49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon making a case to start at cornerback
Ahkello Witherspoon received his unofficial welcome to the NFL late in Wednesday’s practice.
The lanky rookie cornerback was on the goal line when running back Carlos Hyde broke an inside run to the outside and found only Witherspoon between him and the end zone. Witherspoon (Christian Brothers High School) probably thought that because it was a light-contact session, the two would make contact but not in a violent manner.
Hyde, however, had other plans. The big tailback lowered his shoulder a delivered a massive hit that sent Witherspoon sprawling backward. While he got to his feet, Hyde screamed and flexed in the end zone.
“I’m not worried about that last play,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said afterward. “It’s a non-tackling drill and the ol’ vet caught him off guard.”
Tackling, however, was Witherspoon’s biggest critique coming out of the draft. He was praised for his size, speed and footwork but seemed like a reluctant participant when it came to bringing ballcarriers to the ground.
General manager John Lynch acknowledged that was a concern when he watched film of Witherspoon at Colorado.
“It’s something that we raised to him and we didn’t hide from it,” Lynch said after making Witherspoon a third-round pick. “I said this and showed him the film (and said), ‘That bothers me; help me out here.’ And he was aware that it does need to improve and is committed to making it improve.”
Saleh said the physical aspects of the game have not been an issue for Witherspoon in training camp. He’s been working with the second-team defense so far this summer.
“We’ll see when we’re actually allowed to tackle,” Saleh said. “And I have full faith that Ahkello’s going to do exactly what he’s been coached to do. He’s not a coward by any means. He will get in there; he will tackle. He’s been showing up in run fits; he’s physical with his hands at the line of scrimmage. So we’re excited to see what shows up on game day. We think it’s going to be pretty cool.”
Pump the brakes – Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster has received plenty of praise over a first week of training camp that has included three interceptions. But Saleh said there’s no rush to elevate Foster, who’s mostly lined up with the third-team defense.
“Reuben, he has a lot of flash plays,” Saleh said. “The best way I can explain with Reuben is he’ll get his opportunity when he absolutely, absolutely deserves it.”
Foster had an interception in one-on-one drills Wednesday when he stepped in front of running back Raheem Mostert. But he also was beaten handily three times before that and is nowhere near as polished in coverage as the starter at weak-side linebacker, Malcolm Smith.
Et cetera – Safety Eric Reid (ankle) and tight end George Kittle (hamstring) went through individual drills but were held out of the full practice. Linebacker Eli Harold (head) also did not participate.
▪ The 49ers said safety Jaquiski Tartt is day-to-day with a rib injury. Without Tartt, Reid and Jimmie Ward (hamstring), the first-string safeties were Lorenzo Jerome at free safety and Vinnie Sunseri at strong safety.
▪ Newly signed receiver Louis Murphy went through the warm up but did not practice. Instead he hung back with a cheat sheet of plays so that he could familiarize himself with the playbook.