Solomon Thomas made his summer practice debut Saturday and came up with one of the highlights of practice. It was another big day for speedy receiver Marquise Goodwin, who has a chance to be the team’s breakout player this year, and for a couple of Trent Baalke draft picks. The former general manager tends to get slammed a lot (including in this space) but he always had a nose for cornerbacks, which could benefit the 49ers this year.
First Thomas, who didn’t start out on the third-team defense as predicted but on the second team. He played both left defensive end on base downs and defensive tackle on nickel snaps. That’s where he was lining up when he batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage from Matt Barkley. Thomas’ insertion into the second-team defense knocked Ronald Blair to the third-team unit.
Here’s how the units now shape on base downs from left to right:
First-team: Tank Carradine (big end), Earl Mitchell (NT), DeForst Buckner (DT), Arik Armstead (Leo)
Second-team: Thomas, Quinton Dial, Chris Jones, Aaron Lynch.
Elvis Dumervil goes into the game on nickel downs. He got past tackle John Theus Saturday for what would have been a sack. Dumervil said he was looking forward to the first padded practice on Sunday. He noted that the 49ers’ top two tackles, Joe Staley and Trent Brown, give defensive linemen like him an excellent chance to hone their skills against not just two great pass protectors but against tackles with different strengths and techniques.
Goodwin had the longest catch and run of the day on a broken coverage out of the slot. Brian Hoyer found him all alone about 20 yards down field, the free safety was on the other side of the field and nobody could catch him before he reached the end zone. Because it was a broken coverage, it was hard to say who was at fault.
The best catch of the day — of the spring and summer, in fact — came courtesy of rookie tight end George Kittle. He was covered well by Reuben Foster in the flat and the quarterback had to loft the pass high to put it over the linebacker. The throw was nearly out of Kittle’s reach, too, but he put one hand up, twisted in the air and while falling he was able to secure the one-handed grab against his body. An official was a few feet away and correctly ruled it a catch.
Rookie Trent Taylor continues to be prolific, mostly on short, underneath throws but also on a longer pass down the middle on which fellow rookie Nick Mullens put just enough air under the pass to get above leaping strong safety Chanceller James.
Receiver Aaron Burbridge also had a deep catch down the sideline while Pierre Garcon made a nice, stretching grab while coming out of his break.
The defensive backs, however, also had their moments, especially Rashard Robinson and Will Redmond, who are entering their second seasons. Robinson had blanket coverage down one sideline on a long incompletion to Goodwin and did the same to Jeremy Kerley on the opposite sideline when the offense was going in the other direction.
Redmond, meanwhile, looks stronger and more confident then he did in the spring. (He spent his rookie season last year recovering from an ACL tear). He broke up two passes to slot receiver Bruce Ellington and also recovered a fumble. Redmond is playing with the second-team defense and is trying to overtake K’Waun Williams to be the top nickel cornerback.
Robinson is a near lock for one of the outside cornerback spots. On Friday Dontae Johnson took most of the reps opposite him; on Saturday Keith Reaser took most of the snaps. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon continues to work with the second-team defense.
Meanwhile, undrafted safety Lorenzo Jerome came up with another interception, the fourth in practices that have been open to reporters. It seemed as if Barkley was trying to sail a pass out of bounds or where no one but his receiver could catch it. Jerome, however, cruised over from the seam and grabbed the ball before going out of bounds. (There was some dispute among sideline observers about whether he got two feet down, but the official on the scene ruled it an interception).
There are no depth charts during training camp. But you can sniff out the hierarchy at certain spots by looking at the order at which players take repetitions during drills. At running back, it goes like this: Carlos Hyde, Tim Hightower, Kapri Bibbs, Joe Williams, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert. (Mostert likely is last because he was injured for much of the spring).
Fullback Tyler McCloskey also gets snaps. But on Saturday at least the other fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, worked with the tight ends.
There are a lot of different compositions for the offensive line. The two main ones appear to be:
First team: LT Joe Staley, LG Joshua Garnett, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Brandon Fusco, RT Trent Brown
Second team: LT John Theus, LG Zane Beadles, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Norman Price, RT Garry Gilliam.
A rookie offensive lineman, John Flynn, went down with what looked like a knee injury. He was walking around after practice. Receiver B.J. Johnson III’s injury from Friday turned out to be a hamstring, Kyle Shanahan said.