What at least one 49ers player said was the most physical practice he’s ever been a part of included running back Carlos Hyde crushing a rookie defensive back for the second straight day; Reuben Foster getting a chance to practice with the first-string defense and acquitting himself nicely; and Brian Hoyer having yet another efficient day of practice.
First Hyde. When we last left the bruising 49ers running back he was flattening an unsuspecting Ahkello Witherspoon in the end zone, perhaps a cheap shot but one that coaches said would serve as a valuable lesson for the rookie cornerback. On Thursday Hyde did the same to another defensive back, who not only was more prepared than Witherspoon but who was initiating the contact. During pass-protection drills, undrafted strong safety Chanceller James, who at 215 pounds is no featherweight, was rushing from the quarterback’s left side. Hyde stepped up, blasted James in the chest and put the rookie on his back.
The scene was reminiscent of Frank Gore’s mastery over Raiders pass rushers during a joint training camp practice in Napa a few years back, one in which Gore put successive Raiders linebackers on their backsides. It’s more evidence that Hyde is ready like never before for the upcoming season.
As you might expect, the two best blockers in the drill — in addition to Hyde — were tight ends Logan Paulsen and Garrett Celek, who both are blocking specialists. … James, meanwhile, bounced back from his defeat to Hyde by beating rookie fullback Tyler McCloskey.
Now about Witherspoon. After suffering the ignominy of Hyde’s hit on Wednesday, he was rocked again, this time by tight end Vance McDonald, who flattened the rookie at the goal line during a red-zone drill. Told later that he had blasted the same player who was drilled on Wednesday, McDonald said, “Dang, I didn’t even know. It sucks, man, but …” To his credit, Witherspoon popped up quickly from both blows.
With NaVorro Bowman getting a “veteran’s rest” day, the plan was for Foster to get some repetitions at middle linebacker with the first-team unit. That’s significant for two reasons: One, this was the first time the first-round pick had practiced extensively with the would-be starters. Two, the snaps came at “Mike” linebacker instead of the “Will” position Foster had been playing heretofore. Foster has the skills and demeanor of a “Mike” and that’s probably his future position.
He made the most of his opportunity by recording two “sacks” and also batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Said Kyle Shanahan: “I thought he did a good job. We just threw him in there and he started moving a lot. He’s got to make all the calls. I think like anybody in his first time at it, I think he had a few busts. I think there’s good stuff for him to get in and watch the tape and learn from.”
Foster may have gotten some extra snaps with the first-team unit because Brock Coyle, who has been Bowman’s main backup, was nicked during the physical practice. Solomon Thomas (shoulder), Norman Price (ankle), Tim Hightower and Donavin Newsom also had to come off the field. Thomas and Price returned to practice.
These camp reports focus on the players, but Shanahan has been prominent. During the red-zone session the 49ers ran a play in which all of the receivers cleared out toward one pylon while Hyde came out of the backfield toward the other. Hoyer hit him in stride for a touchdown that was easy because of the design of the play.
Hoyer also hit Marquise Goodwin on another long ball. This one wobbled duck-like to midfield where cornerback Dontae Johnson seemed to have a chance to catch it. Godwin, however, came back and made the snag.
Arik Armstead had a sack and also had a big hit that blasted McDonald to the ground. …. DeAndre Carter dropped an easy catch on a crossing route but then followed that with a high-degree-of-difficulty diving grab … Undrafted rookie Kendrick Bourne caught a nicely thrown rainbow from Hoyer … Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong intercepted rookie C.J. Beathard.
Injuries and absences made for some notable changes. With DeForest Buckner (ankle) out, Chris Jones played with the first string at defensive tackle. Quinton Dial, who has been playing nose tackle with the second-string unit, had some snaps at defensive tackle with the second-string unit. Like Bowman, Joe Staley also was given a day off. John Theus has been his primary backup at left tackle, but the 49ers also are curious to see if Trent Brown can play the position, and he got some snaps there late in practice. Garry Gilliam filled in at right tackle when Brown moved to the left side.
Strong safety Eric Reid (ankle) practiced in full. He and Vinnie Sunseri (FS) were the first-team safeties; rookies Lorenzo Jerome (FS) and James (SS) were the second teamers; Adrian Colbert (FS) and Don Jones (SS) played with the third string.
The 49ers nearly had their first fight of training camp. After he took exception to a block, Aaron Lynch tried to fight Theus. The second-year tackle, however, essentially said he wasn’t interested in a scrap — he had to run up to the line of scrimmage for the next play.
Shanahan ended the grueling practice by making the entire team run wind sprints. Afterward, he said he wasn’t happy with the team’s stamina during a move-the-ball period (where the teams go up and down the field) a day earlier. “I could see guys getting a little bit gassed,” he said. “So I thought we just had to condition a little bit more. It wasn’t a punishment or anything. It just seemed like we needed it.”
The players who crossed the finish line after the fourth wind sprint: Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson, Raheem Mostert, Victor Bolden and Kapri Bibbs. Norman Price pulled up the year. But give the guy credit, he was gutting through his ankle injury.