San Francisco 49ers

49ers practice report 10: Dark-horse safeties making big impacts

Boise State Broncos safety Chanceller James (3) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, at Air Force Academy, Colo.
Boise State Broncos safety Chanceller James (3) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, at Air Force Academy, Colo. AP

Chanceller James was in the news on Tuesday after he was involved on a frightening friendly-fire type hit that left linebacker Donavin Newsom still and unconscious. (Newsom later was diagnosed with a concussion, a serious injury for sure, but also a bit of a relief considering how bad the injury could have been).

Both James and another undrafted safety, Lorenzo Jerome, have been highly visible throughout the spring and summer and that continued Tuesday. James is 215 pounds and plays the strong safety spot. That's the intimidator role in the defense, and one that James has been filling well, including on a big hit against running back Tim Hightower on Tuesday.

But the smaller member of the duo, free safety Jerome, also has been beating up on opposing receivers and running backs the last few days. Early in practice, he seemed to intimidate Aldrick Robinson on a throw over the middle that did not connect. Later, he absolutely leveled Robinson on a catch Robinson did make. Jerome already has shown he has tremendous instincts on deep passes. In fact, he came down with another interception Tuesday on an overthrown sideline pass from Brian Hoyer to Marquise Goodwin. It seems he's trying to prove that he also has the fierceness needed from the safeties in a Seahawks-like defense. Over the last two practices he's shown exactly that.

Of course, he doesn't win every battle. Jerome's scrappiness seemed to get under the skin of veteran receiver Pierre Garcon after Garcon was stopped for no gain by cornerback K'Waun Williams after a screen pass. After the play was obviously dead, Jerome ran up and tried to swat the ball from Garcon's hands, which led to a minor scuffle between the two players. Later in the session, Hoyer hit Garcon in stride on a 12-yard pass. The receiver turned up field and then flattened Jerome who was closing in from center field. You win some, you lose some, Lorenzo Jerome. … Jerome is the only rookie who consistently is getting first-team repetitions. Depending on how quickly Jaquiski Tartt returns from his rib injury, Jerome should start Friday's game in Kansas City or at least get some repetitions early in the game.

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As promised by coaches, Ray-Ray Armstrong worked with the first-string unit at weak-side linebacker. Reuben Foster was with the second-team squad and came away with yet another interception, this one over the middle on a throw from Matt Barkley. Not to be outdone, Armstrong also had a takeaway, which came during a two-minute drill. Working in the shadow of his own end zone, Hoyer tried to hit Hightower on a quick pass. NaVorro Bowman tipped it and Armstrong grabbed it out of the air.

The starting offensive line seems set for Friday. It will likely be: Joe Staley (LT), Zane Beadles (LG), Daniel Kilgore (C), Brandon Fusco (RG) and Trent Brown (RT). The second-team line is where things get fuzzy. Jeremy Zuttah continues to get some repetitions as center, but in the last few days at least, Tim Barnes has been getting more with that unit. Barnes also has been taking a lot of snaps at left guard.

At tackle, there seems to be a roster battle between John Theus and Garry Gilliam. That is, the 49ers seem to be wondering which backup tackle to have in uniform on game days. If it's Gilliam and something were to happen to left tackle Joe Staley, Trent Brown would slide to left tackle -- where he took a few snaps Tuesday -- and Gilliam would play on the right side. If it's Theus under the same scenario, Theus likely would play left tackle and Brown would remain on the right.

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Quinton Dial, Earl Mitchell, and DeForest Buckner each batted down passes Tuesday. Buckner also had one of the "sacks" on the day. … Beginning in Saturday's practice, Bowman has been very prominent, especially against the run. He said he's been able to be more aggressive as he's begun to master the defense. ... Eli Harold practiced in full after recovering from his own concussion. He had a big hit on a running back after coming down the line of scrimmage from his strong-side linebacker spot. … Tartt and linebacker Brock Coyle (ribs) both went through individual drills but were held out of the full practice.

On offense, Hoyer's prettiest pass was to running back Matt Breida on a wheel route. Breida gained 40 yards before he encountered his first defender, which was Jerome. Breida, the team's fastest running back, also had a couple of nice gains on outside runs. … Fellow rookie Joe Williams had a fumble, which he recovered but which drew the ire of running backs coach Bobby Turner.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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