49ers leave plenty of room for improvement in practice with Broncos

Blaine Gabbert (2) and the 49ers quarterbacks struggled during their practice with the Broncos. AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea didn't mince words when asked how his team's joint practice session with the Denver Broncos went on Wednesday afternoon.

"I think we can improve a lot," Bethea said. "That's what these practices are for, come out against another opponent and I don't really think we played or practiced the way we should have today. But we go watch the film this afternoon and we'll see how it looks."

Asked what was missing, Bethea said he didn't feel the same energy level that a normal Niners practice has.

"I can't really put my finger on it," Bethea said. "It always feels like that on the field but once we go watch the film we can really see and come out tomorrow and get better."

The 49ers will get another shot at the Broncos in their final joint practice of the week on Thursday morning but when they go watch the film, they'll see a number of areas to clean up.

For the offense, it was a rough day as they struggled to protect for any of their quarterbacks in team drills, and the quarterbacks and receivers were infrequently on the same page during one-on-one opportunities.

At one point during team drills with the first-team offense, quarterback Blaine Gabbert took what would have been a sack, threw the ball away, threw an incompletion and then took two more would-be sacks. Gabbert had another interception that wasn't his fault in 7-on-7 as receiver DiAndre Campbell failed to haul in a catchable pass and the deflection ended up in the hands of Denver linebacker Todd Davis.

Gabbert was far from the only one looking for traction.

Newly-signed backup Christian Ponder looked the part of a guy who hadn't participated in a practice this training camp before Wednesday. Ponder misfired repeatedly in one-on-one and threw an interception in team drills but also didn't get much help for when he was on target, his receivers had at least three drops. Rookie Jeff Driskel also threw an interception in the final period of 11-on-11 but was probably the sharpest of the three quarterbacks while taking all of the reps with the second team offense.

As for the defense, there were more bright spots than the offense but it still yielded some big plays, including a long touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Emmanuel Sanders late in the proceedings.

Colin Kaepernick again spent practice watching his fellow quarterbacks take most of the reps, though he got a little light work on the side. He also took a couple reps in team drills but was again limited to handoffs and designed runs. Kaepernick now hasn't thrown an actual practice pass in a week.

Some other notes from Wednesday:

  • Unlike the peaceful meetings with the Houston Texans, the 49ers and Broncos had a trio of scuffles break out in Wednesday's session. Linebacker Eli Harold and Denver tight end Virgil Green were involved in one short dustup early in practice before linebacker Aaron Lynch and Denver center Dillon Day took part in the main event. That one caused both teams to get involved to break it up as Lynch and Day had to be separated. Guard Zane Beadles and Broncos defensive lineman Sylvester Williams also had a short skirmish.

  • It wasn't all bad news for the Niners in Wednesday's practice as a few players managed to stand out. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner continued his strong camp, particularly in double team drills as he regularly handled the Broncos combo blocks by tossing one player aside and driving the other back. He was also effective in one-on-one pass rush drills. Linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong made a nice break on a ball in one-on-one drills to come away with a pass breakup. Right tackle Trent Brown held his own in a couple of one-on-one pass rush drills with Denver linebacker Von Miller.

  • Receiver Quinton Patton returned to practice after sitting out Tuesday. Bruce Ellington (ankle) did some work in team drills but wasn't involved in team drills. DeAndre Smelter also didn't practice.

  • Defensive lineman Arik Armstead (shoulder) continues to be limited in practice. He worked on the side with Charles Haley, who has been with the team for most of the past week and a half.

  • At the conclusion of practice, Kaepernick and coach Chip Kelly spent some time with the Niners fans who attended. They signed autographs and took pictures as fans (mostly) showered them with praise. Kelly worked his way along the fence as one fan repeatedly yelled "Prove 'em wrong, Chip" while Kaepernick was embraced by the fan base that many thought could be his. Rumors swirled in the offseason that the Niners would trade Kaepernick to the Broncos but it never came to fruition. Apparently, Denver fans would still welcome Kaepernick to their own quarterback competition. As Kaepernick signed for the fans, one Denver fan repeatedly yelled "We've got a spot for you, Colin." He signed for about 20 minutes and even helped break up an argument between Broncos security and a fan wearing his jersey. As the fan got close to Kaepernick, the sheriff's deputy apparently thought he got too close but Kaepernick let him know that he was fine and continued to sign. Kaepernick and the deputy officer shook hands when Kaepernick finished spending time with the fans.

  • The 49ers and Broncos are back at it on Thursday morning with practice set for 11:25 a.m. ET.