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49ers Notebook: Garoppolo struggles, Ford and Greenlaw pick up knocks

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA – Another day, another poor showing from Jimmy Garoppolo. On Tuesday, the fourth-straight day in the 49ers’ opening week of training camp, and the second-straight day of padded practice, Garoppolo failed to convert more than half of his attempts, and the offense as a whole was stifled consistently by a defense which, even with questions at safety, looks utterly relentless:

Defense frustrates Garoppolo, tough on run game again

It was another tough day to run the ball, although there was much more success than yesterday’s constant rejection; an explosive Matt Breida carry (the longest run of the day), a jet sweep from George Kittle, and another day in which the most consistent running threat came from someone not named Breida or Tevin Coleman. Yesterday, it was Raheem Mostert. Trioday it was Austin Walter, a shifty 5’8″ back out of Rice University in Texas, who the 49ers picked up as an undrafted free agent. He’s a long shot to make the team, but his success on the ground today was evident.

After the first four run plays of the day were either jammed at the line or ended quickly with a paltry gain, Walter rattled off a pair of power runs to the left side, marking the first notable gains of the day; whether by air or on the ground.

As for that air attack, it left a lot to be desired.

Garoppolo went 5-for-14 today, with one near catch on the far sideline from Coleman which was ruled incomplete.

He opened the day with a pass attempt to Dante Pettis – who underwhelmed again, but made one solid catch – on a play action pass that Richard Sherman had covered from the get-go. The second attempt was sort of the inverse – another incompletion, but directed to Marquise Goodwin with tight coverage by Ahkello Witherspoon. His third pass was poor, going behind Pettis, who tried to get a hand on it while moving away from the ball, leaving it to hang vulnerably in the air for a near deflected interception.

At that point, there was probably a decision made to simply get a pass on the board for Garoppolo (the first completion of the day came from C.J. Beathard just a play earlier (it was 15th play of the day, a count which includes a false start by tight end Ross Dwelley which prevented a snap).

He went to his ole reliable target – Trent Taylor – on a screen to the right that, thanks to some good downfield blocking (offensive lineman Ben Garland made a nice block), went for a decent gain. Taylor, by the way, said he feels reinvigorated and faster thanks to a healthy offseason.

It was followed by another incompletion – on a throw in the dirt – targeted to Goodwin, and covered well by Sherman.

His next completion was another screen, this time to Breida, which Sherman missed the tackle on for a loss, but which didn’t get very far, before he connected with George Kittle on a play action over the middle which went for a massive gain, thanks to fantastic blocking and Kittle’s yards-after-catch proclivity. His next completion came with a difficult pass which Kittle bobbled before hauling in. Kittle then bobbled the next pass, which actually was on target, but dropped it. There was also a great non-catch by Coleman on the far sideline – ruled incomplete – which came with Garoppolo under pressure.

The last completion he had was in his penultimate set (preceded by a deep ball to Kittle which was nowhere near reaching its intended target and an overthrow on a miscommunication with Richie James) on a catch by Pettis over the middle. It was followed by his final pass, an incomplete throw behind Tevin Coleman with defensive lineman Ronald Blair covering well.

“If you don’t like Ronnie Blair, you don’t like winning”

Blair was a standout on the day, and is a favorite with defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who sung his praises yet again on Tuesday after saying on Saturday, “…if you like winning, you like Ronnie Blair. If you don’t like winning, then you don’t like him.”

The fourth-year defensive lineman, who had 5.5 sacks a year ago, was extremely active on Monday. He had a tackle for a loss against Breida and the starters on the second play of his first set, had a would-be sack on Beathard (which was completed thanks to a great catch from Taylor), made a tackle on a short run play by Coleman, and two plays later covered Coleman excellently for that final incompletion.

Saleh said he loves Blair “to death,” joking that he’d line up as a nickel corner if asked.

“I told you all my first one, if you like winning, you like Ronnie Blair. If you don’t like winning, you don’t like him,” Saleh said. “I love him to death. He can do no wrong in my book. He’s got great versatility. He’ll play nickel if you ask him to, and he’ll know what to do and he’ll execute.”

Defensive standouts, adjustments and (tempered) excitement about youth

There were plenty of defensive standouts on the day. Sherman, as mentioned, was heavily involved and assertive in coverage, along with a gut-punch stop on what was a decent run to the right side by Coleman. Ahkello Witherspoon “stacked” – as the 49ers like to say – another nice day, getting involved in a few breakups. Jason Verrett also continues to impress, with safety Jaquiski Tartt recalling a moment in which Verrett criticized himself for what he perceived to be a slow get-off.

“A few plays, he’s thinking like, ‘Man, I probably was a little slow.’ I’m like, what are you talking about man? You were covering the ball,” Tartt said.

Tarvarius Moore also saw snaps at free safety, where he played in college and where he’s been transitioning back to after playing corner in his first season; the inverse of D.J. Reed, who is back to playing corner after playing safety last season. Saleh – who may have been acting in a focused, cautious way to protect his rookies, like he’s done with Nick Bosa – said Moore’s a long ways off in terms of being able to play the position at an NFL level.

“He’s been progressively getting better,” Saleh said. “He’s by no means even close to being an NFL-ready safety by Week 1, but he is getting progressively better. He’s got a lot of things to clean up with regards to, he’s hesitating, which is expected. He’s still new at the position, but he’s got to get to the point where he’s not really thinking about his job anymore where he can react and trigger, which is so important for our safety to be able to do.”

… and that linebacker group

If you were to pinpoint the most exciting rookie so far in training camp (both Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd have looked “exciting,” but have not played enough snaps to show their every-down viability yet), the discussion would likely be between Nick Bosa and Dre Greenlaw. Bosa has looked like every part the No. 2 overall pick that he was, and Greenlaw has been the third starting linebacker, showing his “nose for the ball” (as Kyle Juszczyk said) while Kwon Alexander works his way back into regular snaps.

At this point, once Alexander gets fully back to action, it looks like Greenlaw and Malcolm Smith will be fighting it out for the third spot (at SAM, but flexible in every spot as all Saleh linebackers are required to be). Saleh said there were “four or five” other guys in the mix outside of Greenlaw (Smith, Elijah Lee, Mark Nzeocha, David Mayo, LaRoy Reynolds), but the battle looks largely between Greenlaw and Smith, although Reynolds is making a case as well (more on him below).

Warner, when asked about Greenlaw, followed the Saleh mold of cautious optimism, but saying there’s a long future for Greenlaw in the NFL:

Warner has led a linebacking group which has supplemented the 49ers’ staunch front line excellently. He said he didn’t feel that him taking the role of MIKE linebacker over Kwon Alexander – whose “legendary” mentality is something he’s a fan of and says has rubbed off on the group – was significant. He credited it to his year of experience under Saleh and said the positions of MIKE and WILL are interchangeable.

His biggest improvement from his rookie season, he said, is the confidence that comes from simply being a year older.

“When you’re a rookie, it’s all about trying to learn the defense, trying to learn the guys, prove yourself,” Warner said. “And I feel like you’re still proving yourself every year, I’m still trying to prove myself to my peers, but at the same time, I’ve been in this defense for a full season. I know what I’m capable of and what my expectations are with myself, so that’s probably the biggest difference, the confidence.”

As for the aforementioned Reynolds, he was impressive today. He stuffed Walter at the line on one play and locked down the shifty Trent Taylor – who the defense, according to Warner, thinks may have hired a speed coach in the offseason – on a pass play that received vocal plaudits from Sherman and the rest of the defense. On the very next play, Reynolds broke up a pass intended for Jalen Hurd on a slant from Nick Mullens.

The defensive versatility and coverage skills of Reynolds failed to surprise Warner, who praised a very confident linebacker group.

“Nah, that’s LaRoy,” Warner said. “Trent is a tricky dude to cover in the slot, but LaRoy’s been balling out and doing his thing. We’ve got a lot of confidence in that linebacker room.”

Final Notes

  • Injuries: Jimmie Ward was activated today from the PUP list. Head coach Kyle Shanahan had said the plan was for him to be back around the time the 49ers make their trip to the Denver Broncos for the second preseason game and there’s no indication that has changed, but Ward can now ramp up. Also out was offensive lineman Joshua Garnett, who was sidelined for a second-straight day with a dislocated finger, Kyle Juszczyk, who had his foot stepped on, and Jeff Wilson, with a calf issue. Dee Ford also suffered a quad strain and a finger injury, while Greenlaw suffered a hand laceration, seeing them out of practice late on.
  • Standouts not mentioned: Sixth-round pick, cornerback Tim Harris Jr. was solid today, breaking up a pass to Dante Pettis on a slant and nearly picking off the final play of the day which came off Richie James’ hands. Jalen Hurd caught two passes today, including a screen which displayed how powerful he looks in the open field. He blocked very well again, but was implemented as a more traditional receiver and took the most snaps he’s seen in any of the previous practices so far. George Kittle ran an effective jet sweep and was dangerous on a dump pass from Garoppolo, as should be expected. Richie James Jr. also looked solid yet again, and looks like a very dynamic route runner. Shawn Poindexter, at 6’5,” also looks dynamic, has clear big play ability, and will be fun to watch if he gets more targets.

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