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San Francisco 49ers

Rookies Flash Great Potential Against Vikings

Jon Chik

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49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis

San Francisco’s top three picks in the 2018 NFL Draft — Mike McGlinchey, Dante Pettis and Fred Warner — all stepped onto the U.S. Bank Stadium gridiron for their first taste of NFL regular season action, but how did they fare against a Vikings team that many are picking to go to the Super Bowl?

RT Mike McGlinchey

From the moment San Francisco drafted Mike McGlinchey with the ninth overall pick back in April, the Niner Faithful knew there was a lot to like about the team’s first-round selection. McGlinchey arrived in San Francisco with the hype that always accompanies a top-10 draft pick, but position versatility wasn’t something the Niners were banking on.

When starting guard Mike Person and backup Josh Garnett each left the game with injuries, however, McGlinchey was about to receive an unusual request. Conventional wisdom suggested that Garry Gilliam would be the next man up to fill the void, but San Francisco instead allowed the 27-year-old veteran to step into his normal position at right tackle and asked McGlinchey to kick inside.

Learning a new position on the fly in your NFL regular season debut is a tall order for any 23-year-old rookie, but McGlinchey didn’t hesitate when asked by his coaches.

Going up against one of the top defenses in the NFL, McGlinchey did his part to generate a small push in the ground game, and while the 3.65 combined yards per carry from Alfred Morris and Matt Breida is certainly underwhelming, it’s at least forgivable after the Niners’ two top right guards were injured and McGlinchey had to move to an unfamiliar position during his first taste of NFL action.

The O-line – which allowed three sacks — struggled with the hard-charging Viking defense, but when McGlinchey was faced with the thoroughly unexpected challenge of switching positions in the middle of his debut, he showed himself to be a team-first guy by playing right guard for the first time in his life. And even though the Niner line was outplayed by Minnesota’s front seven, McGlinchey wasn’t noticeably overwhelmed by the Vikings’ swarming defenders.

In a best-case scenario for the 49ers, McGlinchey will never be asked to play guard again, but Kyle Shanahan and company have to feel better knowing that McGlinchey can at least handle the position in a pinch. Prior to shifting to guard, McGlinchey was turning in a solid debut at his typical right tackle position, and he’ll aim for more of the same against Detroit.

WR Dante Pettis

While his afternoon in Minnesota wasn’t perfect, Dante Pettis flashed the kind of game-breaking ability that enticed the Niners to trade up for him in the second round of the draft.

Targeted five times, Pettis reeled in a pair of receptions for 61 yards, including a spectacular 22-yard touchdown catch that got the 49ers back into the game early in the third quarter. Pettis showed great instincts on the play after he was defended on his initial route, recognizing that Jimmy Garoppolo was being flushed to his left, reacting accordingly by breaking for the back-left corner of the end zone and displaying soft hands and impressive footwork to stay in bounds after making the grab.

Prior to the touchdown, Pettis nearly hauled in another deep bomb from Garoppolo, and only an outstanding pass-breakup prevented another acrobatic scoring reception.

On the flip side, Pettis muffed a punt before being bailed out by Ahkello Witherspoon, who alertly pounced on the ball near the sideline. One error likely won’t deter San Francisco’s coaching staff from unleashing Pettis – especially after he set an NCAA record by returning nine punts for touchdowns in his college career — but ball security is paramount in the NFL, and it’s possible he was looking to make a move upfield before securing the pigskin. In his short time as a 49er, Pettis has developed a reputation for being the type of player who doesn’t make the same mistake twice, and that will be put to the test immediately against the Lions.

Pettis was also targeted when Xavier Rhodes picked off a pass early in the fourth quarter when he didn’t seem to be on the same page as Garoppolo.

It was truly a mixed bag for Pettis, but even a casual football observer could see the enormous potential, and Pettis could be in for a gigantic uptick in snaps in Week 2 if Marquise Goodwin misses the home opener against the Lions. No one wants to see a quality person and player such as Goodwin wearing street clothes on gameday, but Pettis will have a golden opportunity to carve out a significant role in the offense if Goodwin isn’t ready to go on Sunday.

Goodwin’s job will undoubtedly be waiting for him when he returns, but if Pettis continues to flash his trademark explosiveness in his stead, the coaches will have to figure out ways to keep the rookie speedster involved in the aerial attack.

LB Fred Warner

Looking like he was shot out of a cannon, Fred Warner didn’t exactly stick his toe into the water in his NFL regular season debut. Instead, the rookie third-rounder racked up a team-high 12 tackles, notched a pass defensed and forced a fumble (recovered by Richard Sherman) by closing quickly from behind and punching the ball from the grasp of Dalvin Cook after Minnesota’s second-year back broke several tackles and fought his way up the middle for a 15-yard gain.

Warner delivered at least two big hits on Minnesota’s ballcarriers, and he was just as effective hauling down the Vikings’ pass-catchers, making several sure-handed tackles in the open field to prevent potentially long gains. His elite read-and-react skills were on display all afternoon, as the BYU product routinely showed a nose for the ball.

Furthermore, Warner was entrusted to relay defensive play calls from Robert Saleh to his teammates, a duty which isn’t usually thrust upon a rookie, and he handled the responsibility with all the poise of a seasoned veteran.

Since Warner and Reuben Foster only have 11 games of combined NFL experience under their belts, comparisons to the destructive tandem of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are a bit premature, but Niner fans have every right to be excited about their young linebacking duo, and it will be a sight to behold when they’re on the field together for the first time in Week 3 against the Chiefs.

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