The San Francisco 49ers held their final training camp practice of the season in a joint session with the Houston Texans on Thursday. Prior to the start of practice, John Lynch spoke with 49ers.com to give team updates and roster assessments ahead of Saturday's preseason contest. Here are six notable topics covered by the 49ers GM.
1. Premium on speed
There's no doubt the 49ers target speed. Just look at Marquise Goodwin's Olympic track record, or third-round pick Tarvarius Moore's blazing 4.32 second 40-yard dash time. Speed is a key trait both Lynch and Kyle Shanahan value when evaluating the 49ers roster.
"One thing I love seeing that you're starting to feel more on our roster, is, we put a premium on speed, and you can feel it on our team," Lynch said. "You can feel it all over. Last year we sprinkled it in on places, but this year I think we've added more and more. When you have that all over the field, that's a great quality to have. That's fun for me to come out here and see it. But you really just look at all the different combinations. There still are some spots that are open for competition and it's fun to watch those develop."
2. Adding a Vet in the backfield
Both Jerick McKinnon (calf) and Matt Breida (shoulder) are expected to miss some time ahead of the season opener on Sept. 9. The 49ers signed free agent running back Alfred Morris this week to add to Raheem Mostert, Joe Williams, Jeremy McNichols and Jeff Wilson who are all vying for the final vacant spots.
"Great competition," Lynch said of the 49ers running backs. "You talk about speed, that position probably reflects that better than any. Alfred gives us a little bit of a changeup. Obviously a guy with great familiarity with Kyle, (running backs coach) Bobby Turner, (run game specialist) Mike McDaniel. All of these guys, they have been together. They know what they're going to get out of him. We had conversations. Everybody probably thinks it was a reaction with Breida going down, but we had been having conversations with Alfred. I give a lot of credit to him because he came in knowing he has to compete and we're going to watch it play itself out."
3. On guard
Speaking of competitions, the 49ers entered the offseason with fewer holes to fill compared to years prior. But the biggest question mark heading into camp has been at right guard. Mike Person and Erik Magnuson have seen the bulk of snaps with Johnathan Cooper still rehabbing from an MCL surgery earlier this offseason. Former first-round pick Joshua Garnett saw first-team reps on Thursday as he made his return to practice following a knee injury.
"Mike Person has done a tremendous job," Lynch said. "Eric Magnuson we throw in there. Joshua Garnett now is back – had a really good day yesterday. We'll see how that goes. Johnathan Cooper is still working himself back but his legs are getting a little more underneath him each and every day. So that's going to be a fun competition for everyone to watch."
4. Making the 53
August is crunch time for Lynch and Shanahan as they evaluate the talent to pare down the roster to 53. Lynch gave insight on how he plans to assess the 49ers talent in the preseason.
"We have a target number in our mind of how we want to set up a roster," Lynch said. "But then of course, guys can play themselves on and then you adjust accordingly if you're really strong at a certain group.
"We have a good idea of where we want to be number-wise. But guys can play themselves on or play themselves off. It's a fluid deal. But you also think about game day rosters. If you aren't going to be a starter, versatility really comes in. Because can you play multiple positions on game day that can help save roster spots. All those things play themselves in."
5. The return of Richard Sherman
The 49ers cornerback returned to practice following a hamstring strain suffered earlier in camp. The 49ers have made it evident they're heeding caution in his return. Sherman has only taken part in individual drills and is likely to be held out of the 49ers second exhibition contest against the Texans.
"Sherman wants to get out there," Lynch said. "What makes him Richard Sherman is that will and he doesn't want to let his teammates down. But we're trying to think of the big picture and we need him healthy come Minnesota on our opener and throughout the year. We don't want anything nagging going in to the year. So, he's done a great job with his rehab. he heals incredibly fast. Discretion is the better part of valor. We're trying to be smart on this one."
6. Defensive Centerpieces
San Francisco saw great production out of their rookies in 2017. Now a season removed, the 49ers GM expects big strides out of those defensive players heading into Year 2. Lynch gave updates on some of the 49ers second-year players as we near the halfway mark of the preseason.
- Adrian Colbert: "When you talk about Adrian Colbert, he came in last year as a special team player and then injuries gave him the opportunity to play on defense and he shined in that free safety, the "eraser" role, and he did it so well. So we think he'll take the next step. He's a smart player. He prepares the right way."
- Ahkello Witherspoon: "Ahkello Witherspoon I think has had a tremendous offseason. Struggled a little bit early in camp. Probably thinking too much about taking that next step instead of just trusting his training. He's really fallen back in the fundamentals and I think really starting to excel. I think he'll have a tremendous season."
- Reuben Foster: "Reuben is Reuben. Reuben is an extremely talented player. Everyone talks about the talent, he's one of the smartest football players I've been around. He sees things extremely well."