SANTA CLARA — Behind a wall of white jerseys, San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback Emmanuel Mosely sprinted into the end zone as his fellow defensive teammates on the sidelines were sent into a frenzy.
For a defense that has spent the majority of training camp working on creating turnovers, Sunday’s practice saw the group cash in on their efforts, creating three total takeaways as Mosely’s scoop-and-score highlighted their afternoon.
“They’re getting to the quarterback a lot faster and so guys are having to make decisions quicker,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said after practice. “Guys are getting after it out there.”
In 2018, the 49ers ranked dead last in the NFL with only seven total turnovers recorded in 16 regular season games. With a healthy group of playmakers back in the fold on offense that could use a few more possessions, the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, said that he would make it a point of emphasis to change those statistics.
From attacking passes in the air to punching the ball out of the hands of ball carriers — sometimes 15-20 yards after the play has been blown dead — San Francisco’s defensive unit has been focussed on getting the ball in their hands.
Most of the work starts with their front seven, which now includes a slew of first-round talent, including DeForest Buckner, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford and rookie Nick Bosa.
Behind them, second-year linebacker Fred Warner and fifth-round pick Dre Greenlaw have become issues for the 49ers’ offense as the pair couple sideline-to-sideline speed with natural ball instincts on the field.
Greenlaw, who was expected to go undrafted out of Arkansas, snagged the first interception of the day off of third-year quarterback C.J. Beathard.
“I think [Beathard] let it out there and didn’t realize that the back didn’t get out,” Shanahan said. “If the back doesn’t get out, there’s going to be a man sitting right there.”
That man was Greenlaw, who successfully jumped the route to secure the pick, subsequently sending Beathard and the rest of the offense to the sideline shaking their heads.
Greenlaw wasn’t the only linebacker to record a turnover on Sunday either, though, as David Mayo was able to haul in an interception off a tipped pass from quarterback Nick Mullens.
After stepping up into the pocket, Mullens looked to fire a pass towards the left sideline, but the ball was tipped high in the air, allowing Mayo to corral the pass before it touched the ground.
The second takeaway of the day forced the 49ers offense to restart their move-the ball period just three plays in.
In the final round of 11-on-11 work, the offense, led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, appeared to shift the momentum of practice in their favor after putting the defense on their heels with three straight completed passes.
On the fourth play, though, Shanahan called a draw play up the middle, sending running back Tevin Coleman up the gut.
Gaining almost five yards, Coleman was blindsided by Bosa, who knocked the ball out, allowing Mosely to grab the loose ball off of the ground and b-line for the end zone.
“Obviously Tevin didn’t see him and didn’t protect the ball well, [Bosa] poked it out,” Shanahan said. “It was a hell of a play at a very important time.”
While the turnovers come one week into training camp, San Francisco hopes to translate that work to field, starting with their first preseason game on Saturday against Dallas.
“You just have to be aggressive,” 49ers defensive lineman D.J. Jones said. “Turnovers are going to come as long as you play good defense … We’re trying to attack the ball and go for it every time.”