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Dienstag, 11. September 2018, 10:12

Confetti Benched

Jerick McKinnon had a steep learning curve when he arrived in
San Francisco as the highly paid featured back for the 49ers.

After four seasons as mostly a backup in
Minnesota William
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, McKinnon was one of San Francisco’s big-ticket additions in
free agency this offseason and took some time to learn coach Kyle Shanahan’s
complex new offense.

”When I first got here, I was lost. I was really lost,” McKinnon said. ”My
head was spinning. It’s different protections I have to learn, different
concepts I have to learn and basically I have to take my whole way of thinking
for four years and switch it up to a new one. I guess it’s complex when you’re
new to it, but once you start studying it, you get it. I’m starting to get
it.”



McKinnon has shown just that early in training camp. He broke a long run
around the left side on the team’s first 11-on-11 drill of the summer and also
has made several catches out of the backfield.

Those skills are why the 49ers gave the career backup a $30 million,
four-year contract this offseason. McKinnon will get paid $12 million in 2018.
Only Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley have signed contracts that will pay them
more this season, according to spotrac.com.

But McKinnon feels no added pressure because of the high price tag.

”I’ve had the same mindset I’ve had since my rookie year, which is coming in
and working,” he said. ”A lot of guys get contracts and some of them get
content. For me, it’s about staying the same and continuing to work and showing
my teammates how I work and what I bring to the table and pushing everybody
around me.”

McKinnon spent four years in Minnesota after being drafted in the third round
in 2014 out of Georgia Southern. He has rushed for 1,918 yards with an average
of 4.0 yards per carry, has 142 catches for 984
yards Malcolm
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, and has scored 12 touchdowns.

McKinnon had his most productive season last year, when he ran for a
career-high 570 yards while setting personal bests with 51 catches for 421
yards.

McKinnon replaces Carlos Hyde, who left as a free agent for Cleveland.

McKinnon has more speed and is a better receiving threat than Hyde and should
fit well into Shanahan’s offense. But Shanahan said McKinnon’s strengths start
as a runner.

”You have to be a good running back to truly get the effects of being good in
the pass game because if you’re only good in the pass game, then they can just
treat you as a receiver and it’s different,” he said. ”So, it starts with being
a running back and we really like him as a running back. We studied every run he
had in Minnesota. I think he fits in the type of runs we do very well. He’s got
the speed. He’s got the cutting ability and he’s got the toughness to run
through arm tackles. Then the pass game is the huge bonus. He is a matchup
issue. He’s very good in his routes. … Just versatility-wise, he’s going to help
us a lot.”

Having a running back who is a threat in the passing game is a crucial part
of Shanahan’s offense. The Niners ranked third in the NFL last year with 113
receptions out of the backfield, up from just 67 the previous year under Chip
Kelly.

While Hyde had a team-high 59 catches last season, he wasn’t particularly
productive. He averaged just 5.9 yards on those catches and turned only 28.8
percent of them into first downs.

Those numbers are significantly below McKinnon’s 8.3 yards per catch and 39.2
percent first downs as his skills make him a better option in the passing
game.

”Jerick is a unique talent,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. ”He can do
things out of the backfield. You can line him up in the slot. … He can do so
many different things that it’s hard for a defense. What do you put on him? A
linebacker, a safety, a corner? It’s a pick your poison type of thing so it
makes my job a whole lot easier.”



Andrew Luck looked comfortable in his old spot Thursday.

He took command of the huddle, made all the required
throws Kyzir
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, chatted with teammates and coaches and even critiqued
himself. He avoided one personal concern by successfully handling the first
snap, and he was serenaded by Indianapolis Colts‘ fans chanting his name.

Yes, after more than 19 months of answering questions about his surgically
repaired throwing shoulder, Luck finally got a chance to show everyone exactly
what he could do during the team’s first training camp workout Thursday.



”It was a good day, a solid day in windy conditions,” new coach Frank Reich
said following a two-hour workout in shorts. ”I thought he looked strong,
consistent, a good first day for him.”

The unofficial numbers: 4 of 9 with one interception in two rounds of
11-on-11 and 11 of 19 overall.

Of course, nobody expected Luck to be at his level best on Day 1.

The three-time Pro Bowler had surgery on a partially torn labrum in January
2017, missed all of last season with lingering pain and didn’t resume throwing
again until May. He did light work during June’s three-day minicamp and ramped
up his activity in California over the next six weeks.

Thursday marked the first time he worked out with the starting unit since the
end of the 2016 season, and it was also his first real chance to get acclimated
to Reich’s new offense.

”He doesn’t have the familiarity that we have when it comes to running the
offense,” center Ryan Kelly said. ”I mean you can look at it on paper for so
long, but until you’re out there and running it … So every so often in
walkthroughs Josh
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, he’d ask me a few questions. It’s usually the other way
around, so it’s kind of weird right now.”

The Colts also weren’t about to ask anyone to do too much too fast. So rather
than turn things loose, Reich instructed his players to slow it down for the
first two days.

It showed.

But that’s not why so many fans showed up to the team’s new camp site, Grand
Park Sports Campus, in Westfield, Indiana – a northern suburb of
Indianapolis.

They wanted to see the team’s most anticipated camp appearance since Luck
arrived in town with the title of No. 1 overall draft pick in 2012.

Some couldn’t wait. The line started forming more than two hours before
practice began, and blue No. 12 jerseys were a favorite fashion option in the
bleachers. When individual drills started to wrap up and it became obvious Luck
was about to start throwing, one fan shouted: ”Get ready for the most
anticipated pass.”

Luck did not speak with reporters after the workout though he was more
talkative than usual on the field.

He started the afternoon with a brief conversation with Reich and could be
seen discussing specific plays with receivers and offensive linemen throughout
the afternoon.

Reich liked most of what he saw.

”Really good,” he said. ”Being under center, running team periods, making
plays, seeing him hit the big play to (Eric) Ebron, you
know Cordrea
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, taking control of the huddle, making some checks at
the line of scrimmage, just doing what he does. I mean you could see it in his
demeanor, you could see it in his eyes, working through his progressions. He was
sharp.”

Luck is expected to throw again Friday. He will participate in Saturday’s
practice, but will not throw and then will return to full action Sunday night
when the Colts are scheduled to practice in pads.

The hope is he will be ready to play in the Colts’ preseason opener Aug. 9 at
Seattle.

”Working together for so long, we just went through a walkthrough for an hour
and as soon as we did it, it was like old times. Same cadence,” Kelly said
before practice. ”It’s crazy how fast things come back to you.”

Notes: The Colts activated offensive lineman Denzelle Good from the
non-injury football list. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo and backup offensive
lineman Austin Howard have been placed on the non-football injury list. Castonzo
hurt his hamstring while working out this summer. Howard’s injury has not been
disclosed.



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