Here’s what stood out to me during practice Monday morning.
1. DE Aaron Lynch. Lynch has lost more than 20 pounds since the beginning of OTAs when he says he weighed between 295 lbs. and 300 lbs. According to Lynch, he currently weighs 273 lbs. Good for him. I thought he would gain weight during the five weeks between minicamp and training camp when he didn’t have the team to monitor his diet, but I was wrong. I’m glad I was wrong. I hope Lynch has a long, successful career. Today, he played very well with the second-team and third-team defenses. He recorded two sacks while rushing against right tackle Garry Gilliam, and intercepted a pass which defensive tackle Chris Jones batted toward him. Lynch still hasn’t played with the starters yet, but that may change when the 49ers return to practice on Wednesday. Tuesday is an off day.
2. LB Reuben Foster. Foster clearly is the most athletic linebacker on the team. He moves like a young Patrick Willis. But as I’ve written the past few days, Foster can be overaggressive against the run and he tends to bite on play-action fakes. Today, he was much more disciplined. He correctly diagnosed play action and intercepted a pass from fourth-string quarterback Nick Mullens. “(Foster)’s had a few picks (during training camp),” head coach Kyle Shanahan said after practice. “The one he got today I was probably the most excited about, because it was the same one he had yesterday where it was a play action and he killed the fullback and went and tackled the back and the wide receiver was wide open behind him and he was still looking at the run. He had the same play today, and he didn’t fill up in the run. He dropped back and got a pick. One play he got beat on bad yesterday, and today we ran the same play at him and he got an interception off of it. That’s what you want to see.”
3. CB Dontae Johnson. Carlos Hyde hit Dontae Johnson in the jaw. Johnson didn’t see the hit coming. Hyde was jogging down the sideline after he made a short catch in the flat – the play seemed over. But as he passed Johnson, Hyde extended his forearm and blasted the cornerback in the chin. The hit seemed dirty and intentional, and it almost knocked off Johnson’s helmet. The helmet stayed on only because the chin-strap got caught around Johnson’s nose. Johnson pulled the chin-strap back down to his jawline and jogged back on the field for the next play, and a few plays later when Hyde took a handoff and ran in Johnson’s direction, Johnson lowered his shoulder and hit Hyde as hard as he could and Hyde’s feet flew into the air and he landed on his back. I love football justice. Every play provides an opportunity for revenge. Players don’t need to yell or fight or act tough like they do in baseball and basketball.
4. RB Tim Hightower. Yesterday, I wrote that Hightower has been the 49ers’ most effective running back on outside-zone run plays. Today, Hightower was the 49ers starting running back – he was on the field instead of Carlos Hyde during the first rep of 11-on-11s. This was the first day of the offseason anyone other than Hyde was in the backfield for the first play. We’ll see as training camp progresses if Hightower continues to start.
5. FB Kyle Juszczyk. None of the 49ers linebackers could cover Juszczyk during one-on-one passing drills. Not NaVorro Bowman. Not Malcolm Smith. Not Rueben Foster. Juszczyk annihilates man-to-man coverage.
6. WR Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin caught two long touchdown passes. First, he beat safety Don Jones down the middle of the field. Then, Goodwin beat cornerback Rashard Robinson down the sideline. Goodwin has dominated the Niners cornerbacks this offseason, which may say more about the cornerbacks than Goodwin.
7. WR Aldrick Robinson. Robinson also caught two long passes. On the first one, he made a diving catch next to the sideline while running a corner route. And on the second one, he beat corner Will Davis with an out-and-up double move to catch a deep pass for a touchdown. Robinson has been more productive during training camp than the Niners’ leading receiver last season, Jeremy Kerley. It seems Robinson will be the Niners’ No. 3 receiver this season and Kerley will be the No. 4 receiver.
8. OT Trent Brown. Yesterday, Brown had one of the worst practices I’ve ever seen from an NFL offensive lineman – he gave up five sacks. Today, he gave zero. He was excellent. After practice, Shanahan explained what Brown needs to do to be successful: “When Trent is on with his concentration and his technique, when he comes off the ball at the right time and he’s not late off it, he is a big man and tough to get around. I think you can ask any defensive lineman out there – he is very hard to beat in pass protection because of his size and the length of his arms and he can move his feet. But if he ever hesitates on a play, if he ever misses the snap count just a hair, we have d-linemen who will come of the ball and expose him if he’s not on his game. When Trent is on his game though, it’s a long day for those D-linemen, and they’ve had some of those days in our four practices.”
9. QB Brian Hoyer. Hoyer completed only 6-of-17 passes, but most of his incompletions were dropped by the receivers. I actually think Monday was his best practice of the offseason. He certainly threw his best pass – a 60-yard bomb that hit Aldrick Robinson perfectly in stride. The pass couldn’t have been any better – Robinson just let it slip through his hands. Hoyer has been surprisingly effective the first four days of training camp. He’s confident, aggressive, he throws a beautiful deep ball, he moves well in the pocket and he hasn’t gotten intercepted yet.
10. QB Matt Barkley. Like Hoyer, Barkley threw his best pass of the offseason. Barkley’s pass was extremely difficult. He faked a handoff to his left, rolled out to his right and threw a 30-yard pass on the run to DeAndre Smelter who caught the ball just before he slid out of bounds.
11. QB C.J. Beathard. Beathard played with the second-stringers and the third-stringers and completed 6-of-7 pass attempts. He had his best day of training camp, although he didn’t make any “wow” throws like Hoyer and Barkley did.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. S Jaquiski Tartt. After losing starting free safety Jimmie Ward to a pulled hamstring on Thursday and losing strong safety Eric Reid to a sprained ankle on Sunday, the Niners lost their No. 3 safety, Jaquiski Tartt, to an oblique or rib injury. Tartt was in so much pain, he had trouble walking off the field. Without Tartt, Reid and Ward, the Niners have to play undrafted-free-agent rookies at safety. Not good. The Niners probably regret not picking a safety during this year’s draft. I always felt safety Jamal Adams would have been a better first-round selection for the Niners than Solomon Thomas, not because Adams is so much better than Thomas – they’re both good. But the Niners already had quality defensive linemen. They needed another safety.
2. RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde fumbled for the second time in four days. In both cases, he dropped a pitch from the quarterback because he took his eyes off the ball. Sloppy.
3. TE George Kittle. The rookie tight end apparently pulled his hamstring during Sunday’s practice. I didn’t see Kittle pull his hamstring, but the team says he did and he didn’t practice Monday. Kittle’s injury reminds me of something Shanahan said at the end of minicamp: “Guys better come to camp in shape. It’s not like it used to be. It’s not like there’s five and half weeks and you take the first two weeks just to break them down and get them into football shape. After two weeks, camp’s almost over. You’re getting into that third preseason game, which is like a game and then the fourth game is like three days later. And, a lot of those guys aren’t even on the team after that fourth game. Camp goes fast and the days of coming to camp and easing yourself into shape, usually that person pulls a hamstring, misses two weeks, tries to come back at the end of camp and is playing catchup the rest of the year and everyone wants to know why he had a bad year. So, if you don’t come to camp ready to go, you’re going to get worse not better.”