A potential trade, an ankle injury and a free agent come into play in 49ers preseason
Last year's joint practice between the 49ers and Broncos outside of Denver was marked by several scuffles and fights, most of them seemingly involving then-Broncos rookie center Dillon Day. Wednesday's in Santa Clara had only one melee, and it also had a rookie at the center of it.
Seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert, who has been more visible since he moved from cornerback to safety early in training camp, blasted Broncos tight end Steven Scheu after a short pass. The session is supposed to be a non-tackling one, so of course Scheu and several of his Broncos teammates took offense. The two sides had to be separated with Denver coach Vance Joseph and 49ers general manager John Lynch among the peacemakers.
Colbert, who had a two-interception practice earlier in the week, played free safety both with the second- and third-string defenses at various points during the day. Fellow rookie Lorenzo Jerome continues to get the most work at free safety with the first-team group, although Jaquiski Tartt also took some repetitions there. He was on the field when Trevor Siemian's pass to the sideline was tipped, batted high in the air by cornerback Rashard Robinson and then hauled in by Tartt.
Broncos receiver Jordan Taylor -- the intended target on the interception -- had several catches on the afternoon, a few of them over-the-middle grabs. But the 49ers defense seemed to come out on top more often.
Dekoda Watson had a "sack" on Siemian and later batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Robinson knocked down another pass, this one intended for receiver Demaryius Thomas, while fellow cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon had two pass break-ups along the sideline. Linebacker Brock Coyle and cornerback Asa Jackson nearly had interceptions.
Linebacker Reuben Foster had an interception in one-on-one drills, then knocked the ball free of C.J. Anderson after the running back made a short catch. Foster has said he's been trying to perfect the so-called "Famous Peanut Punch" taught to him by Malcolm Smith -- one in which they aim for a specific spot and try to punch the ball free from an offensive player -- and it seemed to work on that play.
Foster later went to the sideline and had a trainer work on his neck and shoulder area. The issue did not seem serious and afterward he told Lynch that he was fine. Still, Foster was held out of 11-on-11 drills for the rest of the session as a precaution with Ray-Ray Armstrong filling in at weak-side linebacker.
I watched the 49ers defensive line in one-on-one pass-rush drills. The pass rusher who stood out most was draft pick Pita Taumoepenu, who beat Ty Sambrailo on two straight snaps, the second one a nifty spin move. Taumoepenu has been showing up more in recent practices as his comfort level continues to grow. He has received more snaps since Aaron Lynch went down with an ankle injury.
Also getting more practice time -- Solomon Thomas, who will be a starter on Saturday if the 49ers begin in the nickel formation. In that alignment, Ahmad Brooks and Elvis Dumervil are the defensive ends while Thomas and Arik Armstead are the defensive tackles. Of course, Thomas is there because DeForest Buckner is out with an ankle injury. But the first-round draft pick will be rotated through at the position even when Buckner is back. It was clear on Wednesday that Thomas is more effective pass-rushing from defensive tackle (or three technique) than he is from defensive end. That was the case at Stanford, too.
On offense, the connection between Brian Hoyer and receiver Marquise Goodwin remained hot. The Broncos have a tall, long-limbed cornerback in Aqib Talib, and Hoyer said those big cornerbacks sometimes have trouble with smaller, shiftier wideouts like Goodwin. That certainly seemed to be the case on Wednesday.
The 49ers' offensive line seems set to start the season with, from left to right, Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, Daniel Kilgore, Brandon Fusco and Trent Brown the starting group until Joshua Garnett is ready to return from knee surgery. Garnett had been lining up at the left guard spot at which Beadles is now situated.
The real battles are for the backup spots. Garry Gilliam was the second-string left tackle for most of the day while John Theus played right tackle. They essentially are battling to be the team's swing tackle this season and each has played on the left and the right. Undrafted rookie Darrell Williams is probably one step behind them but also has taken plenty of second-team reps at both left and right tackle as well. Meanwhile, Tim Barnes is the frontunner to be the backup guard/center on game days.
Rookie George Kittle went through a full practice the last two days after missing a big chunk of training camp with a hamstring strain … There are many, many connections between the two teams including this one: Former 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst is Denver's tight ends coach. … Jimmie Ward watched practice from the sideline. How healthy is his hamstring? Two plays ended with players spilling out of bounds at his feet and he high-stepped and hot-footed backward each time like he was at full strength. ... The Broncos and 49ers will practice together again on Thursday, which is the final day of training camp. The players have a day off Friday and their game is on Saturday.