Here’s what stood out to me during practice Saturday morning.
1. QB Brian Hoyer. As far as what Hoyer could control, he was perfect. Of his six incompletions, one was a drop by Pierre Garcon, two were throw-aways and three were pass breakups by cornerbacks. Hoyer threw zero bad passes. Overall, he completed 13 of 19 (68 percent), and he wasn’t just dinking and dunking. He threw five deep balls. “I didn’t know he could throw the ball that far,” Garcon said after practice. “He loves throwing the deep ball. I didn’t know his arm was that strong.”
2. RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde didn’t make any catches yesterday, but today he made a difficult spinning catch over the middle as he adjusted to a pass that was thrown slightly behind him.
3. WR Trent Taylor. Taylor led the offense with six catches, although he made five of these catches against zone coverage. His best catch came against man-to-man coverage when he beat second-string nickelback Will Redmond with a quick cut to the outside. “The man-to-man one is the one that I really judge him off of,” Kyle Shanahan said after practice. “But you do want him to catch it in zone. You want him to get up the field and see what he can do after the catch. But, the number of catches…is not something I’ve ever really looked at.”
4. TE George Kittle. Kittle made only one catch, but it was impressive. He powered through Rueben Foster’s bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage, then beat Foster with a head fake and a cut toward the sideline, then dove to catch the pass. Kittle also made a nice block in pass protection against outside linebacker Eli Harold.
5. DE Solomon Thomas. Defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina yelled at Thomas for not playing hard enough during positional drills. But during team drills, Thomas played extremely hard – hetackled running back Joe Williams for a three-yard loss, he held his ground against a double-team block and he batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage. After these plays, Zgonina walked on the field to congratulate Thomas.
6. ILB NaVorro Bowman. The first team drill of practice always consists of run plays and play-action passes. The defense has to practice correctly diagnosing the difference between the two. During this period, NaVorro Bowman instantly diagnosed a run play, exploded through the offensive line and tackled Hyde for a two-yard loss.
7. CB Rashard Robinson. The Niners No. 1 cornerback broke up two deep passes – one intended for Jeremy Kerley and one intended for Marquise Goodwin. Both times, Robinson ran stride for stride with the receiver and pinned him to the sideline. The only catch Robinson gave up was a short catch to Garcon, who had to fight to catch the ball. Robinson was all over him. Robinson is by far the best cornerback on the team. It seems he follow the opponent’s best receiver and cover him wherever he lines up as opposed to playing just one side of the field.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. SS Eric Reid. Reid blew an assignment and allowed Marquise Goodwin to make a wide-open deep catch down the middle of the field. Reid was supposed to exchange responsibilities with an inside linebacker after the offense motioned before the snap. But Reid forgot, and Goodwin ran right past him.
2. DE Tank Carradine. Carradine kept making basic mistakes during warmups. Every day, the defensive linemen start practice by lining up in three-point stances and hitting a pad attached to a sled. If the D-linemen line up with their right hand on the ground, then they take their first step forward with their right foot. This is elementary, like starting a sentence with a capital letter. When Carradine did this drill Saturday morning, he continuously made his first step with the wrong foot. As he made these false steps, defensive line coach Jeff Zgonina stared at him with his head cocked to the side and his mouth open. He kept staring as Carradine finished the drill and walked to the end of the line. Zgonina couldn’t freaking believe what he saw. So he walked over to Carradine and corrected him in front of the rest of the defensive linemen and the media. You do it like this, Tank. Seemingly every 10 minutes afterward, Zgonina pulled Carradine to the side and corrected him about something else.
3. RB Joe Williams. The rookie fourth-round pick fumbled during 11-on-11 drills. He ran toward the left tackle, cut between the defensive tackle and the defensive end and got stripped by D-end Dekoda Watson. Will Redmond landed on the ball.
4. QB Matt Barkley. Barkley was extremely accurate, completing 7-of-9 passes, but he made one junior varsity decision. The play was a run-action bootleg to his left. After Barkley faked the hand off and started rolling out to his left, Aaron Lynch chased him down, and instead of throwing the ball away, Barkley heaved it downfield as far he could. I don’t know whom he thought he was throwing to, but the ball flew right into the arms of free safety Lorenzo Jerome.
5. ILB Malcolm Smith. Players didn’t wear pads today, so they weren’t supposed to hit each other. But during one running play, linebacker Malcolm Smith met running back Tim Hightower in the hole and hit him as hard as he could and knocked him on his back. Hightower wasn’t expecting this hit. Seemed like a dirty play.
6. CB Ahkello Witherspoon. The rookie third-round pick got beaten twice in man-to-man coverage – first, by undrafted free agent Kendrick Bourne, who ran a quick out route. Then, by Aaron Burbridge, who isn’t even fast. These two receivers probably won’t make the team. If Witherspoon can’t cover them, he’s got major problems.
7. WR Bruce Ellington. The fourth-year veteran played mainly with the fourth-string offense and still couldn’t beat man-to-man coverage. Quarterbacks targeted Ellington twice and both times the pass got broken up. Ellington seemed lethargic and unmotivated – he looked like he didn’t want to be on the field. I wonder how much longer he’ll be in the league.