SANTA CLARA, Calif. — San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had yet another solid practice on Friday, completing 8-of-14 passes with two touchdowns, and even catching a pass in the red zone.
The ball popped out of his hand, and his quick release enabled a few play-action passes that a lesser arm couldn’t complete, like delivering a dart on a slant to Garret Celek early in 11-on-11.
The first-string offensive line gave Garoppolo consistently long stays in the pocket, and it was only because of DJ Reed and a tight-covering secondary that he threw his two incompletions during full-team, full-field 11-on-11 work. The defensive backfield, as a whole, continued to play a physical brand of football, and even without some of their top playmakers, made an impression on what could be a productive offense.
Tyree Robinson hauled in an 11-on-11 interception, K’Waun Williams got a breakup, Marcel Harris picked a Nick Mullens ball intended for Richie James, newcomer Jason Verrett broke up a ball from Mullens to Deebo Samuel and Robinson tipped a C.J. Beathard pass for a pick by Azeez Al-Shaair. Practice ended on a Tim Harris breakup on a Garoppolo pass intended for Marquise Goodwin.
Reed had one of the more productive days in the defensive backfield, and played very physical against receivers both big — Jalen Hurd — and small — Trent Taylor.
Taylor, for his part, is very clearly a different player than he was last year, now that his back is squared away and healthy. After a physical Reed breakup during one-on-ones, Taylor abused Greg Mabin on a comeback route, getting up under the San Francisco DB to haul in a pass.
He also had a deep over-the-middle grab in traffic on a strike from Garoppolo that safety Jaquiski Tartt just missed deflecting. He turned hard upfield after catching a short pass, rattled off two defenders and went helmet-to-helmet with cornerback Emmanuel Moseley after they collided at the end of the play, with Moseley eventually patting him on the pads for his effort.
Other impressive plays from the receiving corps and defensive backs: Richie James with a dirty dig to beat his defender, Reed with an excellent leaping, stay-with-him breakup over the middle and Verrett swallowing Goodwin on the first play of 11-on-11, which came to raucous cheers.
Hurd was consistently impressive, and once he polishes up, his size is going to make him a bully not just in downfield blocking, but over the middle. He hauled in a slant during 11-on-11s that saw him power through Reed. Kendrick Bourne said that Hurd is going to be something special.
The biggest play, though, came from Bourne. Last year’s receiving leader had earlier made a diving grab over the deep middle during 11-on-11 work, but when it came time to get into red zone plays, he reeled in the first touchdown, making an athletic, toe-tap comeback in the back corner of the end zone on a pass from Beathard. Bourne may not be the fastest receiver on the roster, but he’s the most consistent, and is so very fundamentally sound. He used to sweat cut-down days, he said, but now, he’s much more at-ease.
If the receiving corps is even a shade over replacement-level, and the 49ers can get a superlative season out of either Marquise Goodwin or Dante Pettis, Kyle Shanahan can scheme the other weapons open with the throws that Garoppolo can make.
The second-team offensive line didn’t do so well. Nick Mullens was constantly pressured, with Reed tallying a touch-sack, Ronald Blair hurrying him into an ill-advised jump pass and DJ Jones breaking up a pass at the line in early 11-on-11 work. The first-team line should be just fine, but if there’s attrition, the second unit looks like it’s a good few steps behind.
Running back Matt Breida was as impressive on Friday as he was at any point last year. He made a diving grab for a touchdown in the front corner of the end zone during red zone work and made a big gain on an outside run early in 11-on-11s. He looks to be in midseason form, especially catching the ball out of the backfield. The 49ers running back room is going to be very important for them this season, and it has the makings of a very productive unit.
Some of the offensive success has to be taken with a grain of salt. DeForest Buckner (more on him later), Dee Ford (knee) and Ahkello Witherspoon (glute) did not practice, and Richard Sherman and Verrett took very few full-team reps. The second and third units did step up, but it’s reached the point in camp where it’s easy to ask “is X unit that good, or is Y unit that bad?” The truth is probably somewhere in between. What’s easy to see is that the defense is much saltier, and the offense much crisper, compared to this time last year (even before Garoppolo went down), and some of that is due to the added talent.
Nick Bosa had two third-down “sacks” to end the final two possessions of one-on-ones. He also had a particularly good one-on-one sequence against second-year tackle Mike McGlinchey. The two battled to a draw on the first rep, but Bosa won the second with an outside move while keeping his balance, despite getting tripped.
Witherspoon left practice due to a glutei issue. It doesn’t seem serious.
Buckner (sprained toe) did sprints off to the side in early practice, wearing a shirt and shorts (no pads). He did individual work on the sled later. If the 49ers had to play a game tomorrow, he’d probably play, but this early in camp, it makes sense to be cautious, especially with how impressive the defensive front has looked. No reason to run him into the ground and weaken it before it gets a chance to show what it can do against another team.
Kwon Alexander (knee) didn’t do individual work early, but was in full pads, and laid two hard hits on Breida during 11-on-11 work.
The 49ers released tight end Niles Paul and claimed former Duke tight end Daniel Helm off of waivers from the Los Angeles Chargers. Helm had 69 catches for 767 yards and six touchdowns in three seasons at Duke.
San Francisco also waived Erik Magnuson off the injured reserve, and reached an injury settlement.