SANTA CLARA – Here’s what stood out to me during Tuesday’s OTA.
- DE Arik Armstead. Armstead is the 49ers’ second-best interior pass rusher after DeForest Buckner. Today, Armstead consistently pushed offensive linemen into the backfield using long, powerful arms. Armstead also beat a guard to the inside with a quick swim move, a move I hadn’t seen Armstead use effectively before. He seems to be improving as a pass-rusher. But, he still struggles against the run. He loses sight of the ball carrier, and fails to set the edge against play-action rollouts by the quarterback.
- LB Fred Warner. Rookie third-round pick Fred Warner lined at middle linebacker with the starting defense, and relayed the defensive play calls to his teammates. It’s surprising the 49ers would ask a rookie to make the calls, instead of Reuben Foster, who is entering his second season in the league. Perhaps the team isn’t confident in Foster’s ability to communicate on the field.
- CB Ahkello Witherspoon, SS Jaquiski Tartt and FS Adrian Colbert. These are three-fourths of the 49ers starting secondary, and each player has gotten stronger this offseason, especially Witherpsoon and Colbert. Both seem 10 pounds bigger than last season. Tartt doesn’t seem bigger, but he does seem leaner and stronger. I wouldn’t want him to hit me.
- RB Matt Breida. Breida made the best catch of the day. He lined up at wide receiver, ran a go-route down the sideline, burned rookie cornerback Tavarius Moore and caught the ball over his shoulder. Breida looked like a natural receiver on that play.
- RB Joe Williams. Williams made the best run of the day. He lined up in the shotgun, ran a stretch zone play to his right, made one cut and burst through the middle of the 49ers defense for a long touchdown. That was the type of run he made routinely in college.
- TE Garrett Celek. Celek beat cornerback Tyvis Powell in the red zone for a touchdown catch. Through three weeks of OTAs, Celek seems to be the 49ers’ go-to-guy in the red zone.
- TE George Kittle. Kittle made a leaping touchdown catch in the back-right corner of the end zone – he almost looked like Dwight Clark making The Catch. Kittle also made a leaping, twisting catch downfield on a pass thrown behind him.
- WR Kendrick Bourne. Bourne beat Tartt with a quick slant in the red zone for a touchdown catch (related: why do 49ers defensive backs consistently give up inside leverage in the red zone? In that area of the field, they should force receivers to win to the outside). Bourne has been the 49ers best young wide receiver this offseason. And like the young defensive backs, Bourne seems much stronger than last season.
THE NOT SO GOOD
- QB Jimmy Garopolo. Garoppolo threw an interception in the end zone – a big no-no. He was rolling to his left, and he had a receiver open – Pierre Garcon. Garoppolo needed to set his feet and throw with his entire body, but didn’t. He threw off his back foot while falling away from the target – a throw only Aaron Rodgers could make. Garoppolo’s throw hung in the air and allowed cornerback Greg Mabin, who was beat, to make the interception. That was a J.V. play by Garoppolo. He’s better than that.
- HC Kyle Shanahan. Twice last year, the 49ers lost close games because a receiver ran an illegal pick and committed offensive pass interference. Today, the offense committed that penalty again, and the penalty negated a first-down catch by Garcon. Shanahan needs to change how he coaches rub routes and pick plays.
- LB Malcolm Smith. Smith missed practice with a tweaked groin muscle. The team says it expects him to return to practice next week, but Smith seems injury prone. I’d be surprised if he lasts all season.
- CB Jimmie Ward. Ward missed practice with a tweaked ankle. Like Smith, the team says it expects Ward to return to practice next week, and maybe he will. But, it’s just a matter of time before he injures something else. The 49ers can’t count on Ward, which means they need Richard Sherman to be excellent next season. Because if Sherman struggles, the 49ers’ second-best cornerback after Witherspoon is Greg Mabin, who should NOT be a starter in the NFL.
- CB Tarvarius Moore. Moore got beat deep by a running back who simply ran straight. Didn’t cut or anything. Moore couldn’t keep up. And he supposedly ran a 4.32 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. If Moore can’t cover a running back who’s lined up outside, Moore won’t be able to cover any NFL wide receivers for a while.
- WR Dante Pettis. Pettis seemed scared of contact over the middle, especially in the red zone. Once, he ran a quick slant against Mabin, who jammed Pettis, beat him to the football and knocked it away. Pettis never extended his arms to catch the football. Later, Pettis ran the same route against Tavarus McFadden, and had the same result. McFadden jammed him and broke up the pass, and Pettis didn’t fight to catch it. He does not seem like the 49ers flanker of the future to me — he gets bullied by big corners in traffic. He needs space to operate.
- QB C.J. Beathard. The one time Pettis was open on Tuesday,, Beathard missed him. Pettis ran a deep out route, and Beathard’s pass almost bounced in front of Pettis. Beathard’s inaccuracy is Blake-Bortles-esque.
- DE Solomon Thomas. The team lists Thomas at 280 pounds, be he looks no heavier than 265 pounds. Check him out for yourself in the pictures below. On Tuesday, the 49ers made Thomas drop into man-to-man coverage against tight end Garrett Celek while Celek sprinted up the seam. If Thomas really weighs 280 pounds, the 49ers wouldn’t ask him to drop deep into man-to-man coverage. And if he really weighs 280 pounds, the 49ers would have him rush from the interior of the line from time to time. But, Thomas didn’t do that once on Tuesday. From what I could tell, he rushed exclusively from the edge, and came off the field on second-and-long and third down. The nickel defensive line was Cassius Marsh, DeForest Buckner, Armstead and Jeremiah Attaochu, as it should be. Thomas is not currently one of the 49ers four best pass rushers.