The 49ers held their last practice of the summer open to reporters in Santa Clara – and it turned out to be quite eventful following a slow start.
Let’s get right to our observations from the sidelines.
The practice took an exciting turn at roughly the midway point during full-team drills when the defense intercepted Jimmy Garoppolo on five straight pass attempts.
It was a surprising sequence for a couple reasons. First, Garoppolo had been stingy with interceptions throughout training camp. He went nine practices without throwing a pick during full-team drills. And the 49ers defense, of course, set an NFL record last season with just two interceptions the entire season.
The first interception came on a deep pass to well-covered tight end Ross Dwelley. The ball bounced off his hands as he dove. It bounced right to safety Jaquiski Tartt. Garoppolo’s decision appeared worse than the throw itself. Linebacker Kwon Alexander was underneath Dwelley in coverage, which forced Garoppolo to throw high and wide. Dwelley’s dive knocked the ball in the air and made it easy for Tartt to snag.
The next pick went to safety Tarvarius Moore while Garoppolo was trying to hit Matt Breida on a wheel route up the right sideline. Garoppolo badly underthrew it and it was easy for Moore to grab.
The third: Garoppolo was looking for Dwelley again, this time on the right sideline, and it was undercut by Richard Sherman, who went the other way for a would-be pick-six. Dwelley was getting first-team work because George Kittle was sitting out for the second straight day with a calf injury. Kyle Shanahan said Kittle was day-to-day.
The last two interceptions came in the red zone, where it appeared defensive lineman Solomon Thomas got the best of rookie tackle Justin Skule, who was working with the starters because Joe Staley was dealing with a sore pectoral, Shanahan said.
Thomas beat Skule quickly and appeared to tap Garoppolo as he ran by for a would-be sack. Garoppolo haphazardly threw the ball toward the left side of the end zone in the direction of Dante Pettis. Only Ahkello Witherspoon was there waiting while there appeared to be a mixup between quarterback and receiver.
Then Thomas beat Skule again and pressured Garoppolo into making an errant throw toward Dwelley in the middle of the field. Moore stepped in front to make his second pick and went the other way for a would-be 100-yard touchdown return. It was a strong practice for Moore, who figures to keep getting work as the starting free safety. Jimmie Ward was back in pads for the first time Wednesday, but isn’t expected to be back in team drills before the second preseason game Monday night.
Garoppolo was able to rebound following the Nathan Peterman-like five-interception span. He led the offense as far as the 6-yard line on a two minute drill with a chance to win the game with a touchdown.
He got there by completing two passes to Jordan Matthews and one to Pettis. The second pass to Matthews was a well-thrown deep corner route that put the offense in the red zone while also getting the clock to stop by going out of bounds.
Garoppolo then found Marquise Goodwin on a curl route beating Witherspoon to get down to the 6. He tried to complete a pass to Pettis in the back corner of the end zone after the pocket collapsed and he rolled to the right, though Pettis was covered tightly by Tartt and it fell incomplete. The final pass went to Matthews near the goal line, but he came up a yard short as time expired.
It was another win for the defense after arguably its best practice to date, which is notable given Nick Bosa (ankle) and Dee Ford (knee tendinitis) were sidelined with their injuries.
Garoppolo began the day playing well, completing 7 of his first 9 attempts, including a 45-yard completion to Richie James Jr. on his first throw of practice. It was a well-placed pass over James’ outside shoulder against double coverage. James, overall, had a strong day and made a handful of grabs. Garoppolo’s second pass was a deep pass to Dwelley in the corner.
During the red zone period, which began with his final two interceptions, Garoppolo broke up the streak with a bubble-screen to rookie receiver Jalen Hurd, who barreled into the end zone, giving the first-team offense some respite from Garoppolo’s struggles. Kyle Juszczyk also scored a touchdown on a well-designed shovel pass from Garoppolo, giving the offense two scores on four attempts.
Garoppolo unofficially finished the day 14 of 26, including his five straight interceptions. He went 7 of 17 following his fast start.
Shanahan was asked afterwards about how Garoppolo reacted to throwing the interceptions and if the quarterback’s body language changed.
“It was frustration and it’s more competitive, I think, sometimes,” Shanahan said. “You got to balance out whether that’s a good thing or bad thing. You want it so badly you (try to) make up for it the next play. But the next play you still got to make the right decision and take what the defense gives you.
“Sometimes it’s hard to make the right decisions when you’re fired up and competitive. Usually when you make a bad play, (it) makes your mind go a little bit sideways. That’s why it is sometimes a good situation to put guys in. When that does happen, sometimes you try to protect them a little bit in the game. But in practice it’s the exact opposite. When there’s an issue, you kind of poke at it a little bit more and just see how guys react.”