The 49ers on Sunday in sunny Santa Clara held their second day of training camp ahead of the 2019 season.
On this day, the San Francisco offense threw at cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon early and often. The third-year player has had his share of ups and downs, but was showing out on Day 2.
At the beginning of the 7v7 period, the 49ers offense targeted Dante Pettis on a five-yard hitch that was tightly contest by Witherspoon. Pettis was able to make a contested catch and turn up field for extra yards. In a game situation that would’ve likely been a five-yard catch and tackle.
Shortly after that catch, the offense decided to go back to that match up, and this time it resulted in a Witherspoon interception after cutting off a slant route by Pettis.
That didn’t stop the 49ers from targeting Witherspoon. Three more times he was targeted and each time the passes fell to the ground, including two pass break ups and an overthrow. Away from the ball, Witherspoon was still during work. With sticky man coverage pestering opposing receivers, he was extremely tough for receivers to shake loose. Witherspoon’s issue has never been ability, it's been consistency. If he can string together multiple practices like today, the 49ers may have solved their right cornerback issues.
[CROCKER: Film Room: Why Deebo Samuel is the WR1 the 49ers needed] Richard Sherman Richard Sherman explained this offseason how he was playing most of the 2018 season on one leg. Many doubted if he could ever return to his pre injury form. On Day 2, a play that stood out the most to me came while surrendering a catch to Dante Pettis. Pettis ran what I call a “Bench Route.” He took an inside release to run an outbreaking route. A sequence that would’ve Sherman lost a year ago.
Sherman got turned around, but was able to use the speed-turn to get back onto Pettis’ hip -- a movement that, to me, shows he is trusting his ability and Achilles while returning back to his old self. Sherman effortlessly ran with newly-acquired wide receiver Jordan Matthews to break up a deep crossing route.
There were questions by most (including me) if Sherman can return back to his old form, he’s definitely trending in the right direction. Jason Verrett I don’t have nearly as much to say about Verett aside from the fact that he looked healthy. He wasn’t tested but I watched his every rep to see if he regained the movement skills that made him a Pro Bowl corner. I don’t know if he’s quite to that level, but he wasn’t an issue in coverage today. And that’s good in itself. D.J. Reed The big surprise of the day for me was seeing D.J. Reed at his college position. At outside cornerback, Reed looked right back at home. Throughout the day he had sticky coverage. On one 7v7 rep, he was so sticky on an opposing receiver that all his teammates congratulated him with high fives and chest bumps.
At 5-foot-9, Reed isn’t the prototypical size for the “Seattle scheme” defense, but it didn't matter. During team period, he lined up across from Jordan Matthews -- a matchup I wanted to check out to see if his lack of size would be an issue. The answer was an overwhelming "no."
Reed possesses very patient feet and a strong upper body that allowed him to mirror Matthews at the line of scrimmage, get hands on the receiver, and run step for step with him. I’ve been a big believer that regardless of size, if you can cover, you can cover. And D.J. Reed is the epitome of that.
Tim Harris Jr.
Now, I wish this could all be positive but unfortunately there is one guy in the not-so-good section. And that’s rookie draft prick Tim Harris Jr. Early in practice, Harris was turned around at the line of scrimmage by speedster Marquises Goodwin. When you lose at the LOS, it effects you throughout the rest of the route. Getting spun around sped up Harris’ time clock. When your time clock gets sped up, you throw all of your technique out of the window and go into a panic to where you are now chasing.
When Goodwin stopped about 15 yards down the field, Harris continued running for another five-plus yards.
Now, I know what you are thinking, “that’s Marquise Goodwin, he does that to everyone.” Which is true, but Goodwin wasn’t the only one to beat the corner on the day. Malik Henry adeptly beat Harris off the line and continued on to great separation on a dig route. Later in practice, Harris was playing his third -- and actually was in position to make a play on the ball -- but the targeted receiver flashed strong hands and corralled the contested catch.
Harris has the athletic profile to play the cornerback position but does he have the movement skills to cover? I will look more into that tomorrow when the 49ers put the pads on for the first time this year.
Media courtesy San Francisco 49ers