SANTA CLARA, Calif. — On the first passing play from scrimmage, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo disappeared behind a wall of defensive linemen. As Marquise Goodwin — the 49ers’ second-year receiver — found wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on a slant.
It was one of four passes Garoppolo would complete on the day (out of nine attempts), with another — a 35-yard deep out — going to the speedy Texas product, who was easily able to get separation and get behind the defense.
Goodwin, who made four eye-opening grabs in the 49ers first training camp practice, certainly seems like he will play a major role in the offense this season, the second he’s spent in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system, and the first full season he and the rest of the receiving corps will have with Garoppolo.
San Francisco has maintained that the front office is happy with the group they’ve brought to camp, despite social media buzz about bringing in Julio Jones and Dez Bryant. Goodwin is one big reason why. The 49ers showed just how much they valued Goodwin by inking him to a three-year, $18.85 million contract extension in March.
“His speed is electric,” said 49ers safety Adrian Colbert, who also happens to be Goodwin’s cousin. “Bar none. Nobody in the league is as fast as him, in my opinion.”
Family fawning aside, Goodwin is an Olympic athlete — he competed in the long jump in 2012 — and his explosiveness was on full display Thursday. During full 11-on-11 late in the day, he made a leaping grab on a high wobbler up the middle between two defenders.
It’s not like any of this was much of a surprise. Despite a rough start and some key drops early last season, in his first nine games, Goodwin caught 22 passes for 417 yards, but no touchdowns. After the death of his infant son, due to complications during pregnancy, he dealt with the tragedy openly, and caught 34 balls for 545 yards and two scores in his final seven games.
Colbert said he expects his cousin to get even better, and said that covering him in practice has helped him raise his game.
“In the game, there’s not many guys that are running at that speed,” Colbert said. “We’re not going to face that many people that run that speed. Tyreek Hill is fast, but Marquise is faster.”
The first play from scrimmage on Thursday saw running back Jerick McKinnon break around the left end for what would have been a long touchdown, thanks to a block by Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk. He played with a fullback for his first two years in Minnesota.
“You got a guy like Juice who can do so much, you can utilize him different ways, it makes it way easier,” McKinnon said. “Any time I get Juice in front of me, I know I’ve got a good guy in front of me. He’s going to give me his everything, so I’ve got to give it back.”
The stoutly-built 5-foot-9, 215-pound McKinnon spent the last four seasons as a backup, playing 58 games for the Vikings but only starting 14. This offseason, he signed a signing a four-year contract worth up to $36.9 million with the 49ers.
With Minnesota, he averaged 4.0 yards per attempt on 474 carries, and 6.9 yards per reception, having caught 142 balls over his time with the Vikings.
“Both running and catching, what coach Shanahan does, all his backs do both,” McKinnon said. “I’m just excited to be here and try to take my game to the next level.”
McKinnon’s ability to be a factor both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield could turn the career backup into the 49ers No. 1 back this fall. He showed good burst and seems particularly well-suited to Shanahan’s system. On Wednesday, Shanahan likened McKinnon to Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman, in that regard.
“We studied every run he had in Minnesota,” Shanahan said. “I think he fits in the type of runs we do very well. He’s got the speed. He’s got the cutting ability and he’s got the toughness to run through arm tackles. Then the pass game is the huge bonus. He is a matchup issue. He’s very good in his routes. I think he’s similar to Free in that way with the guy you were bringing up. Just versatility-wise, he’s going to help us a lot.”
McKinnon said he feels more and more comfortable with each practice, something helped by participating in offseason throwing sessions Garoppolo held with his skill position players between OTAs and the start of camp.
“Coming in to a new offense, learning the routes, learning how the offense works, I asked anything and everything,” McKinnon said. “Jimmy, I give credit a lot to Jimmy, because he helped me understand the playbook … When I first got here, I was lost.”
McKinnon ended the practice by catching a shallow out from Garoppolo to convert on third down.
“I was open and he found me,” McKinnon said. “Nothing to it. Just the way the play was. Third down situation, coming out of the huddle, he said, ‘Let’s get the first down.’ That was my mindset, too.”
Right guard was cited by both Shanahan and general manager John Lynch as the biggest positional competition. On Thursday, former Stanford standout Joshua Garnett took the bulk of reps there.
Mike McGlinchey, the 49ers recently-signed tackle, has been like Joe Staley’s little brother throughout the offseason program, and the two looked like perfect matching bookends on Thursday. McGlinchey is long and lean, but still showed great leverage.
The line did get collapsed several times, but defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said he’d have to take a look at the tape to give an honest evaluation. From the sideline, it looked like Solomon Thomas got nice push, and Arik Armstead batted down a pass at the line.
Other defensive highlights included a Fred Warner breakup on a pass on the near sideline, and a strip pick by Tavarius Moore on rookie receiver Dante Pettis. Tyvus Powell also had a pick on quarterback Nick Mullens. Linebacker Brock Coyle had a breakup going against tight end George Kittle, as well. Coyle was cited by Shanahan and Lynch as someone who will get reps on the inside with Reuben Foster suspended for the first two games.
“I think Brock is underrated,” Saleh said. “He kind of flies under the radar. He’s very smart. Great technique, sound. He plays to his strengths and his strengths are good enough. But, I love Brock. The team loves Brock. He’s a guy that, he still has a chance to improve. Last year was his first five games of real action at MIKE linebacker. He’s got things that he can do to continue to improve.”