Here’s what stood out to me during practice Tuesday morning.
Donavin Newson lay unconscious on the ground while a trainer examined his neck and a doctor called for an ambulance.
Newsom is an undrafted rookie linebacker fighting to make the 49ers roster. He had just broken up a pass intended for tight end Blake Bell, when Chancellor James, another undrafted rookie fighting to make the roster, dove at Bell to tackle him in case he caught the ball. Bell saw James coming and ducked. James flew over the tight end and hit Newsom in the crown of his helmet and knocked him out cold.
James immediately ran off the field, horrified by what he had just done. He couldn’t look at Newson. The rest of the team knelt down and waited for Newsom to get up and show that he was OK. Vinnie Sunseri dropped his head and covered his face with his hands. Jeremy Kerley shook his head, his eyes glazed over.
After five minutes, the players realized Newsom wasn’t getting up. So they walked over and huddled around him. Then a trainer waved them away to make room for an ambulance. An emergency medical technician strapped Newsom to a stretcher and drove him to Stanford Medical Center, where doctors determined Newsom suffered a concussion but did not fracture his spine.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. SS Eric Reid. Reid was covering tight end Vance McDonald man to man during the first pass play of the morning when McDonald ran a post route, caught the ball over his shoulder and outran Reid to the end zone. All offseason, Reid has had trouble in man-to-man coverage. It’s foreign to him. He’s used to playing deep zone coverage as a free safety – that’s what he has been playing since he was in college. Now, he frequently has to cover the tight end, and he has struggled. Expect opposing teams to test Reid in the passing game until he shows he can cover.
2. CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson left practice early with an injury and Keith Reaser took his place in the starting lineup.
3. RT Trent Brown. Brown also left practice early with an injury – he limped off the field while favoring his left leg. The injury doesn’t seem serious.
4. RB Joe Williams. Williams fumbled during a three-yard run up the middle, but landed on the ball and recovered it himself. This was his second and final carry of practice. During his first carry, he ran to his left, made a beautiful jump cut through a small hole and sprinted up field for a 14-yard gain. Williams’ ability to make difficult cuts sets him apart from the other running backs on the 49ers.
1. RB Matt Breida. Like Williams, Breida carried the ball just twice. First, he gained 11 yards on a toss play to his left. Then, he gained eight yards on an outside zone play to his right. Both times, Breida accelerated very quickly – that’s his best quality as a ball carrier. He’s not particularly shifty. I doubt he will run the ball much this season, but he may catch a few passes. Today, he caught a deep touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer after running a wheel route along the sideline. Breida caught the ball over his shoulder like he was a wide receiver. I’m guessing the 49ers will call this play for Breida during the season opener against the Panthers.
2. WR Pierre Garcon. Garcon runs the 15-yard deep in route as well as any receiver I’ve seen. Today, he caught two passes using that route. First, he made a catch between two safeties and got tackled for a 15-yard gain. Then, he made another catch between two safeties, but this time he split the safeties and ran 60 yards down the middle of the field for a touchdown. Garcon is one of the best wide receivers in the NFC West. I expect he will catch 85 passes and gain more than 1,100 yards this season.
3. TE Vance McDonald. McDonald made just one catch, but it was the 75-yard touchdown I described above in the Eric-Reid section. McDonald has beaten Reid at will the past two days. I believe McDonald will make the final roster along with three other tight ends – Logan Paulsen, George Kittle and Cole Hikutini.
4. DE Arik Armstead. Armstead recorded a sack for the second practice in a row. He is a much better pass rusher than he was the past two seasons. When he first came in the league, he had only one move – the bull rush. He ran straight into a blocker and tried to bench press him. Now, Armstead also uses a club move, which allows him to go around blockers instead of through them.
5. LB Reuben Foster. While playing zone coverage, Foster read Matt Barkley’s eyes and intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. Foster has been terrific in zone coverage, which allows him to keep his eyes on the play and anticipate where the ball will go. He has been less effective in man-to-man coverage, which forces him to turn his back to the quarterback.
6. FS Lorenzo Jerome. The undrafted rookie took all of the reps at free safety with the starters and made two nice plays: First, he broke quickly on a pass intended for Aldrick Robinson, who saw Jerome sprinting toward and him and decided not to extend for the ball. Robinson let it fly past him. He seemed scared to get hit. Later, Jerome intercepted a deep pass Hoyer intended to throw to Marquise Goodwin. Jerome read the play all the way. I expect he will be one of four safeties who make the final roster, along with Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt.