Here’s what stood out to me during the final day of minicamp.
1. TE George Kittle. The rookie tight end made two touchdown catches in a red-zone drill. First, he ran a seam route and caught a pass in stride when no one was covering him. A few plays later, he ran the same seam route but this time jumped to catch a pass a few feet over his head. As Kittle jumped, safety Lorenzo Jerome tried to push him out of bounds, but he still landed both feet in the end zone. This was the best catch of the afternoon. Kittle is a terrific player. Quarterbacks throw to him much more than any other non-wide receiver on the team, including fullback Kyle Juszczyk, one of the 49ers’ big signings this offseason. When OTAs began, I figured Juszczyk would catch more than 50 passes next season. But now I’m thinking Kittle will catch more than 50 passes and Jusczczyk will catch less than 20. Today, Kittle caught three passes and Jusczyk caught zero.
Before practice, a reporter asked Brian Hoyer if Kittle has impressed him “Yeah, he has,” Hoyer said. “I joked because his offensive coordinator there is [University of Iowa offensive coordinator] Brian Ferentz. He was with me in New England. I said, ‘I’m going to text him and tell him that they were using you the wrong way.’ You think of Iowa, you think of these big, blocking tight ends. He has a really good football awareness, is what I would call it. A feel for where to break, how to break, read-zones. I’ve been surprised and, obviously, it’s a good thing for us to have a guy who has that football awareness and some feel of the game to it.”
2. WR Pierre Garcon. Garcon had his best practice of the offseason. He caught four passes, including a touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer during the red-zone drill. On this play, Garcon ran a crossing route and stopped suddenly between two defenders who were playing zone coverage. Coaches call this the “soft spot” in the zone. Garcon found it and scored. He also caught a pass a defensive lineman tipped high into the air. Garcon jumped and wrestled the ball away from a defensive back, like Anquan Boldin used to do. This was the first contested catch I’ve seen Garcon make this offseason.
3. RB Joe Williams. On his second run of the day, Williams received a toss to his left, waited patiently for a hole to open as he ran toward the sideline, made one hard cut and sprinted through the entire defense for a 70-yard touchdown run. No sweat.
4. SS Eric Reid. Yesterday, Hoyer fooled Reid with a play-action fake and completed a 60-yard touchdown pass to the receiver Reid should have been covering. Today, Reid got revenge. During a two-minute drill, Reid baited Hoyer into throwing a short pass to Kittle, who ran a short curl route. As Hoyer wound up to throw, Reid broke on the pass and was standing in front of Kittle when the ball arrived. Reid made the interception and returned it for a touchdown.
5. DE Pita Taumoepenu. The rookie defensive end recorded two sacks. He beat left tackle Darrell Williams Jr. both times with speed moves around the edge. Taumoepenu probably will make the final roster along with seven other defensive linemen, including DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead, Earl Mitchell, Solomon Thomas, Tank Carradine, Elvis Dumervil, and D.J. Jones.
6. Former HC Mike Shanahan. The head coach’s father stood in the end zone with his arms folded across his chest and watched the entire practice by himself as if the 49ers were his team. Shanahan didn’t talk to anyone, take his eyes off the players or miss a single play. He is Kyle Shanahan’s wartime consigliere. Mike even has an office next to Kyle and apparently will watch every day of training camp. Not a bad resource for the rookie head coach.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. DC Robert Saleh. The rookie defensive coordinator could use his own wartime consigliere, because today Saleh made a rookie mistake. After his defense intercepted Matt Barkley during a two-minute drill, Saleh got so excited he started jumping around and celebrating with the players. While he was celebrating, he forgot to line up his defense for the next play. When he finally realized the defense had only 10 players on the field, he called a timeout he didn’t have. Shanahan reminded him the team was doing a two-minute drill and the point was to work without timeouts. Saleh pointed to himself as if to say, “My bad.” Shanahan said that’s what he gets for celebrating. An experienced defensive coordinator, such as Vic Fangio, never would celebrate with players after an interception, especially during minicamp. Saleh still has the temperament of a position coach.
2. QB Brian Hoyer. I’m surprised how poorly Hoyer has played this offseason. I thought he would be an accurate passer, but today he completed only 11 of 22 throws. Not impressive. The players don’t seem impressed with him, either. Whenever you ask what stands out about Hoyer, they talk about his communication skills and leadership, not his ability to play.
3. QB Matt Barkley. Barkley has been accurate, but today he made a junior-varsity decision. Here’s what happened. He avoided pressure in the pocket and scrambled to his right. At this point, he should have thrown the ball away. But he heaved it as far as he could off his back foot and got intercepted by Will Davis.
4. CB Ahkello Witherspoon. Every time the offense needed a completion, the quarterback threw at the receiver Witherspoon was covering. The rookie corner hardly competed today. First, he let DeAndre Smelter cross his face with a slant route and catch a touchdown pass in the end zone. Big no-no. A few plays later, Witherspoon gave up a catch along the sideline to Trent Taylor, and instead of pursuing Taylor and tagging him to stop the play, Witherspoon stood and watched as Taylor sprinted upfield for a 30-yard gain.
5. FS Don Jones. Jones approached me on the sideline and asked me where I bought my sunglasses. I told him my girlfriend bought them on Amazon. He asked how much they cost. I told him I don’t know, probably 10 bucks. Then he asked if he could have them.
I said no, but I’d show him where he can find them online.
Get your own sunglasses, Don.