More than 25,000 fans showed up for the 49ers’ only open practice of the summer, one that featured Brian Hoyer’s continued mastery of the offense, a potentially serious injury to linebacker Malcolm Smith and the defensive secondary struggling at the end of practice after starting cornerback Rashard Robinson left with a tight hamstring.
As of Saturday afternoon, Smith was getting an MRI on his chest, something that Kyle Shanahan conceded could be a long-term injury. Smith was the 49ers’ best defender during spring practices because A.) He was the only one well-versed in the type of defense Robert Saleh is running this year and B.) He is one of the fastest linebackers in the league and his speed was prominent in the non-contact practices.
Without him, Ray-Ray Armstrong lined up at weak-side linebacker with the first-team offense while Reuben Foster was with the second-team unit and is waiting in the wings. As NaVorro Bowman noted after practice, Armstrong is strong in coverage due to his background as a college safety. Foster, said Bowman, is aggressive and good at the line of scrimmage. In other words, the two have opposite strengths.
With Brock Coyle (ribs) and Donavin Newsom (neck) also out Saturday, the 49ers re-signed inside linebacker Jayson DiManche, who had been with them in the spring. DiManche also seemed to get injured late in the session, but it did not appear serious.
Practice ended with a two-minute drill that pitted the first-team offense against the second-team defense and vice versa. Hoyer ended that session with a seven-yard touchdown strike to — who else? — Marquise Goodwin in the back of the end zone. Hoyer had to go through his progressions and buy a little time with his feet before seeing Goodwin break free of strong safety Chanceller James.
Hoyer again looked very sharp. The 49ers had run a lot of outside zone runs early in the week. On Saturday, Hoyer faked the handoff on those plays, spun in the opposite direction and hit receivers on boot legs, including to Aldrick Robinson and Logan Paulsen (Paulsen ran his catch into the end zone).
Hoyer and the first-team offense were foiled at the goal line earlier in practice when Carlos Hyde was stopped on two short runs, once by second-team nose tackle Quinton Dial. On third and goal, Hoyer’s pass was slightly behind tight end Vance McDonald who couldn’t secure the ball on his hip with Armstrong closing in.
The best throw may have come from rookie C.J. Beathard, who lofted a pass down the sideline to well-covered running back Matt Breida. Breida dove and caught the ball with Pita Taumoepenu (He’s been asked to play strong-side linebacker this week) draped all over him. Beathard has gotten a little better with every practice, and Shanahan said he is pushing Matt Barkley for the No. 2 quarterback job.
Bowman said he has been able to play more aggressively the more he understands the defense. That was on display in the first 11-on-11 drills Saturday when he hit Hyde and Kapri Bibbs in the backfield on the first two plays, recorded a “sack” on Hoyer on the third and then had a hard hit on Breida on the fourth.
Shanahan said Robsinson was taken out of practice as a precaution. While Dontae Johnson had a second strong outing on the other side, Robinson’s replacements struggled, including rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, who was beaten for a touchdown by Aldrick Robinson. Keith Reaser returned to practice after recovering from a knee injury. He mainly worked with the second-team defense. Witherspoon and Will Davis filled in for Rashard Robinson with the first-string unit.
With Joshua Garnett (knee) out for the foreseeable future, last year’s starter at left guard, Zane Beadles, resumed his role there. Jeremy Zuttah continues to get the bulk of his snaps at center with the second-team offense. Zuttah started 41 games early in his career at left guard.
Aaron Lynch was absent for the second straight practice after his second child, Samson John Lynch, arrived two months early. … Seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert seemed to sprain his right foot/ankle after trying to break up a long pass to Trent Taylor. Colbert has been playing free safety after starting out at cornerback. … DeForest Buckner (ankle) went through individual drills. The 49ers have a day off Sunday; Buckner could be back in action on Monday.
The best news: There were a few divots Saturday, but the Levi’s Stadium field mostly held up well and, unlike his predecessors, Shanahan did not have to cancel practice.