For the second time in three practices an ankle injury knocked a former 49ers first-round pick — this time it was DeForest Buckner — out of practice; running back Carlos Hyde flexed his muscles with a big hit on an unsuspecting rookie; and the 49ers got through a full practice without their top three safeties.
Buckner appeared to injure his left ankle on pass play to tight end Logan Paulsen. Like safety Eric Reid a couple of days earlier, he writhed on the ground for a couple of minutes before getting on his feet and gingerly trying to put weight on the ankle. With Buckner out, Chris Jones stepped in on base downs at defensive tackle while first-round draft pick Solomon Thomas filled in on nickel downs with the first-team defense.
It doesn’t appear as if Reid will be out long. Both he and tight end George Kittle (hamstring) warmed up with the team and went through individual drills on Wednesday. They were held out of seven-on-seven and team-wide exercises.
It also looks as if Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) will not be out long term either, though his return date is unknown. With those two, plus Jimmie Ward (hamstring), on the sideline, undrafted rookie Lorenzo Jerome and Vinnie Sunseri were the first-string safeties while Don Jones and undrafted rookie Chanceller James filled in with the second team.
On the third? The 49ers moved seventh-round draft pick Adrian Colbert from cornerback to safety. He has experience at both positions at college and certainly has the size — 6-2, 205 pounds — to play free safety. Colbert even grabbed an interception due to a mis-communication between quarterback and receiver late in the practice.
Hyde had perhaps his strongest practice, one that included a couple of long gains on outside runs — the 49ers were concentrating on that Wednesday — as well as an absolutely brutal hit on third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon at the goal line that sent the cornerback sprawling backward. The 49ers defense seemed to be laying off a bit during the session, but that didn’t deter Hyde, who screamed and flexed after the big blow.
Witherspoon’s biggest critique coming out of the draft was that he was an unwilling tackler, but defensive coordinator Robert Saleh sloughed off the encounter with Hyde.
“I’m not worried about that last play,” he said. “It’s a non-tackling drill and the ol’ vet caught him off guard. We’ll see when we’re actually allowed to tackle. And I have full faith that Ahkello’s going to do exactly what he’s been coached to do. He’s not a coward by any means. He will get in there. He will tackle. He’s been showing up in run fits. He’s physical with his hands at the line of scrimmage.”
The practice didn’t have the same fireworks in terms of deep throws that previous ones have had. the 49ers seemed to working more on shorter routes. But quarterback Brian Hoyer again was very efficient in hitting Jeremy Kerley on a quick slant and tight end Vance McDonald over the middle among other throws.
Hoyer, however, also threw his first interception in team sessions of training camp on a throw to Kerley. Cornerback Dontae Johnson had a decided size advantage on the play and came over the top to snatch the ball from Kerley. Johnson also had a nice pass break up in 7-on-7 drills when he put a lick on Aaron Burbridge that separated the receiver from the ball in the end zone on a throw from Hoyer.
The offense also had its share of highlights beginning with rookie Trent Taylor’s toe-tapper grab in the near corner of the end zone in 7-on-7 drills on a throw from Matt Barkley. Another diminutive receiver, DeAndre Carter, had a catch that almost was as impressive in the back of the end zone on a throw from rookie C.J. Beathard. Another rookie, running back Joe Williams, had a nice play when he caught a pass in stride along the sideline, absorbed a big hit from the safety but stayed in bounds before running a few more yards to the end zone.
Here’s Reuben Foster in a nutshell over the first week of training camp. During one-on-one coverage drills against running backs and tight ends, he was beaten handily on his first three tries. On his fourth, however, he stepped in front of tailback Raheem Mostert for what would have been a touchdown. Foster has gotten plenty of hype and attention early in training camp (most of it deservedly so), but Saleh emphasized that nothing would be handed to the first-round pick. “He’ll get his opportunity when he absolutely, absolutely deserves it,” he said.
Elvis Dumervil was given an extra day off on Wednesday. … Eli Harold (head) did not practice. That, plus the fact that 30-something Ahmad Brooks gets a lot of rest and that rookie Jimmie Gilbert is out with a torn ACL, meant that Dekoda Watson took a lot of snaps at SAM linebacker. … Newcomer Louis Murphy went through the warm-up but did not practice. Instead he hung back with a cheat sheet of plays so that he could familiarize himself with the playbook.
The 49ers continue to tinker with the offensive line composition here and there. But for the bulk of training camp practices so far the A line has consisted of Joe Staley (LT), Joshua Garnett (LG), Daniel Kilgore (C), Brandon Fusco (RG) and Trent Brown (RT). With Fusco and Brown on the right side, it gives the line a heavy right punch, and a lot of the running plays were to that side on Wednesday.