49ers

Vets face challenges to earn spots in new 49ers systems

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USATSI

Vets face challenges to earn spots in new 49ers systems

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ abrupt release Thursday of wide receiver Bruce Ellington served as another reminder that all players brought to the organization under one of the previous systems are vulnerable.

Tight end Vance McDonald, who was the subject of trade talks during the draft, may not be a perfect fit for the 49ers’ scheme. But he has done a commendable job in training camp in his bid to retain his spot with the organization.

McDonald caught five passes during practice on Thursday. Four of his receptions came from starting quarterback Brian Hoyer. He also collected a 15-yard scoring pass from C.J. Beathard, which McDonald punctuated by flattening rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon inside the 5-yard line.

“He’s kind of gotten the chance to put himself in position to make some plays,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said of McDonald. “I think he’s gotten better each day the more he’s gotten comfortable.”

All of the returning tight ends – McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell -- face stiff challenges to hold onto their spots after Shanahan and general manager John Lynch hand-picked veteran Logan Paulsen and rookies George Kittle and Cole Hikuntini in the offseason to fit specific roles within the team’s offense.

On defense, the returning starter who must prove he can play at a consistent level under a new scheme is Quinton Dial. When the 49ers switched to a 4-3 scheme, Dial was inserted into the competition at nose tackle. Dial was drafted as a two-gap defensive lineman. Converting to a one-gap scheme is no easy task.

Veteran Earl Mitchell has been the starter because of his fit for the system after signing as a free agent. The 49ers are also high on sixth-round draft pick D.J. Jones. Dial probably should be starting on an NFL team this season, but it remains to be seen if he can make a smooth enough adjustment to convince the team's decision-makers that the best spot for him is with the 49ers.

QUICK SLANTS
--Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, was the subject of a teaching point after 49ers running back Carlos Hyde ran him over at the goal line in practice on Wednesday. Shanahan said Witherspoon’s biggest mistake was that he let Hyde gain too much momentum before the collision.

“When the outside receiver cracks on the safety, you better replace that guy a lot faster,” Shanahan said. “So now Carlos has about a 3-yard head start instead of a 15-yard head start. I don’t care who you are, if Carlos gets a 15-yard head start on you and lowers his head and you’re not allowed to go low on him, that will be the end result.”

--Hyde continues to impress the coaching staff with his running and receiving. He caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Hoyer during a red-zone period. He also picked up a first down on a third-and-1 play with a 4-yard reception during a move-the-chains period.

--Safety Eric Reid returned after missing two practices due to an ankle sprain. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner sat out with an ankle sprain. He is listed as day to day. Linebacker Eli Harold is in the concussion protocol. Safety Jaqquiski Tartt remains day to day with a ribs injury.

--Running back Tim Hightower and linebacker Brock Coyle were removed from practice with undisclosed ailments.

--Four 49ers veteran players were given a day off: NaVorro Bowman, Pierre Garçon, Joe Staley and Jeremy Zuttah.

--Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster took over at middle linebacker for Bowman. Foster recorded a couple of sacks but appeared to make several assignment mistakes.

“I thought he did a good job,” Shanahan said. “We just threw him in there and he started moving a lot. He’s got to make all the calls. I think like anybody in his first time at it, I think he had a few busts. I think there’s good stuff for him to get in and watch the tape and learn from.”

--Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong made a leaping interception of a Beathard pass intended for Kendrick Bourne down the middle of the field.

--Another practice, another deep reception for Marquise Goodwin. This one covered 45 yards in the air from Hoyer against the coverage of Dontae Johnson.

--The 49ers had three touchdown passes from three different quarterbacks during a four-play span. Hoyer hooked up with DeAndre Smelter on a fade over Rashard Robinson. Beathard hit Aaron Burbridge on a scoring pass against Prince Charles Iworah. And Matt Barkley hooked up with Victor Bolden.

Still unconvinced there is a place for Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL

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AP

Still unconvinced there is a place for Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL

I hadn’t considered the notion of Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles bombing quite so badly Thursday night, so I hadn’t considered the notion advanced by Pro Football Talk Friday morning that Jacksonville might be a great place for Colin Kaepernick.

That’s because I long ago stopped considering the idea that Kaepernick’s exile from football was, or is, about football. It isn’t. He is the example for future player/miscreants, and trotting his name out every time a quarterback in the new NFL vomits up a practice game on national television is simply perpetuating a lie.

Until someone gets so desperate that it isn’t any more.

That’s the problem with being so definitive about Kaepernick’s perpetual ban. It only takes one owner with a willingness to stick a middle finger up to the objections and say, “I own a football team, not some branch of the USO” to end this national spitfest once and for all. And yes, I say owner because this is an owner’s decision, solely and completely. In the hypothetical of Kaepernick the Jaguar, it will be made not by Doug Marrone, who is merely a coach, or by Tom Coughlin, who is only the general manager, but Shahid Khad, one of the brightest and quietly more powerful owners in the league.

But the odds still scream No Kaep For You, because it would mean that exhibition games matter for judgmental purposes (which they don’t), that Bortles is somehow worse than half the quarterbacks in the NFL (he is part of an amorphous blob of non-producers whose numbers are growing as the differences between college and pro football offenses expand), and that owners easily break away from the herd once the herd has decided on something (Khan is not a rebel in the Jerry Jones mold by any means).

In other words, I remain unconvinced that there is a place for Colin Kaepernick in a new and nastier NFL. And he’s probably better off.

Zuttah ends up back with Ravens after release from 49ers

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AP

Zuttah ends up back with Ravens after release from 49ers

One week after center Jeremy Zuttah played his way off the 49ers’ roster in short order, he ended up back with the team that got rid of him to open the offseason.

The Baltimore Ravens on Friday announced the signing of Zuttah, whom the 49ers released on Aug. 9 after acquiring him from the Ravens in a March trade.

The 49ers determined center Daniel Kilgore was clearly better than Zuttah. Moreover, Zuttah he did not demonstrate any promise of being an asset at either of the guard positions.

Zuttah, 31, played the past three seasons with the Ravens after six seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Zuttah was named to his first Pro Bowl after last season.

The 49ers originally acquired Zuttah in a swap of sixth-round draft picks. The Ravens received the 49ers’ pick at No. 186 and selected Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark. The 49ers took over Baltimore’s selection at No. 198 and chose Mississippi defensive tackle D.J. Jones.

The 49ers are confident in Kilgore and offensive tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown. However, there is concern at the guard positions.

Brandon Fusco appears to be earning the confidence of the coaching staff at right guard. But left guard remains a concern. Zane Beadles is currently the starter while Joshua Garnett rehabs from arthroscopic knee surgery to repair cartilage. The 49ers are hopeful Garnett will be available for the opening of the regular season.