SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo took another step toward returning from the torn left ACL that wiped out most of his 2018 season, cornerback Richard Sherman is feeling as good as he has in a long time now that he’s another year removed from his own injury history.
Come the start of training camp in July, the 49ers expect to have their offensive and defensive leaders back at full speed and ready for the start of the 2019 season. They hope that the dozen or so other players dealing with injuries will also be healthy and prepared when that time comes.
That’s a group that includes linebacker Fred Warner (knee), running back Matt Breida (pectoral), tight end Garrett Celek (concussion and back), running back Jerick McKinnon (ACL), linebacker Kwon Alexander (ACL) and cornerback Jason Verrett (Achilles), all of whom did not participate in Tuesday’s organized team activity and likely won’t be able to do anything until training camp.
Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa joined the injured list Tuesday when he tweaked his hamstring during team drills and watched the rest of the practice from the sideline.
Much like his teammates, for Garoppolo to be ready for the start of the season, there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done.
On Tuesday, Garoppolo participated in individual and 7-on-7 drills. He did not, however, take part in team drills.
According to coach Kyle Shanahan, Garoppolo will not be cleared for full team work until training camp in part because the team doesn’t want to risk having defenders around Garoppolo’s legs during offseason work.
“I think he’s handling it as well as he can,” Shanahan said. “He’s getting used to it. It’s just a long process when you recover from an ACL and he gets as much work as he can get in. I know he’d love to be out there for every rep, but he knows that he can’t, so he’s trying to make the most of his 7-on-7 and do as much work in every other aspect as he can.”
Wearing a titanium knee brace that he described as “really lightweight,” Garoppolo has already impressed teammates and the coaching staff with how well he has moved in the first two OTAs.
After suffering the knee injury in a Sept. 23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Garoppolo missed San Francisco’s final 13 games.
Since then, Garoppolo has slowly checked all the boxes necessary for a return. Garoppolo said Tuesday he hasn’t dealt with swelling in the knee in “a long time” and his post-practice routine no longer requires him to do as much work to keep the swelling to a minimum.
In the first pair of OTAs, Garoppolo has been particularly pleased with his ability to push the ball down the field like he used to. Garoppolo has also been making progress in the weight room, where he has been able to lift more weight with his left leg and even out the weights on various leg exercises.
The next step is to get reacclimated to some of the awkward things required of a quarterback evading pass-rushers.
“[It’s] just the weird movements, reaction movements, things that are hard to simulate in practice where you don’t want to think about it so much,” Garoppolo said. “You want to react to the defense so it’s little things like that. But they’re coming together.”
Sherman, meanwhile, is not coming back from any sort of serious procedure and, for the first time in some time, is feeling back to his old self.
“It’s the first time in a few years that I’ve been able to move and groove like I wanted to,” Sherman said. “I had the MCL a few years ago, had the Achilles. This offseason I don’t have anything, thank goodness. And I’m able to just move and explode and just get to the spots I want to. I can stop when I want to stop, I can go when I want to go. It changes the whole dynamic for me.”
Sherman is entering his second season with the Niners after signing as a free agent in March 2018. Last year at this time, Sherman was recovering from Achilles surgery and was not able to participate fully during the offseason program as he continued his rehabilitation.
This year, Sherman calls the difference “night and day” as he has been able to participate throughout the offseason program.
While Sherman still managed to play 14 games last season, he often found himself feeling the effects of the Achilles surgery, comparing it to having his Achilles tendon stapled back to the bone in his leg. When he had the final suture removed late in the season, Sherman said he finally began moving more freely.
The lingering effects of that Achilles procedure also resulted in Sherman dealing with a calf injury that he attributed to some overcompensation, something else he’s no longer dealing with.
With the pain gone, Sherman said he has also moved on from any mental blocks that come with the injury.
“I think it goes away when you don’t physically feel pain anymore,” Sherman said. “Then you know you can move like you want to. When you feel pain in certain movements, you just don’t want to hurt it any worse than it already is, so you kind of baby it a little bit. When you don’t have it, you don’t worry about it. You’re just moving. You’re just getting to your spots, you’re moving full speed. You can never really move full speed when you have that kind of inhibition because you’re always conscious of which foot you’re putting in the ground on certain cuts and the game is too fast.
“Even a guy who thinks at my pace, it’s still too fast to just be like, ‘Hey, I’m going to put the right foot in the ground to break on this out route when the guy is already moving.’ I’ve got to be able to react.”
At one point during 7-on-7 drills Tuesday, Garoppolo drilled a completion to receiver Jordan Matthews over the middle on an intermediate dig route with Sherman in coverage.
As Sherman reached for the pass, it narrowly missed his outstretched fingers and landed in Matthews’ hands for a would-be big gain.
“It was just a great ball and a confident throw from him and it was just exactly what you want to see from your quarterback moving on in his rehab and where he is in the process,” Sherman said. “To be only in day two and be able to make those throws already is a great compliment.”
And for as much as that throw signaled Garoppolo’s impending return to his teammates, it was what followed with Sherman that meant even more to Garoppolo.
“Even if it was just a little trash talking between series or whatever it is, it’s a nice feeling to be back out there and be in the huddle with the guys and looking them in the eyes,” Garoppolo said.
Chiefs’ Bieniemy — Not playcaller, but has input
ATLANTA — Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy scoffed at the idea that not being a playcaller cost him an opportunity to become a head coach after he interviewed for four head-coaching vacancies.
At this week’s NFL Quarterback Coaching Summit hosted by the NFL and Black College Football Hall of Fame, Bieniemy said he relished the opportunity to interview with the New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins. Only one of the eight teams with new head coaches hired a minority, as the Dolphins selected Brian Flores.
“Here’s my response about the playcalling: coach (Andy) Reid has always done it his way, and that’s how historically he’s done it because he’s Coach Reid,” Bieniemy told ESPN. “He has a beautiful mind, and we all work hand-in-hand together. And he gives me the green light to do a number of things. I have input. I do scripts. I get the install. There are a number of things that I do.”
As Jason Reid of The Undefeated reported in January, Reid said Bieniemy had been “unbelievable” as coordinator, while MVP Patrick Mahomes called Bieniemy a “special coach” and a guy who has helped him a ton.
“Do I talk to the quarterback? Yes,” Bieniemy said. “(Reid) is reciting what he wants me to particularly tell Pat to call. So if people want to make a big deal about that, so be it. The experience that I’ve gotten, understanding how an offensive system works, the organization, how to prepare it, how to get guys going and moving in one direction for one cause, that’s what this is about.”
Although Bieniemy’s focus remains on his current duties with the Chiefs, it seems likely that he’ll receive a head-coaching opportunity based on his strong reputation. The Fritz Pollard Alliance, which oversees compliance with the Rooney Rule requiring teams to interview minority candidates, backed Bieniemy, 49, throughout the interview process.
“John Wooten and the Fritz Pollard Alliance, I thought they did a hell of a job; they gave me an opportunity,” Bieniemy said. “Obviously, Coach Reid has given me an opportunity. And I think my interviewing process went about as good as it could go.
“Also, it gave me the experience moving forward knowing that, ‘You know what, this is my first go-around. Second go-around, if I’m blessed and fortunate to be placed in that situation, I’ll be that much better.’ But as far as a head-coaching position is concerned, right now we’re focused on the season. Obviously, we want to go out and do some things that’s going to help us to continue to have success. Then if somebody wants to give me a chance, I’ll be willing, ready, and waiting for that opportunity.”
Marvin Lewis and Hue Jackson, two former black NFL head coaches, both expressed support for Bieniemy.
“In my mind, there’s no question that Eric Bieniemy deserves an opportunity to be head coach in the National Football League,” Lewis said. “I’m a very, very close friend of Andy Reid’s and for the last three years, he’s talked to me about Eric’s ability and attributes and what he has added to their offense. That’s why he elevated him to the coordinator role. Andy has recommended a number of coaches to me over the years, and he’s never been wrong.”
“Yes, Eric Bieniemy does deserve a head-coaching job,” Jackson said. “There’s no question about it. I think he’s one of the brightest, young offensive minds in the NFL. Everyone says who is the next up-and-coming guy, and he’s been that. He’s worthy of that. I mean, watch how the quarterback played in Kansas City. I just know when they talk about offense, they talk about Eric.”
Working on the offensive side of the ball should work in Bieniemy’s favor, with most teams seemingly looking for the next bright offensive mind. Bieniemy is one of two black offensive coordinators, along with Byron Leftwich of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I’ve been an offensive coach my whole entire life,” Bieniemy said. “People think just because you coach running backs you don’t understand the pass game. Well, when you’ve played the position, and you’re involved in coaching the position, you’ve got to make sure guys understand the entire game plan, meaning you’re very much involved in the pass game. You have to understand protections. You have to understand route concepts. You have to understand how defenses are structured going against you.
“Do we need more [minority] coaches on the offensive side of the ball? Yes. How do we go about doing that? We have to make sure there’s a plan for guys of helping guys get into that quarterback room and into quality-control positions so those guys can add that knowledge and learn how to deal with the quarterbacks, learn the language and speak it.”
Ramsey now avoids dissing QBs — ‘I’m growing’
Asked by ESPN Adam Schefter on his podcast if he wanted to evaluate the quarterbacks he will face in the 2019 season, Ramsey passed and only wanted to talk about Nick Foles, who signed a four-year contract this offseason to become the Jaguars’ new starting quarterback.
“You want to do this again, huh? I’m not going to do this again but, we do play some good quarterbacks this year, of course, but probably the quarterback I’m most excited for is Nick Foles,” Ramsey told Schefter. “I don’t have to play against him, of course. He is my teammate. He is a great teammate, the few interactions we’ve had has been great. Great man, great player as well. He has nothing to prove to anybody. He’s a Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP. So, I hope he comes out here and he plays free and knows he has the support of everybody.”
But Ramsey said he’s grown since last year.
“I’m growing man, it’s Year 4 for me. It’s a different me. A lot of people think they know me, they don’t really know me. But hey, that’s OK,” he said.
Ramsey, the No. 5 overall pick in 2016, has made two Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro once in his first three seasons. He has nine interceptions and 44 pass breakups and hasn’t missed a start.
Judge OKs $24M settlement over Rams’ PSLs
ST. LOUIS — A federal judge has approved a settlement calling for the NFL’s Rams to pay up to $24 million to personal seat license holders in St. Louis.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. approved the settlement Monday.
Several St. Louis PSL holders filed a class-action lawsuit after the team moved to Los Angeles in January 2016. Thousands of fans in St. Louis had purchased PSLs that were good for 30 seasons, which was the length of the lease at the domed stadium where the Rams played in St. Louis. Rams owner Stan Kroenke took the team to California after 21 seasons.
The lawsuit calls for PSL holders to get 30 percent of the original purchase price, a refund for the nine unused years of the seat license fee, plus damages.
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