SANTA CLARA — Day 5 of training resumed for the 49ers on Wednesday and there were some highlights from both the offense and defense — none more epic than a play from Carlos Hyde in an 11-on-11 drill.
The 49ers’ first-team offense was driving the length of the field against the second-team defense. Hyde lined up at the 6-yard line and bounced a running play toward the left corner of the end-zone. In his way stood third-round pick Ahkello Witherspoon. Instead of trying to juke past the Colorado prospect, Hyde chose to run right through him. The force of Hyde knocked Witherspoon off his feet and onto his back — completely de-cleated. It was a Madden truck-stick moment, and one that had offensive players in a screaming, frenzied state. Number 28 ended the scene with a flex.
UPDATED: Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh attempted to defend Witherspoon after practice.
“I’m not worried about that last play,” Saleh said. “They’re not tackling drills, and that caught him off guard. We’ll see when we’re actually allowed to tackle and I have full faith that Ahkello’s going to do exactly what he’s been coached to do. He’s not a coward by any means. He will get in there, he will tackle. He’s been showing up in run fits, he’s physical with his hands at the line of scrimmage. So, we’re excited to see what shows up on game day. We think it’s going to be pretty cool.”
Hyde took most of the first-team reps at running back on Wednesday, ceding only a few to Tim Hightower. The 49ers instructed Hyde to lose some weight, but he reminded everyone on the field his power hasn’t gone away. As for Witherspoon, he was officially baptized by his teammate. That clip will be played over and over in offensive meeting rooms. The rookie has plenty of time to redeem himself, but Hyde reminded him to get off the tracks when the train is rolling through.
-DeForest Buckner left practice with what looked like a lower leg injury. Buckner, laying in discomfort, was attended to by trainers for several minutes. He had his ankle re-taped but ultimately did not return to the action. That’s now four key 49ers defensive players nicked up early in training camp — Jimmie Ward (hamstring), Eric Reid (ankle) and Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) are the others. The good news is that none of the injuries seem as if they’ll linger into September. It could be worse: the Rams and Ravens have already lost starting players for the season. The bad news is that a handful of key players are missing important practice reps in a new defensive scheme. Chris Jones, not Solomon Thomas, replaced Buckner in the starting rotation.
-I’ve been bullish on the 49ers’ second cornerback situation, but Dontae Johnson flashed some ability Wednesday at practice. Five days into camp, he became the first defensive player to intercept a Brian Hoyer pass in an 11-on-11 drill. Johnson scaled the ladder on Jeremy Kerley, timed his jump perfectly, and ripped the ball out of thin air. He had two other pass breakups throughout the day in what was easily his best practice of the summer. His competitor, Keith Reaser, remains out with a knee injury.
-Speaking of cornerbacks: K’Waun Williams appears locked in as the nickel back. The former Cleveland Brown is winning his competition against last year’s fourth-round pick Will Redmond. He’s a physical, scrappy cornerback and he’ll probably play close to 50 percent of the snaps. Last year the 49ers would often rotate Jimmie Ward into the nickel spot and didn’t really have a true specialist at the position. Start remembering Williams’ name because he’s going to have an important role on this team.
-Trent Taylor had a nice toe-tapping touchdown in 7-on-7’s from Matt Barkley. Because of George Kittle’s hamstring, Taylor’s probably been the most impressive rookie on offense thus far. He’s certainly flashed more than Utah running back Joe Williams. Taylor told the media on Wednesday he’s eager to try and make a name for himself returning punts in the preseason.
-A couple of players saw some first-team reps for the first time. Elvis Dumervil’s veteran day off meant Aaron Lynch was serving as the pass rushing specialist in the nickel package. A trimmed-down Lynch has looked very solid to start camp and his roster spot, in my mind, is safe. Ronald Blair was also mixing it up at defensive tackle in a nickel sub-package. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourn (Eastern Washington) is separating himself as one of the top undrafted players on the roster. He was rewarded with a first-team rep on Wednesday. Blocking tight end Logan Paulsen started the day with the ones and also hauled in a screen pass from Hoyer for a big gain.
-The 49ers switched seventh-round pick Adrian Colbert from cornerback to safety. On day one of the position switch, he came up with an interception on Matt Barkley. Colbert was recruited out of high school as a safety but played cornerback at the University of Miami. The more he can do, the more he’ll have a case for the 53-man roster, but practice squad seems like his first landing spot in the NFL.
-Reuben Foster was mostly with the third-string on Wednesday but saw a play or two with the second unit. Surprise: no interceptions from the rookie who has matched his hype so far in camp.
-C.J. Beathard and Barkley continue to split reps as the No. 2 quarterback. Both have been inconsistent to begin training camp. There’s a chance Beathard outperforms Barkley in the preseason but still remains as the No. 3 quarterback.
-Don’t count Vance McDonald out of the tight end competition. He’s looked mostly solid to begin camp. Out of all the holdovers at the position — Garrett Celek and Blake Bell — McDonald’s having the best camp.