Jimmy Garoppolo continues to look good the closer the 49ers get to the end zone. During an 11-on-11 red-zone drill on Tuesday, the quarterback made four throws from the 9-yard line or closer and all ended up as touchdowns despite close coverage from the defense.
Garoppolo's first pass was threaded through traffic to tight end Garrett Celek, who is emerging as the quarterback's go-to red-zone target and who wrestled the ball from cornerback Tyvis Powell in the back of the end zone. The second went to receiver Kendrick Bourne, who took a lot of first-team repetitions on Tuesday, in front of Jaquiski Tartt. The third was a lofted pass to George Kittle as he broke free from coverage in the right-hand corner of the end zone. Kittle had to turn around and leap to make the catch, but he landed in bounds. On the fourth, Garoppolo spun away from the pass rush before hitting running back Matt Breida in the near corner of the end zone.
By contrast, only one of second-string quarterback C.J. Beathard's attempts reached the end zone, one in which Victor Bolden caught a short pass at the sideline and stretched the ball over the goal line. Linebacker Dekoda Watson and cornerback Greg Mabin broke up other Beathard passes while another throw to Bourne was behind the receiver.
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Garoppolo wasn't perfect on Tuesday. One of his throws early in practice was nearly intercepted by linebacker Korey Toomer in the middle of the field. A deep throw to Pierre Garcon during a "move" period at the end of practice was intercepted by Mabin on a leaping grab in the end zone.
However, he also had a nice, deep sideline pass to Breida, who was lined up as a wideout on the play. Breida got a half step on rookie cornerback Tarvarius Moore and Garoppolo feathered the ball to him for a 35-yard gain.
The 49ers were without cornerback Jimmie Ward (ankle) and linebacker Malcolm Smith (groin) for the session. (Neither injury is considered serious). With Richard Sherman (Achilles) also out, the first-string cornerbacks were Ahkello Witherspoon and Powell, although Moore also got some work with the first-team group. Moore and Mabin worked with the second-team offense. Why hasn't Witherspoon been mentioned very much in these reviews? Because Garoppolo has seemed to stay away from his side of the field, at least in practices that have been open to reporters.
With Smith out, the first-string linebackers were Reuben Foster at weak-side linebacker and rookie Fred Warner at middle linebacker. After missing the first month of the offseason program, Foster still is working on his conditioning and he split time with Toomer at his position. A Foster-Warner starting duo may not be Plan A in 2018 but it certainly is for future seasons.
A pair of undrafted rookies came away with interceptions. Strong safety Terrell Williams Jr. picked off third-string quarterback Nick Mullens on a pass in the back of the end zone to tight end Cole Hikutini. Later in practice, Mullens was intercepted by free safety Corey Griffin.
Bourne had another strong practice as he worked with everyone from Garoppolo and the first-team offense to Mullens and the third-string unit. Trent Taylor's back injury has given some other receivers a chance to work with the top group and Bourne has been taking advantage of his snaps there.
Despite getting beat on the pass to Breida, Moore also looked good on Tuesday. Earlier in the drill, he broke up a pass from Garoppolo to Aldrick Robinson. Moore certainly doesn't look out of place at cornerback despite not playing the position in college. He, Mabin and Powell appear to be competing for perhaps the final backup spot at cornerback.
Starting nose tackle Earl Mitchell did not practice Tuesday, which allowed second-year player D.J. Jones to take snaps with the first-string line. Tackle Darrell Williams, linebacker Brock Coyle and receiver Max McCaffrey also missed practice. Running backs Jerick McKinnon and Jeremy McNichols returned to practice after missing last week's open session.