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San Francisco 49ers

OTA notes: 49ers RB Jerick McKinnon looks sharp as receiver


The 49ers had their first OTA practice on Monday and their first practice that was open to the media on Tuesday. One of the differences between the two, Kyle Shanahan said afterward, is that the players last week were given the full script for the Monday practice and had all weekend to study it. As a result, the week's first practice was crisp and the players confident. Tuesday's practice? Shanahan threw in some more plays and there wasn't as much study time. The rookies and newcomers therefore weren't as confident and there were more dropped passes and other mistakes. Essentially, it looked like what you'd expect from an early spring practice session.

The most prolific receiver on Tuesday was actually a running back. Jerick McKinnon caught several passes out of the backfield from Jimmy Garoppolo, one in which he beat the middle linebacker and had plenty of open field in front of him. That was a major departure from this time last year when Carlos Hyde, who had scant background as pass catcher, struggled in that role. The versatile McKinnon, by contrast, looked very comfortable. The over/under on his catches for the season might be 73, the highest number that Devonta Freeman caught when Shanahan was coaching him with the Falcons.

First-round pick Mike McGlinchey lined up at right tackle with the first-team offensive line. He was the only rookie in a starting role on Tuesday. With Jonathan Cooper still recovering from offseason MCL surgery, Joshua Garnett lined up at right guard with the first-string unit. The starting line, from left to right: Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Garnett and McGlinchey.

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With Reuben Foster still away from the team, Malcolm Smith lined up at middle linebacker (MIKE) most of the afternoon while Korey Toomer played weak-side linebacker (WILL) and Eli Harold was at strong-side linebacker (SAM). Should Foster return, it's likely that he would eventually be the MIKE and Smith the WILL. All of the inside linebackers must be well-versed at both spots. Toomer was with the starting group because Brock Coyle still is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.

Third-round pick Fred Warner lined up at MIKE with the second-team unit and looked as fast and effective as advertised. “He’s been very impressive out there," Shanahan said of Warner. "He’s very smart and he plays like it on the field.” Warner played next to both Mark Nzeocha and Elijah Lee at times with the second-team group.

The team's other third-round pick, Tarvarius Moore, played cornerback with the third-team group opposite fellow rookie Tarvarus McFadden. The starters at outside cornerback were Jimmie Ward and Ahkello Witherspoon. Shanahan said that if Ward did not win a starting spot in training camp, he likely would be the top backup at five spots in the secondary: Both cornerback positions, nickel cornerback, free safety and strong safety.

Former first-round picks Solomon Thomas and DeForest Buckner were hard to handle when they were both rushing from the inside and Garoppolo was "sacked" a few times Tuesday, though some also were attributable to good coverage. Pass-rushing as a unit -- funneling the quarterback into the jaws of the interior rush, will be a focus for the defense this offseason.

Thomas was the de-facto starter at the Leo pass rusher spot with Cassius Marsh and Jeremiah Attaochu also lining up there at times. In the team's third-and-long package, the most frequent configuration had Buckner and Thomas rushing from the inside and Attaochu and Marsh from the edges.

Arik Armstead lined up at big-end and showed no ill effects from his offseason foot surgery. In addition to those mentioned above, running back Jeremy McNichols, cornerback Trovon Reed, safety Marcel Harris (Achilles), defensive lineman Kentavius Street (ACL), receiver Max McCaffrey, safety Chanceller James and receiver Trent Taylor did not practice. Taylor is dealing with back spasms but the injury is not considered serious.

With Taylor out, second-round draft pick Dante Pettis lined up in the slot as well as outside. Fellow rookie Richie James also played slot receiver as did Aldrick Robinson.

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