This is what stood out to me during practice Monday morning.
1. 54-year-old Hall-of-Fame WR Jerry Rice. The 49ers invited Jerry Rice and Steve Young to speak to the players before practice. After they spoke, Young watched practice from the sideline for 15 minutes then left, while Rice joined the players on the field and practiced like he was a member of the team. Rice wore cleats, athletic shorts, wrist bands and special wide receiver gloves, and participated in drills with the other receivers. He practiced running routes with them. He practiced catching passes with them. He showed Marquise Goodwin how to run a double move. When the offense rehearsed plays it would run later during practice, Rice ran routes by himself. He didn’t stand and watch the action like all the other players who weren’t participating in the drill. When the offense and the defense scrimmaged against each other, Rice lined up five yards behind the offense as if he were one of the starting wide receivers. And when the center snapped the ball, Rice ran a route. He didn’t stand and watch like the players who were on the sideline. Rice constantly worked. He never took a rep off. He seemed like he was replicating his practice routine from 25 years ago when he was in his prime. He showed the other players what it takes to practice like a champion.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. The discipline and focus of the players. Unfortunately, Rice’s tutorial didn’t rub off. The 49ers continued to play sloppy, unfocused football, just as they did last week during practice and Friday during the first preseason game. Joe Staley and Vance McDonald both committed a false start penalty on the same play. One member of the first-team defense jumped offside in the red zone. And four times, Kyle Shanahan had to tell players to run back to the huddle and start a play over because someone on the offense didn’t line up correctly. Three of these times, a starter lined up in the wrong spot, which is particularly troubling. Shanahan still hasn’t figured out how he’s going to instill discipline into his players. Having Rice show them proper practice habits was creative, but ineffective. Rice is retired. Shanahan must get players who are on the team and in their prime to lead and enforce a standard of performance. I’m talking Joe Staley. Pierre Garcon. Brian Hoyer. Kyle Juszczyk. Logan Paulsen. Tim Hightower. Ahmad Brooks. Elvis Dumervil. Earl Mitchell.
2. LB NaVorro Bowman. I don’t include Bowman in the list of leaders because he’s a question mark. He’s attempting to make a comeback from a brutal injury and players know it. Before he can lead, he has to complete his comeback. And he still has a ways to go. During the second-to-last play of practice, Bowman gave up a 30-yard completion from C.J. Beathard to running back Joe Williams. Williams ran a double move – a slant-and-go – and left Bowman in the dust. After practice, I asked defensive coordinator Robert Saleh what happened on that play. He said Bowman got beat because he “got tired,” and the “wind got the better of (him).” Poor excuse. Williams got the better of Bowman. Wind had nothing to do with it.
3. QB Matt Barkley. Barkley threw an interception, as he does almost every day of practice. Today, he got picked while playing against the third-team defense. He sailed a pass over the head of wide receiver Tim Patrick, who jumped and tipped the ball to free safety Adrian Colbert. I expect Shanahan will formally demote Barkley to third string by the end of training camp.
4. DE Aaron Lynch. Lynch left practice early with a right leg injury. Saleh said he didn’t know the severity of the injury. We’ll find out more about it tomorrow when the 49ers release their anticipated practice-participation report.
5. NT Earl Mitchell. Mitchell also suffered an injury. He walked off the field and watched the last few minutes of practice from the sideline.
1. QB Brian Hoyer. Hoyer completed 19 of 23 pass attempts and threw four touchdown passes: One to Carlos Hyde, one to Pierre Garcon, one to Kendrick Bourne and one to Logan Paulsen. Despite the 49ers’ current issues with focus and discipline, I believe the additions of Hoyer and Shanahan will transform the 49ers from a two-win team to a nine-win team, similar to how the additions of Alex Smith and Andy Reid transformed the Chiefs from a two-win team to an 11-win team in 2013.
2. QB C.J. Beathard. Beathard completed eight of 14 pass attempts as the No. 2 quarterback. Toward the end of practice, he led two drives against the starting defense. He got intercepted during the first drive when he threw a pass over DeAndre Smelter’s head. But during the second drive, Beathard completed six of eight pass attempts and drove the second-team offense to the goal line before Shanahan abruptly ended practice. Shanahan should play Beathard during the first half of Saturday’s preseason game against the Broncos so he can face first-string and second-string opponents. He has earned that opportunity.
3. WR Victor Bolden Jr. The undrafted rookie wide receiver made the best catch of practice when he dove for a deep pass from Barkley, quickly jumped to his feet and ran to the end zone before any defender touched him. The Niners have two good undrafted rookie receivers – Bolden and Kendrick Bourne. Both are good enough to make the final roster.
4. FS Lorenzo Jerome. The Niners also have a good undrafted rookie free safety – Lorenzo Jerome. He played with the starters today and intercepted a pass while former second-round pick Jaquiski Tartt played only with the backups. Jerome almost certainly will make the team.
5. FS Adrian Colbert. The Niners drafted Colbert to play cornerback, but he played free safety with the third-string defense today and intercepted two passes. He seems much better suited to play safety than cornerback, because he covers a lot of ground in center field and thrives when he can keep his eyes on the quarterback.