49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo talks about his wide receivers at minicamp
The 49ers have closed the doors and shut the lights off. Their last spring practice was Wednesday and they won't take the field again until July 26, the first practice of training camp. What did we learn about the promising bunch? What's in store for summer? Here are five thoughts from the offseason session:
When outside linebacker Dekoda Watson went to the ground this week and clutched the back of his lower leg, the worry was that he suffered an Achilles tear. As it turns out, he merely strained a calf muscle and should be back for the start of training camp. That was a theme this spring. Yes, the 49ers suffered the usual assortment of dings and dents, and second-year receiver Trent Taylor had to have a minor procedure on his back. But none of the issues is expected to linger too deeply, if at all, into training camp. Cornerback Richard Sherman, who tore his Achilles in November, remains on track to begin taking part in 11-on-11 situations at the start of camp.
Speaking of Sherman … When the 2017 season ended, cornerback was the 49ers' most threadbare position. The team had Ahkello Witherspoon on the outside and not much else. Since then they added Sherman, moved Jimmie Ward to cornerback, then used a third-round pick on Tarvarius Moore, who had played safety in college. He was one of the pleasant surprises of the spring, taking quickly to his new position to the point where he even received a few first-team repetitions with Sherman and Ward (ankle) on the sideline. If the 49ers' plan for the future is to have a pair of tall, long-limbed and fast third-round picks — Witherspoon and Moore — as the outside cornerbacks, it got off to a good start this spring.
The 49ers were encouraged by receiver Kendrick Bourne at the end of last season. Nine of his 16 catches in 2017 came in the final four games when the team was missing Pierre Garcon. Bourne continued that momentum in the spring. He was prolific in nearly every practice that was open to the media and caught passes with the first-, second- and third-string offenses. Aaron Burbridge also deserves mention at this position, but Bourne was the standout of the spring. If he maintains that consistency in the summer — and wins the war of attrition that often trips up young receivers — he seems on track to win a roster spot.
Those at 49ers practice this week had a rare sight: Reuben Foster lining up next to Malcolm Smith at inside linebacker. That was the plan when the team used a first-round pick on Foster a year ago, but the shoulder injury that kept him out of spring drills in 2017, coupled with Smith's season-ending pectoral tear in the summer, in conjunction with Foster's legal issues, meant that the plan had to be put on hold. Add to the mix good-looking rookie Fred Warner and Brock Coyle, who will return from a shoulder injury in training camp, and inside linebacker might be the team's deepest spot. They'll need that depth considering that Foster likely is facing some sort of suspension — look for the NFL to announce it on a Friday this summer — this season. "I think there’s seven of them — inside linebackers — we’ve got right now," Kyle Shanahan noted. "All seven of them are NFL players. They all work, they all challenge each other. But they all know there is some real competition there, too. You can’t have seven inside linebackers on our roster."
Finally, there was plenty of hand-wringing — including in this space — about quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who looked like a mere mortal at times this week. It should be noted, however, that he also had some wonderful throws that fell just beyond the reach of defenders into the hands of his receivers. He showed the same feel and adaptation — a sidearm arm throw to thwart an oncoming rusher, for example — that got everyone so excited last season. The truth is that some quarterbacks look rough during the week and stellar on Sundays. Joe Montana comes to mind. Others look fantastic in practice and disappear on game days. Brian Hoyer comes to mind. When it comes to Garoppolo, perhaps the most promising aspect of the spring was that he and his offensive mates stayed late when they messed up and that he plans to hold a players-only session or two to bridge the long gap until training camp. That is, Jimmy now has a multi-million-dollar face and a multi-multi-million-dollar bank account. But he's still grinding like a working-class Joe.