49ers

Panthers RB McCaffrey braces for challenge of two 49ers rookies

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AP

Panthers RB McCaffrey braces for challenge of two 49ers rookies

SANTA CLARA – Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey’s NFL debut Sunday will be against one of his best friends.

But the bigger head-to-head challenge for McCaffrey will come from the second of the 49ers’ two first-round draft picks.

McCaffrey was chosen with the No. 8 overall pick. His former Stanford roommate, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, was the 49ers’ selection at No. 3 overall. The Panthers and 49ers open the regular season on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

“It’ll be good. It’ll be pretty familiar,” McCaffrey said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “We did it a lot the past three years. I’m excited, man. That’s one of my best friends in the whole world.”

McCaffrey figures to be a vital weapon for the Panthers as a runner and receiver. The 49ers will likely turn to rookie linebacker Reuben Foster to help neutralize him in coverage. The 49ers traded back into the first round to select Foster with the No. 31 overall pick.

“He’s a heck of a player, man,” McCaffrey said of Foster. “He’s fast. He’s physical. He’ll stick his nose in there. He’s good getting to the ball and he’s an high energy player, somebody that is definitely going to be tough to go against.

“He’s a good player. He can cover. You watch some of the preseason games. He did a good job doing it. He’s an all-around great linebacker. I think that’s why they chose him as one of their first-rounders.”

McCaffrey said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan babysat him a long time ago. And McCaffrey has known 49ers general manager John Lynch, who was a Denver Broncos teammate with his dad, Ed McCaffrey.

“I kind of knew they weren’t going to pick me,” McCaffrey said. “They had some other needs. But I love all those guys over there.”

Inactives: 49ers third-round pick yet to make his debut

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USATSI

Inactives: 49ers third-round pick yet to make his debut

As the 49ers take on the Rams on Thursday Night Football, the team will be without five defenders and two from offense. 

Ahkello Witherspoon, who the team drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, will have to wait to make his debut another week. 

Below is the full list of inactives from Insider Matt Maiocco. 

49ers building defensive identity: 'We can help ourselves a lot by...'

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AP

49ers building defensive identity: 'We can help ourselves a lot by...'

SANTA CLARA – After spending the past three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, inside linebacker Brock Coyle knows how it is supposed to look.

And he believes the 49ers have gotten off to a good start under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who has installed a scheme based on the Seahawks’ blueprint.

“What’s really cool about this defense is if you look at Seattle, Jacksonville and Atlanta, they all have their different traits, their different personalties and their characteristics,” Coyle said. “And we’re building our own identity on defense.

“You see guys flying around and growing. And this was just our second regular-season game together in this defense.”

Saleh uses such terms as “all gas no brakes” and “extreme violence” to describe the kind of style he wants to see from his defense. In the 49ers’ 12-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers seemed to compete physically with the Seahawks for the first time in a long time.

On the first possession of the game, 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt set the tone when he separated Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham from the ball with a big hit. Graham was never a factor in the game, catching just one pass for 1 yard.

“If you’re looking from a progress standpoint, I don’t look at so much production as much as what it looks like on tape and the violence, the speed, attacking the ball, that’s what I’m excited about,” Saleh said.

The 49ers will have another chance on a quick turnaround to establish that identity on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium.

Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster will miss his second game in a row with a high-ankle sprain. Ray-Ray Armstrong started against Seattle, alongside NaVorro Bowman, but Saleh said Coyle also fits into his plan.

Coyle entered the game at Seattle in the first half in place of Armstrong, and Saleh hinted he could use both players more interchangeably until Foster returns.

“He deserves it,” Saleh said of Coyle. “He works his tail off and he works hard and we wanted to make sure that we got him some more reps. And to be honest with you, I feel he should probably get a little bit more.

“He’s a great communicator and knows everybody’s job on the football field. He’s very, very strong at the point of attack and he is pretty athletic and fast.”

The 49ers' physicality is showing up on the early downs, as the defense leads the league in allowing just 2.7 yards per play on first downs. But the 49ers have to get a lot better on the down that matters most. The 49ers rank 23rd on third downs, allowing the opposition through two games to convert 46.9 percent of their opportunities.

“Third down is a major emphasis -- every week it is," Saleh said. "We faced 12 more plays than we needed to that first drive just because a lack of execution on that first third-down and 9. We were in great position to get off the field.

"We’ve got to tackle and that takes all 11 running to the ball because a lot of times that first guy does miss, but we can help ourselves a lot by being better on third down for sure.”