The 49ers went through their first full-pads practice today. Some of the defensive linemen showed off their strength during one-on-one passing drills. During team periods, Brian Hoyer looked very consistent in hitting short, medium and deep passes, including several to Pierre Garcon. A couple of rookies had interceptions for the third-team defense, linebacker Reuben Foster and good-looking strong safety Chanceller James.
The padded practice claimed one victim. Strong safety Eric Reid came up hobbling with what appeared to be an ankle issue after the second play of team periods. He limped off the field, tried to come back but eventually left for good. The injury did not appear to be a long-term one, but it left the team without its starting safeties since free safety Jimmie Ward already was out with a hamstring pull. (Kyle Shanahan said the hope is that Ward is back the week the 49ers scrimmage with Denver that precedes the teams’ Aug. 19 preseason game).
With those two out, Jaquiski Tartt continued to play free safety while Vinnie Sunseri played strong safety with the first group. For most of the day, the second group was Don Jones (SS) and Lorenzo Jerome (FS), but at the end both Jerome and James got a chance to play together with the second squad.
James had an interception in the June minicamp and he had another one today in which he picked off Matt Barkley on a throw over the middle. Like Jerome, James went undrafted in the spring. Unlike Jerome, James wasn't a coveted free agent and only joined the 49ers after he was impressive in their rookie minicamp as a tryout player. He's got good size at 6-2, 210 pounds and seems to be a quick learner.
Jerome, meanwhile, had an interception during Saturday's session. He has been playing free safety with the second-team defense and nickel cornerback with the third-team defense. That's a good sign for him: It means the coaches are eager to see how much value he could give them if he makes the roster.
If you're scoring at home, you know Foster already has two interceptions in his first three practices. Sunday's came after rookie Nick Mullens tried to hit the slot receiver over the middle but Foster rolled into the area to cut off the pass. It was an easy play, but only because he read it perfectly.
Foster had zero interceptions in three seasons at Alabama, perhaps because he played the "Mike" role there. The "Will" position he's playing now has more coverage responsibility, something he seems to be picking up. Foster was very active whenever he was on the field. It seems as if it's only a matter of time before he bumps Ray-Ray Armstrong and is playing with the second-team defense.
The best battle of the day was the heavyweight bout between the offensive and defensive line in one-on-one pass drills. Nose tackle Earl Mitchell was perhaps the most impressive as he manhandled center Daniel Kilgore on successive snaps. Before you conclude that Kilgore isn't the answer at center, know that Mitchell also handily beat Jeremy Zuttah twice in a row, too.
Also looking sharp were DeForest Buckner, who beat guard and fellow 2016 first rounder Joshua Garnett, and Tank Carradine, who showed his strength in absolutely blasting poor rookie lineman Richard Levy. (I have video I'll post later).
Rookie Solomon Thomas did not stand out in the drill. The first-round draft pick battled ex-Stanford teammate Garnett to a draw on their first encounter. On the next Garnett was the winner.
Hoyer and Marquise Goodwin continue to connect, including on a deep, deep ball against cornerback Dontae Johnson for a would-be touchdowns. However, Arik Armstead got by tackle Trent Brown on the play and "tagged" Hoyer for a sack before he threw the ball. Armstead had at least two of those in team sessions while the second-team "Leo" pass rusher, Aaron Lynch, had at least one. Lynch seems to be in the 270-pound range after reporting too heavy this spring.
Goodwin and Garcon clearly are the team's top two wideouts. Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor and Jeremy Kerley seem to be in good shape, too. But if the 49ers kept six receivers? It's cloudy at this point, although DeAndre Carter, Kendrick Bourne and Victor Bolden all had multiple catches today. Bruce Ellington doesn't get a lot of credit given his injury history, but he did make a nice, one-handed catch in stride today on a throw from rookie C.J. Beathard.
Eli Harold, who has taken a lot of first-team snaps at SAM linebacker this summer, had a nice pass break up on a play in which he drifted down the sideline. It's notable because he didn't do a lot of pass coverage at UVA or over his first two seasons with the 49ers.
Carlos Hyde broke free for a nice gain on the team's first play during 11-on-11 drills. Matt Breida looked good on a couple of short passes he was able to turn up field.
Finally, there were a hundred or so fans on hand for today’s practice, but they were situated in stands on the far field. The 49ers held their practice on the near field, so the view was terrible. Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch noticed and invited those fans to stand closer to the action. That’s a little different than the fans-at-practice attitude of previous regimes.