OTA Notes: Rough day for the passing game

SANTA CLARA — Here’s what stood out to me during Tuesday’s OTA.


1. Colin Kaepernick — The passing game wasn’t clicking, but Kaepernick made three beautiful throws. First, he dropped back and looked to his right, then looked to his left and hit Brandon Lloyd in the middle of the field for a 15-yard gain. Next, Kaepernick threw a touchdown pass rolling to his right during a red-zone drill. Devon Wylie caught the pass in the back-right corner of the end zone. Finally — and this one was the prettiest pass of all — Kaepernick rolled to his left during a two-minute drill and threw a perfect pass against his body Bruce Ellington for a 10-yard gain.

2. Kendall Hunter — One of the most explosive players in practice so far this offseason. Everytime he touches the ball, he makes four or five jump-cuts, then he sprints downfield. He looks more explosive than I’ve ever seen him and I’ve covered his entire professional career.

3. Darryl Morris — Broke up a long pass intended for Bruce Ellington. Ellington ran deep, cut, then ran back toward the quarterback. He couldn’t shake Morris, who broke with Ellington and easily swatted away the pass.

4. Chris Cook — Broke up the final play of practice. The 49ers were doing a two-minute drill. Five seconds remained on the clock and the offense had the ball at the defense’s 21 yard line. Kaepernick dropped back and fired a pass to his left into the end zone. No receivers were there. Just Cook, who dropped the easy interception.


1. Vance McDonald — Dropped two passes. The first one he tipped into the hands of safety James McCray. The second one, McDonald was running deep across the field , Kaepernick threw it to him and he let the pass fall through his outstretched hands.

2. Chuck Jacobs — Dropped four passes. He started because Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson and Quinton Patton sat out team drills and Anquan Boldin did not attend practice.

This article has 85 Comments

  1. disappointed to hear about McDonald. The Niners really need a 2nd TE to step up and be another viable receiving target and be able to replace Vernon…to a certain degree…if Vernon is injured or continues his stupid contract dispute.

    1. I wouldn’t get too discouraged. VD wasn’t exactly handy early in his career. Grant, is he spending any extra time after practice on those jugs?

  2. Grant did McDonald catch any passes out there? Also, the INT Cook dropped, did you get the sense Colin was expecting a WR to be there (route miscommunication) or Colin simply made a wrong decision and “threw to the other team?”

      1. Glad it looked like a miscommunication. There’s that old “doesn’t see well to the left” thing I’m hoping Colin corrects at some point.

  3. Good to hear about Hunter’s explosiveness. Why he doesn’t get more carries is very puzzling. I know he was coming off the injury last season, but he rarely loses yards, he’s a good outside runner, and despite his size he can get yards after contact. The coaches need to find a way to use him and take advantage of that explosiveness.

  4. Maybe they should give Lawrence Okoye a shot at tight end…hell they have let everybody else have a go at it…

    1. I was kicking around the notion of Okoye at TE myself (not giving up on VMac my any means). Okoye’s tall stature makes him a bit top heavy for 4-3DE, 3-4DT.

      I was also kicking around goal line fullback, kick block specialist, 300+lbs gunner for punts.

      The 49ers are stacked at D-line depth. I’m afraid some team will pluck him from the PS.

      1. Love this idea! If Okoye can catch that would be a great place for him. We know he’s fast. Love to see Kam Chancellor just get crushed under a motoring Okoye.

        1. What bar are all you guys at? Please call a cab.
          Maybe Okoye can be a good slot receiver too or challenge for backup QB job?
          That “Fireball” stuff sneaks up on ya fellas. Get some coffee while waiting on that cab.

          1. Maybe they could put Okoye in at QB down by the goalline for a sneak or run the read option. He already kinda knows how to pitch the ball from his rugby days. ; )

            1. Nah Jack, wingers in rugby can’t pass worth a darn – that’s why they hide them out on the wing where all they need to do is catch, run and kick! ;-)

              Hmmm, my guess is nobody will know what the heck I’m talking about…

              1. I think its too bad there is no NFL Europe or equivalent for Okoye to play in. The pretty extreme contact limitations that have been in effect since the new CBA seem to limit any chance for Okoye to get enough full contact reps in practice to convert from rugby to football. The old NFL Europe schedule was about 8 games, I would see Okoye being up and down through about 3 or 4 games, and then really turning it on towards the end of the schedule. I don’t think getting a few quarters in the preseason will be enough. And it’s too bad because the guy sounds downright scary.

              2. The fundamental problem with a ‘developmental’ league for the NFL is the relatively short careers due to the physicality of the game. Unlike baseball where a player can go through the various underling leagues before working his way into the big leagues with American Football players simply wouldn’t last long enough to make it to the pro’s. I’m not trying to suggest that every player would get hurt but it’s not the kind of sport that having a couple extra seasons of contact is always beneficial.

              3. If you haven’t already, I would recommend reading Nate Jackson’s book about his NFL career. He had some interesting descriptions of NFL Europe which included your point on injuries. However, I don’t think the NFL shut down NFL Europe over injuries, I think it was because of money. My main point is that I think Okoye needs to play in several entire games to make the transition from Rugby to playing DL in the NFL. I don’t think a training camp with limited contact and parts of 4 preseason games will be enough playing time for him to be consistent enough to keep on the 53. So much of interior line play is technique, and I don’t see how Okoye can develop that technique without playing and learning from his mistakes. At the same time, I don’t think the Niners can afford to have Okoye make those mistakes in real games.

                And I do see some sort of off-season developmental league returning in the next few years. To me, helping to develop just one hall of fame QB (Warner) is enough to justify NFL Europe’s existence – and Warner was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of NFL players who came from that league.

      2. Brillaint idea to have Okoye play fullback on short gain rushes, such as on 4th and 1 at the endzone. He played lots of rugby in the past, so the fullback skillset is already there and available. That said, I can’t see how placing him at TE will workout.

  5. Kawakami agreeing with exactly what I said about his exchange with Harbaugh about Aldon:

    “He did say that he didn’t appreciate my “is 10 felony counts the standard” question from back in May, however. Today, I told him I agreed that the wording could be considered a little pejorative, but I said it and I’ll live with it.”


    1. Kudos to TK for owning up to his tone during his questioning. It was quite obvious….

      1. Agreed. Instead of being pig-headed about it he acknowledged the wording was antagonistic.

        Funny how when he then has a conversation with Harbaugh without being so accusatory he actually gets the answers he was after.

        1. Yea, hopefully this is a learning moment for TK so we can get more answers….

          1. Yea, hopefully this is a learning moment for TK so we can get more answers….

            The problem is the little peckerwood wants to keep picking at that scab instead of focusing on all the myriad OTA topics he could be asking about, such as: is George Whitfield here to specifically help Kap work on his mechanics and footwork and how much time is he slated for just he and Kap vs Gabbert, MBT, JJ, et al?

            1. Bar None
              Thats the first thing that came to my mind when I heard that GW was coming for the summer. I remember after the season CK being asked if he was planning on working with a house/martinez/whitfield or any of the other noted QB gurus on his footwork. At the time he said he wasnt planning on it and that he wasn’t going to focus on footwork but rather work to improve “all aspects of his game”. I wonder if this is the niners way of saying “if we cant bring you to the river then we will bring the river to you” and now CK wont have a choice but to work with him and strengthen his mechanics. Especially when he has to reset after being chased from his initial set point in the pocket

    2. My take is Jim knew he would be addressing those questions at that Presser, it was inevitable. The tone pushed Harbaugh’s buttons so he got snarky instead of just answering. Previously Trent had fielded similar questions and just calmly resisted the characterization of the Niners as a troubled roster. I’m thinking that was Jim’s GamePlan too going in, but then he’s Jim and he reacted accordingly. Can you imagine the lizard look TK would have gotten if he’d asked that of BB?

    3. In the above linked article, Kawakami wrote,”He said they won’t know what will happen until the judge decides; I argued that Smith is already considered legally guilty–that’s what “no contest” means, acceptance without the actual guilty plea.”

      I don’t know to whom Kawakami is speaking to obtain information on criminal pleas, but his statement above is — at the least — far too simplistic. Personally, I would go as far to say it is flat wrong, though I know some prosecutors who would not agree with me (they would agree with me that Kawakami’s understanding is lacking).

      As I wrote on this topic before, a plea of no contest is legally and practically different from a guilty plea. A guilty plea constrains the judge as only a guilty verdict may be entered once the court accepts the plea. A plea of ‘nolo contendre’ (or no contest) does no constrain the judge to enter a particular verdict. This is a significant legal difference. In fact, the judge could even find Smith not guilty if the judge determines, based on the documents already filed in the case and the recommendation of the prosecution, that a guilty verdict is not warranted (although that is quite unlikely).

      It is more likely that the judge may reduce the weapons charge from felony to misdemeanor, or may even divert the conviction pending education/community service. However, neither of these options are readily available if Smith were to have pled guilty. Thus, as different options with respect to verdict and sentencing are available under a no contest plea, a ‘nolo contendre’ plea is legally different from a guilty plea.

      Finally, even disregarding the different verdict/sentencing options a plea of no contest affords, Kawakami seems to be misunderstanding an important legal point — no one is legally guilty until a final verdict is entered. There is no final verdict entered yet in this case, so it is inaccurate to state that Smith is legally guilty of anything (even his earlier DUI was diverted and then dismissed, so no final verdict was entered for that either).

  6. It’s good to hear that Cook is looking good so far in OTAs, but I’m keeping my optimism in check because Asomugha too looked good until the games started counting.

    1. Exactly, like I said, if Cook makes the team, it will be a minor miracle in my mind, and then until I see him play like a starter, I’ll have my reservations due to the mistake they made with Asomugha….

  7. Falcons just lost a starting linebacker. Could be a trade partner down the road…..

          1. It’ll be a hybrid 4-3/ 3-4, just like they’ve run the past 2 seasons.

            Weatherspoon plays as an ILB in their 3-4 alignment, on the weak side of the formation, and WILL in the 4-3 alignment.

  8. Very positive report overall. McDonald had a bad hands rap coming out, even though his hands are fairly large, which is the only reason he lasted until the end of the 2nd round.

    It’s a concern that a guy you may throw to only twice a game may drop one of those passes. I still believe in his upside, but sometimes bad hands are hard to overcome.

    1. VD overcame it, but it took repetitions after practices on the jugs machine. The only exception seems to be when he sees KC’s shadow…..

    2. VD overcame it, but it took repetitions after practices. The only exception seems to be when he sees KC’s shadow…..

      1. Sure, Razor. That’s the gamble. But some guys, despite the extra repetitions, never develop good hands. Hopefully, McDonald falls in the VD camp.

      2. Sorry for the repetitive post, but my comment was flagged for the word “jugs”……

        1. What is this PC world coming to when u cant even write the word j.u.g.s on the internet.

          1. Hah! Filters. Yeah, when I used to send e-mails to customers about enroute shipments via Piggyback Rail, sometimes their filters would reject the message because I used an abbreviation for Trailer In Transit. Silly.

    3. I really hope Vance puts it together, sad to see his teamate picked in later rounds having greater success with the Seahawks no less.

  9. Happy to hear the positive news about KHunt. I thought that he was still not at 100% when he came back last from his injury. His quick cuts followed by his explosive upfield running is what I’ve been waiting to see for a while.
    If KH is at or very close to 100% he is going to receive the bulk of the carries behind FGore this coming season.

    Hyde will receive some work in either mop-up duty or perhaps short yardage and goal line packages but it would not surprise to see KHunt emerge as our best RB when the dust settles.
    Looks like the talk about KHunt’ tenuous team security a couple of weeks ago could be put to rest.

    Any news on Lattimore’ progress?

    1. Yes. They did that a little bit last week, too. I can’t tell if they’re installing those plays or prepping for other teams while the 49ers’ top-four receivers sit out.

  10. Whats the word on the wr situation? Last i heard Crabs was taking it really light, stevie was working through an injury along with Patton. Im not sure whats up with Boldin. Are these still the cases?

    Its good that Ellington is getting some good reps but these WRs need to click this season. Im manily concerned with Stevie since he’s the newbie. Patton needs the reps as well.

    1. When Harbaugh says “working through” it could be a little thing, or a torn bicep. Kind of like reading “Marie Antoinette is working through a little neck issue, but should be fine for the 1793 season.”

  11. Grant, another good article. I know you don’t give a snot about what I think nor should you but it’s nice to see you telling the positive and negative aspects of what you saw without the scarcasm or it looking like you dislike everything the 49ers do and you know better. Straight to the point I like it and I find it much more entertaining IMO. Last few articles will make me read more of your articles with regularity. Again not that you care.

  12. Can anyone give me some info on this “QB GURU” that’s “interning” with the niners. From the little I read he’s worked with some of the better QB’s In the league. Is he working specifically with Kaep or with all of them? And does anyone think this will help Kaep improve his overall QB skill set

    1. I think Jim and George developed a relationship when Jim was the coach at SD, and George is part of a minority coaching internship. He’s slated to work with the quarterbacks and coaches. Bob Whitfield (not related) will also doing an internship with the 49ers I believe, and he will be working with the offensive line players/coaches. I have no doubt it will benefit Kaeperncick in some form or fashion…..

    2. I think I heard or read that George Whitfield was mostly working with the back up QBs…at least up until this point. He’s worked with some of the better QB’s in the league as a pre-draft warm up coach. Harbaugh got to know him during his time in San Diego (as a coach i’m assuming); Whitfield held his clinics on the beaches in SD.

  13. It seems like even Maiocco was tougher on Kaepernick than you were Grant. He only mentioned one nice pass and focused more on his miscues and inaccuracy.

    Seems like you really could have used this practice to really rip into Kap about how he’s not elite, how elite QB’s don’t miss receivers…ever, how he’s over paid.

    Are you feeling okay???

  14. Under random thoughts, I had to laugh when in the comments section of a PFT piece on the Browns and J. Gordon, someone referred to Manziel as ‘Johnny Beiber’.

  15. It’s hard for the passing game to look good when the top 5 options are out. Not really surprised about McDonald. I’ve been down on him. He just doesn’t look athletic enough to me to play the position they want him to play. Delanie Walker had size, speed, and athleticism which allowed him the agility he needed to play that role. I just don’t see any of that in McDonald right now.

    1. McDonald is bigger and faster than Walker. The only issue seems to be dropped passes which ironically were the same issues Walker had.

    1. I like what I hear about Carrier. He seems to have a lot of upside, and has the size and athleticism. And from what I’ve read has outperformed VMac for the most part.

    1. Kaepernick has the biggest difference in passer rating between play-action passes and non-play-action passes at (34.8).

      While he ranks 4th out of 27 QB’s who took at least 50% of their teams’ snaps last seaon when throwing off play-action, he drops to 15th out of 27 without play-action. That difference is comparable to Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton and Mike Glennon.

        1. Foles, Manning and Rivers also have a large difference between PA and non-PA. The difference is that they are still among the top four, while Kaepernick, Tannehill, Newton and Glennon are all below the NFL average.

            1. Here you go: NFL Average

              Foles 109.9 (1) Ranking difference: 2nd to 1st
              Manning 107.7 (2) 1st to 2nd
              Rivers 102.2 (4) 3rd to 4th
              Kaepernick 81.6 (15) 4th to 15th
              Newton 79.3 (18 6th to 18th
              Glennon 77.3 (20) 9th to 20th
              Tannehill 76.6 (21) 8th to 21st

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