Usually, I start these practice reports with positive observations. Today, I’m starting with the negatives. Forgive me.
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. LB NaVorro Bowman. I made a point to keep an eye on Bowman the entire practice – I wanted to see how he moves less than one year removed from surgery on his ruptured Achilles tendon. He moved well today during linebacker drills – chopping his feet and changing directions and sprinting short distances. Rehearsed movements he has practiced and perfected. But, he did not move well when he had to react to someone else’s movements during team drills. Once, Bowman had to cover tight end Garrett Celek who lined up in the slot. Celek isn’t the toughest player to cover – he’s not particularly quick or fast. He’s a plodder. Probably won’t even make the team. On this play, he ran a double move – out toward the sideline, then back up the field. Bowman stuck with Celek on the first move, but couldn’t change directions quickly enough to follow Celek’s second move up the field. So, Bowman grabbed Celek’s jersey and held him. Had Bowman not committed this penalty, Celek would have been wide open for an easy touchdown. I don’t see how the 49ers can play Bowman on passing downs next season, because opponents will isolate him in man-to-man coverage and attack him with choice routes and option routes he can’t defend.
2. RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde is the slowest and most indecisive running back on the team. I’m not saying he’s bad – he does have quick feet between the tackles, he can bounce inside runs to the outside and he plows through defenders. But he doesn’t seem to have the vision to succeed in Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone running scheme. Tuesday, he was the only running back who never found a hole to run through. On one stretch play, he missed a cutback lane, tried to bounce around the outside even though the linebacker had set the edge and lost three yards. The Niners should trade him to a team that runs the zone read.
3. QB Brian Hoyer. Hoyer played well last week, but today he was out of sync with the offense all practice. Maybe he was rusty from the three-day weekend. I don’t know. He missed high, he missed low. He threw to receivers who weren’t there. The ball even squirted out of his hand once. But his worst play by far was a deep pass to Marquise Goodwin. Goodwin was open – he had beaten his defender and was wide open sprinting toward the end zone. Hoyer set his feet, wound up and threw a pass that landed about 20 yards to Goodwin’s left. Hard to fathom that one. Hoyer completed only 10 of 20 passes all afternoon. He did make one nice pass over the middle to Jeremy Kerley, but his deep throws and sideline throws were terrible.
4. WR Pierre Garcon. Garcon continues to do very little. Today, he made just one catch – a short one on a pop pass over the middle. He had an opportunity to make a deep catch, but the ball flew through his hands. He also struggled getting open every time he faced Rashard Robinson. Garcon looks old. Maybe he’ll turn it on later this offseason.
5. CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson split time with Keith Reaser on the No. 1 defense – those two are competing for one job. And Johnson is losing. Today, he gave up a long catch over the middle to DeAndre Carter, a longshot to make the final roster. Johnson has everything the 49ers are looking for in a cornerback – he’s tall and he’s fast. He just isn’t good.
6. TE George Kittle. The rookie fifth-round pick caught zero passes and dropped an easy one over the middle. The other rookie tight end, Cole Hikutini, was much better than Kittle. More on Hikutini below.
1. CB Rashard Robinson. Robinson is the 49ers’ best cornerback – I haven’t seen him give up a catch. Today, he broke up a short pass intended for Garcon, as I mentioned above. Robinson owned Garcon. But, Robinson did get burned deep once by Goodwin during that play when Hoyer missed Goodwin by a mile. Robinson may have trouble with fast receivers. Something to keep an eye on.
2. CB Keith Reaser. Reaser made the best play of the afternoon when he broke up a long pass to DeAndre Smelter who was running a deep comeback route along the sideline. Reaser has improved from last season – he’s much more confident and aggressive.
3. RB Joe Williams. The rookie fourth-round pick found a cutback lane on a stretch run to the right and burst through the hole for a six-yard gain. A few plays later, Williams took a handoff from the shotgun and squeezed through a hole between the tackles for a 10-yard gain. Williams is a natural.
4. RB Matt Breida. This undrafted rookie runs hard. Today, he beat the defense to the sideline and turned the corner for a long gain on a toss play. Later, he sprinted to the sideline and quickly cut back for a long gain. Breida could make the team if the 49ers trade Carlos Hyde as they should.
5. LB Malcolm Smith. The 49ers’ big free-agent signing on defense stripped running back Tim Hightower after Hightower caught a short pass over the middle. There’s no question Smith is better in coverage than Bowman.
6. TE Logan Paulsen. Paulsen was the starting tight end and Brian Hoyer’s favorite target. Whenever Hoyer didn’t see an open receiver downfield, he dumped the ball to Paulsen. I expect Paulsen will be a key player – both as a blocker and a receiver – on first and second down.
7. TE Cole Hikutini. Hikutini could be a key player on third down. Today, he made two catches, including a deep catch between two defenders. Hikutini didn’t bobble the ball or double-catch it, either. He caught it in stride. Easy.
8. QB Matt Barkley. The 49ers’ second-string quarterback completed 9-of-12 passes, including a couple difficult ones downfield. You can see Barkley making quicker decisions and playing with more confidence as he learns the offense.
9. QB C.J. Beathard. The 49ers’ rookie third-round quarterback completed every pass he threw. He was 9 for 9. These passes were short, though. Beathard didn’t complete anything deep, and his sideline passes floated in the air. Still, he was perfect. Impressive for a rookie. Beathard has a quick release and he gets rid of the ball faster than the other quarterbacks.