Owusu's successful return does not include returns

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Owusu's successful return does not include returns

SAN FRANCISCO -- Chris Owusu lined up on the outside with two Minnesota Vikings assigned to rough him up and impede his progress down the field.At the snap of the ball, Owusu made a quick move to the outside to get around cornerback Bobby Felder. Then, Owusu sprinted down the field untouched, lengthening the gap between the two Vikings with every stride.Owusu's effort, however, was not rewarded on the back end, as Andy Lee's punt sailed 64 yards into the end zone for a touchback. Still, the moment was a significant milestone for Owusu, whose senior season at Stanford ended in early November with his third concussion in a little more than a year.Once viewed as a mid-round draft pick, Owusu was not among the 253 players chosen in the NFL draft. The 49ers signed Owusu shortly after the conclusion of the draft as a rookie free agent.On Friday, Owusu made a successful return to football."It was a dream come true," Owusu said Sunday after the 49ers' practice at Candlestick Park."You always want to fulfill your dreams, and one of my dreams has always been to play in an NFL game. And to go out and compete, it was a blessing. I thank God for the opportunity."Owusu is reticent to discuss concussions. He said once he decided to continue to pursue football as a career, he has been totally invested in winning an NFL full-time job."I prayed about it a lot after what happened to me," Owusu said. "After that, I wasn't looking back. And I want to continue to move forward. Once I made the decision to continue playing football, I'd have no regrets."While some teams shied away from Owusu, the 49ers felt comfortable offering him 3,000 and a spot on the team's 90-man roster because of their close ties to him. Jim Harbaugh coached Owusu at Stanford. And, more important, the 49ers have intimate knowledge of Owusu's medical history."You've got to remember, he was cleared to play by the same group of doctors that work with us on a regular basis," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in April. "He certainly was not off our board."Dan Garza, the 49ers' team medical director, is associate director of Stanford's Lacob Family Sports Medicine Center. He is also one of the nation's leading concussion researchers. Garza and his colleagues spent last year collecting real-time data through high-tech mouthpieces worn by Stanford players.Owusu is one of 12 receivers on the 49ers' camp roster, and he has remained under the radar for most of the team's dozen practices. Practice time has seemingly been in short supply for Owusu -- even when compared to the other undrafted rookies in camp."That's part of the game," he said. "That's part of being a rookie. You got to go out there and prove you belong on the field and prove that you got what it takes to play in the NFL."Every opportunity, you got to go make the most of it and you got to be confident. You got to know your plays and you have to stay in the playbook. And once you know the plays, just go out and play fast."Owusu made the most of his opportunities on Friday. He played 16 snaps from scrimmage and emerged as the team's leading receiver with three catches for 35 yards.And the 49ers seemed to break out of an apparent protective mode when they lined him up as a gunner on punt coverage. Two Vikings were assigned to batter Owusu, but neither got a hand on him."Chris is an outstanding gunner," Harbaugh said. "We didn't use him (at Stanford) as a gunner. He was more of a returner for us. But he's an outstanding gunner. We found that out since he's been here."Owusu was an outstanding kick returner at Stanford. He returned a Pac-12-record three kicks for touchdowns in 2009. And his career return average of 27.33 yards ranks second all-time in the conference behind former Oregon and current Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart's 28.69.Yet, Owusu is not even listed on the 49ers' depth chart as a return man. On Sunday, six 49ers lined up to practice fielding kickoffs -- Ted Ginn, Kendall Hunter, Kyle Williams, and rookies LaMichael James, A.J. Jenkins and Brian Tyms. And Owusu was merely a spectator.Jenkins and James were the 49ers' picks in the first two rounds. Tyms went undrafted. Owusu clocked faster 40 times at the NFL scouting combine (from 4.31 to 4.36 seconds) than any of them.
The 49ers clearly want to find ways to get James' hands on the ball. The second-round pick is getting a lot of work as a return man. At Oregon, James averaged 21.3 yards on just three career kick returns. Jenkins, the team's first-round pick from Illinois, averaged 20.3 yards on 38 returns -- 22 of which came in 2008 as a freshman.When asked why Owusu is not getting an opportunity to return kicks, Harbaugh seemed just as stumped as anyone."That's exactly what I was thinking, too," Harbaugh said. "He's been really good at gunner. But we can use him at returner. We've been working some other guys, but he's very capable to do it. It's a valid question."

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

49ers begin final phase of offseason program

The 49ers have graduated back to the phase of the offseason when offense-vs.-defense drills are allowed.

Because of the hiring of Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were allowed an additional “voluntary” minicamp before the NFL draft. That meant the 49ers were permitted to skip from the two-week conditioning phase of the offseason straight to what is allowed under Phase III.

But after the three-day minicamp in late-April, the 49ers were forced to retreat back to Phase II, when on-field drills but could not include offense vs. defense.

Beginning Monday – and over the next three weeks -- the 49ers can get back to conducting the standard one-on-one, 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and 11-on-11 "non-contact" drills. The 49ers have the maximum number of 10 organized team activities scheduled. The official offseason program concludes with a mandatory minicamp scheduled for June 13-15.

The real competition does not begin until the pads go on during training camp. but here’s a look at the team’s most notable offseason competitions (one position you will not find is quarterback, where the depth chart of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and C.J. Beathard appears clearly set):

Running back: Carlos Hyde, entering the final year of his original four-year contract, has a lot of competition to hold onto his role as the featured back. He is coming off his most-productive season, finishing just 12 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark when he sustained a knee injury with one game remaining. Shanahan and running backs coach Bobby Turner lobbied for Utah running back Joe Williams in the draft. They clearly see a fit for him within the system.

Pass-rush end: The 49ers’ pass rush was among the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. Arik Armstead will be given an opportunity to see if he can adapt to the “Leo” position. Aaron Lynch must earn the confidence of the coaching staff and front office. The 49ers added explosive, 243-pound pass Pita Taumoepenu in the sixth round.

Tight end: The 49ers confirmed Vance McDonald was available for a trade during the draft. After finding no takers, the 49ers brought back McDonald and he rejoins the competition among rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

Cornerback: Rashard Robinson is the obvious choice to start on one side. And assuming Jimmie Ward remains at free safety, the 49ers have no other player on the roster who has started a significant number of games at cornerback. Rookie Ahkello Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, will have a legitimate opportunity to win a starting job, as long as he displays a willingness to stick his nose into the action and play with the requisite level of physicality. Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Will Redmond should also be in the mix to replace Tramaine Brock, who was released shortly after his arrest after an alleged domestic incident last month.

Center: Jeremy Zuttah, a Pro Bowl performer, was added in the offseason via a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has been the 49ers’ center the past three seasons but injuries have limited him to just 23 starts over that period of time. Zuttah has position flexibility. The 49ers could determine the best thing for the offensive line is to move Zuttah to one of the guard positions – to challenge Zane Beadles or Joshua Garnett -- if he is not clearly better than Kilgore.

Weakside linebacker: The 49ers signed veteran Malcolm Smith on the first day of free agency, providing him with $11.5 million of fully guaranteed money. The 49ers ranked Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster as the No. 3 overall prospect in the draft. They traded up to select him at No. 31 overall. Assuming Foster is ready to compete at the beginning of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, it appears likely he would line up in that position and compete with Smith. The 49ers’ medical staff does not believe Foster will require any additional surgery, and Foster said he expects to be cleared for the opening of camp.

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Barkley continues work with personal coach of Brady, Ryan

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan spent last offseason working with Tom House and Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics.

Ryan went on to set career-bests in completion percentage (69.9), yards passing (4,944), touchdowns (38), interceptions (7) and passer rating (117.1).

New 49ers quarterback Matt Barkley worked with House and Dedeaux for the fourth offseason in Southern California before reporting to Santa Clara for the team’s offseason program.

“Kyle (Shanhan) is on board with what House and those guys are doing – I think, really, because of the year Matt Ryan had,” Barkley said on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” on NBC Sports Bay Area.

“He’s a believer in that. He saw the benefits of what Matt did with some of his drops and the timing on routes, how he changed his feet on some things. So we’re kind of sticking with that plan. Everyone is a little different, but for the most part we’re all on the same page when it comes to what our drops are looking like, our footwork and how the ball is coming out.”

House is a former major league pitcher and pitching coach who founded the 3DQB training facility in Los Angeles. Dedeaux pitched at USC and is the grandson of USC baseball coaching legend Rod Dedeaux. Former NFL quarterback John Beck is a motion mechanics instructor.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Alex Smith and Carson Palmer are among the NFL quarterbacks who have worked with 3DQB.

“I believe in those guys and what they’re doing,” Barkley said. “They’re at the top of their game, working with Brady and a bunch of other guys. They’ve helped me.

“He won’t change your throwing motion or really tweak how the ball comes out, but he’s going to try to maximize velocity and ground force production and torque -- a lot of sports science terms. But, really, just maximizing efficiency with your motion and making sure you’re sequencing is right.”

Barkley had never played for Shanahan before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency. But there are two obvious connections. Barkley’s offensive coordinator last season with the Chicago Bears was Dowell Loggains, Shanahan’s quarterbacks coach in 2014 when Shanahan was the Cleveland Browns’ offensive coordinator. The other connection is House.

"It’s kind of funny, he worked with Atlanta’s staff all of last year, helped Matt Ryan, kind of build his base from the ground up and helped him a lot and he had an MVP year," Barkley said of House.

"There may have been talks down the pipeline, who knows. I don’t think that was the deciding factor by any means, but it never hurts.”