Here’s what stood out to me during practice Thursday morning.
1. Violent payback for the defense. Carlos Hyde made the defense seem soft on Wednesday when he ran as hard as he could through rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who seemed to think Hyde would go easy on a teammate and run around him. On Thursday, the defense got revenge, both against Hyde and the rest of the offense. Arik Armstead, Dekoda Watson and Eric Reid each blasted Hyde in the backfield once. Reid also laid out Aldrick Robinson after Robinson caught a short pass over the middle. On the final play of practice, safety Vinnie Sunseri hit wide receiver DeAndre Carter in the head after Carter dove to try to catch a pass a few yards in front of him. This hit seemed dirty, and made quarterback Brian Hoyer furious. He walked on the field from the sideline and yelled at Sunseri three times. One of the defenders yelled back at Hoyer and told him to be quiet.
2. RB Joe Williams. It’s impossible to know exactly how many yards a running back gains on long runs during practice, but Williams definitely had three long runs. Overall, he gained roughly 32 yards on four carries – eight yards per carry. Here’s a breakdown of his carries: He gained about 15 yards on a counter run off left tackle, he gained about seven yards on an outside zone run around the left end, he gained about 10 yards on a draw play up the middle and he gained no yards on an outside zone play on 3rd-and-1. Today was by far Williams’ best practice of training camp.
3. QB Brian Hoyer. Hoyer completed 20-of-26 pass attempts – 77 percent – and threw zero interceptions. His best past was a 50-yard completion down the middle of the field to Marquise Goodwin. It seems Hoyer completes at least one deep pass per practice, which I’m not used to seeing. Colin Kaepernick rarely completed deep passes and Alex Smith rarely even threw any.
4. WR Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin beat Rashard Robinson on a shallow crossing route, then outran the entire defense down the sideline for a long touchdown. Goodwin also caught the 50-yard pass I mentioned above. The pass was slightly underthrown, so Goodwin slowed down, jumped and caught the ball over Dontae Johnson, who is 6’2”. Goodwin is only 5’10”. He seems on the verge of a breakout season if he can stay healthy.
5. WR DeAndre Smelter. Pierre Garcon had a veteran’s day off, so Smelter got a chance to play with the starters and he played well. During team drills, Smelter beat Ahkello Witherspoon for a 15-yard catch on a deep crossing pattern, and later beat Will Redmond for a four-yard touchdown catch during a red-zone drill. Smelter isn’t fast, but he’s big and he runs good routes. He probably will make the team if the Niners keep six receivers.
6. TE Vance McDonald. McDonald had his best day of training camp. He caught a screen pass, a touchdown pass in the red zone, a 10-yard pass over the middle and a 20-yard pass when he beat Eric Reid with a post route. McDonald is competing with Garrett Celek for a roster spot, and so far it seems McDonald is winning the competition.
7. LB Reuben Foster. NaVorro Bowman got the day off and Brock Coyle suffered an injury, so Foster spent most of practice playing middle linebacker with the starters. He seems like a natural at middle linebacker – he played that position at Alabama. Today, he recorded two sacks by blitzing up the middle.
8. CB K’Waun Williams. Williams jumped in front of a short pass intended for Vance McDonald in the end zone and almost intercepted it. Williams has been the best cornerback on the team during training camp.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. RB Tim Hightower. Hightower removed himself from practice after injuring his leg. A trainer took Hightower under the giant ramp on the side of the field to work on his leg privately. After a few minutes, Shanahan jogged over to check on Hightower and advised him not to push himself if he was in pain. Hightower decided not to return to practice. His injury seems minor.
2. RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde played well in the pass game – he made six catches out of the backfield and caught a touchdown pass in the red zone. But he did not play well in the run game, which is his primary job. He carried the ball seven times and gained only two yards. To his credit, he didn’t dance behind the line of scrimmage like he did yesterday. But he did fumble for the third time in the past six practices.
3. LB Malcolm Smith. Smith gave up two long catches down the seam – one to Carlos Hyde and one to Kyle Juszczyk. Both times, Smith got beaten badly. He is not so good in coverage. I can see why the Raiders let him go.
4. CB Rashard Robinson. Robinson couldn’t defend the slant route at all. Marquise Goodwin beat Robinson with this route once, and Aldrick Robinson and Kendrick Bourne each beat Robinson with it twice. Robinson will continue to struggle against the quick slant until he does a better job of jamming wide receivers at the line of scrimmage.
5. CB Ahkello Witherspoon. While the rest of the defense got payback for the hit against Witherspoon on Wednesday, Witherspoon was a victim once again. This time, Vance McDonald ran him over. McDonald wasn’t being malicious. After he caught a short pass near the goal line, he turned and saw Witherspoon standing flatfooted right in front of him. So, McDonald he lowered his shoulder and knocked Witherspoon on his back and scored a touchdown. Witherspoon is having a tough time.