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49ers camp observations: C.J. Beathard’s best practice shakes up 49ers QB situation



image via 49ers.com

SANTA CLARA — C.J. Beathard is having a slightly better training camp than Matt Barkley.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Beathard will start the season as Brian Hoyer’s backup, but the rookie third-round pick is steadily improving.

Leading the second-team offense against the first-team defense in an unscripted 11-on-11 scrimmage, Beathard drove the football down the field and Robbie Gould converted a field goal. On a third-down play, Beathard fired a strike to Blake Bell in the middle of the field to keep the drive alive. A couple of dump-off passes to Kyle Juszczyk and a big run by Kapri Bibbs, and all of a sudden the first-team defense was winded.

Barkley’s turn against the third-team defense did not go as smoothly, including one errant throw where no receiver was within 15 yards. From the outside looking in, Kyle Shanahan’s playbook appears to be challenging Barkley mentally. The 26-year-old mentioned to reporters how Shanahan does not allow quarterbacks to wear wristbands. Barkley’s daily lapses make you wonder how disappointed the new regime is with signing the former Bear. There’s a reason Beathard has been rotating in with the second-unit on a regular basis.

Here’s the thing: the 49ers might not elevate Beathard over Barkley even if the rookie’s performed better in practice and the preseason.

If Hoyer were to get hurt early in the season, it’s likely Shanahan would still turn to Barkley. Beathard had success against the 49ers first-team defense in one drill. It’s a whole different story asking him to have success against Seattle or Arizona. He’s not there yet. Barkley’s at least started 11 games in his career.

Essentially, Barkley is serving as a shield. The 49ers wouldn’t want to harm Beathard’s confidence this early in his career. There just aren’t enough playmakers on this offense yet to help carry a rookie quarterback. But should a Hoyer injury happen later in the year — or if the team is eliminated from the postseason in December — there could become a time where it makes sense to play Beathard in 2017.

Beathard has a ton to work on. A ton. He’s not a touch passer yet. He’s had a few poor practices with accuracy. He’s more burly inside the pocket than he is nimble.

But Friday was his best day, which also included a 45-yard deep connection in 1-on-1’s with new 6-foot-4 receiver Tim Patrick, who beat Dontae Johnson. Let’s hope Shanahan gives the rookie the most reps in the preseason.

-Trent Taylor is going to be hard to keep off the field. He had another toe-tapping, sideline reception on Friday — this time coming from Brian Hoyer. That’s right, the fifth-round pick is finding himself mixing in with the first-team. It’s Taylor’s footwork which has been his most impressive quality to start camp. He’s completely aware of the sidelines, and how to use them to his benefit. Jeremy Kerley was limited in practice and Taylor took advantage.

-It was easily Joe Williams’ best practice of training camp. Cries of his disappointing start — from me included — have been temporarily silenced. He’s shown a burst in the second level of the field. More importantly: he’s running a lot harder than he did at the beginning of camp. There’s no way he’ll be challenging Carlos Hyde for the starting spot as some had suggested, but Williams has stacked two good days on top of each other. That’s a start.

-Reuben Foster nicked up his ankle during 11-on-11’s, a scary scene for about 15 seconds while he laid on his back. Trainers came out and massaged his ankle and he returned one play later. The rookie linebacker came up with another turnover, AGAIN, on Friday. Cornerback Prince Charles Iworah collided with running back Matt Breida, the ball became dislodged, and Foster was right there to scoop it up out of midair for the fumble recovery. Foster’s been working mostly with the second unit with Brock Coyle out (ribs).

-The second-team defense also kept the first-team offense out of the end zone in an unscripted 11-on-11 drill. Ahkello Witherspoon had a key pass breakup during the sequence on Pierre Garcon. Teammates seem to be giving him extra encouragement and were yelling “SPOON!” after one of his best plays during camp. I still think 2017 is more of a red-shirt NFL season for Witherspoon.

-Starting nickel back K’Waun Williams snagged an interception on Barkley intended for Aldrick Robinson. Number 24 is a smooth athlete 49ers fans are going to learn to love.

-The 49ers seem to really love safety Vinnie Sunseri, who is now rotating in at starting free safety. Undrafted prospects Lorenzo Jerome and Chanceller James have more athleticism — no doubt. But Sunseri is a smart player generally in the right spot. He’s got a fighting chance to make this team. Speaking of James, he logged a sack during 11-on-11’s.