49ers rookie cornerback Witherspoon tackles critiques of his style

49ers rookie cornerback Witherspoon tackles critiques of his style

After the 49ers maneuvered in the first round to pick up two of the top three players on their draft board, the club had to wait until the second pick of the third round to make another selection.

The addition of Colorado cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, a Sacramento native, was not viewed with the same widespread applause as the 49ers’ first-round picks of Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.

In sizing up Witherspoon, one AFC scout told NBC Sports Bay Area, “He won’t hit anyone.”

That’s a critique Witherspoon heard repeatedly in the run-up to the NFL draft. Even the man who drafted him – a former hard-hitting safety who was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame – admits Witherspoon's lack of physical play was a concern.

“It needs to improve,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said of Witherspoon. “It’s something that we raised to him and we didn’t hide from it. I said this and showed him the film, ‘That bothers me, help me out here,’ and he was aware that it does need to improve and (he’s) committed to making it improve.”

Witherspoon, who signed the mandatory four-year contract with the 49ers on Friday, is still a football neophyte. He played four sports as a senior at Christian Brothers High. He was a late bloomer in football due mainly to his stature. By the time he played as a freshman at Sacramento City College, he had grown seven inches in 16 months and was rewarded with a scholarship to Colorado.

“It’s something I need to be more consistent with,” Witherspoon said. “Every team I spoke to said they’ve seen it in spots in my game, and just bring it all the time.

"It’s just experience. He (Lynch) pulled up clips of me doing it well and doing it poorly. And he showed me, ‘This is kind of what’s encouraging to me is that it’s not a fear thing. You’re willing to do it.’

“It’s just new experience. I can’t explain it. When you’re out there on the football field, seeing two guards pull, it’s something new that you’re seeing. Instead of diagnosing it, you’re just going and blowing it up. And that’s kind of what he told me he was going to have me come in and do – just keep exposing myself to new situations.”

The 49ers were clearly drawn to Witherspoon’s impressive physical traits. At 6 foot 3, 198 pounds, Witherspoon has drawn comparisons to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 40.5 inches.

He credits his experience as a high-level soccer outside midfielder to develop the kind of footwork needed to play cornerback at a high level; his experience as an outfielder in baseball helps him tracking the ball; and basketball helped him hone short-area quickness and agility.

Drills at the NFL scouting combine are not the only place Witherspoon posts impressive scores. He graduated high school with a 4.4 grade-point average

Witherspoon has nine credits remaining to complete his biology degree from Colorado. He expects to finish his undergraduate degree within the next two offseasons, he said. Witherspoon said he plans to go to medical school whenever his professional football career is over.

“It’s regardless,” Witherspoon said. “Yeah, med school is happening, no doubt, whether it (takes) a year or 12. This is my passion. I’ve always been interested in how things work. . . I want to be a surgeon. I don’t know what area of surgery, but that’s my goal.”

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”