aaron Burbridge seems to specialize in gritty, over-the-middle type catches.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Aaron Burbridge seems to specialize in gritty, over-the-middle type catches. AP file

Remember last week when Jimmy Garoppolo was firing touchdown passes to tight end Garrett Celek and other targets and was otherwise red-hot in the red zone? Well, he and the first-team offense cooled off on Wednesday, the final 49ers' practice of the spring. Or at least it was the defense's turn to crank up the heat.

Garoppolo and company moved the ball well during the team's initial hurry-up session. He hit running back Jerick McKinnon for what either would have been a big gain or a long catch-and-run touchdown. But after completions to Celek and Kendrick Bourne, he had four straight incompletions near the goal line. The passes were too high and it may have been that the quarterback was placing the ball in spots where the only results would be a catch or an incompletion.

That's because his targets -- which didn't include Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor or Dante Pettis -- were well-covered. The team's most veteran cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Jimmy Ward, didn't practice. The first-team players again were Ahkello Witherspoon and Tyvis Powell, who have held up very well in recent weeks, especially on Tuesday and Wednesday. Garoppolo rarely has challenged Witherspoon this spring. He did so with a throw in the back of the end zone to Aldrick Robinson on Wednesday, but Witherspoon -- a frontrunner for Most Improved 49er -- broke up the pass.

The second- and third-team offenses had similar results on Wednesday. C.J. Beathard had a quick-toss touchdown to tailback Raheem Mostert from close in. Third-string quarterback Nick Mullens connected with Kendrick Bourne for a touchdown in the right-hand corner of the end zone.


With so many receivers ailing -- none of the injuries are long-term -- Bourne has taken a lot of snaps this spring and has made the most of his opportunities. So has Aaron Burbridge, who seems to specialize in gritty, over-the-middle type catches. Burbridge also made a nice play during special teams drills when, serving as the punt-return gunner, he dove and batted back a punt that was about to roll into the end zone for a touchdown. Which is to say, he's setting himself up to be a valuable, bottom-of-roster type player. ... Kyle Shanahan said Goodwin is dealing with a tight back and that the team felt it was wise that he sit out this week.

Garoppolo and the first-team offense were far more crisp than they were on Tuesday when they were riddled by pre-snap penalties. It also should be noted that he had several nice, mid-range touch passes. He's particularly masterful at crossing routes that drop just over the reach of a linebacker. He had one of those to Robinson today that hit the receiver just before he went out of bounds.


Fifth-round draft pick D.J. Reed nearly had an interception in the end zone when he stepped in front of tight end Cole Hikutini on a pass from Beathard. Reed has been playing free safety with the second-team defense. Hikutini, in the lead to be the No. 3 tight end, had a nice over-the-middle catch from Beathard earlier in the practice.


Kyle Shanahan said outside linebacker Dekoda Watson's calf injury, which he suffered Tuesday, was unlikely to bleed into training camp. Eli Harold and Pita Taumoepenu played there Wednesday, though the team mostly was in its nickel defense during the afternoon.

Whereas Mike Person began Tuesday's practice at right guard, Joshua Garnett was there on Wednesday. The competition for a starting spot there will include veteran Jonathan Cooper when training camp begins. Shanahan said the first practice of the summer was scheduled for July 26.

General manager John Lynch spent a big chunk of practice chatting with Mike Shanahan on the sideline. Lynch played for the elder Shanahan in Denver from 2004-07.