SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Through the first four practices of this training camp, most of the injuries suffered by key San Francisco 49ers had been at the safety position. That changed Wednesday when defensive tackle DeForest Buckner suffered an apparent left ankle injury about midway through the session.
Buckner, who is expected to be a big piece in coordinator Robert Saleh's defense, didn't appear to be banged up too badly, though, as he was able to put weight on the ankle and spent time stretching it out with head athletic trainer Jeff Ferguson. Buckner had the ankle taped up, but the Niners clearly didn't want to risk further injury and he sat the rest of the practice.
With Buckner out, the Niners turned to Chris Jones and rookie Solomon Thomas to take the reps with the first-team defense at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. Jones later looked to suffer an arm injury of some sort but did not come out. Thomas got his work mostly in nickel packages as he continues to work as the "big" defensive end on normal downs.
Some other news, notes and observations from Wednesday's practice:
The loudest collision of camp so far came late in the workout when running back Carlos Hyde took rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon by surprise near the goal line, lowering his pads and knocking Witherspoon on his back. Hyde strolled into the end zone and flexed after the score. For Witherspoon, who had questions about his tackling ability entering the league, it was a welcome to the NFL type of moment, though Saleh said afterward that it was more a scenario where a veteran caught a rookie off guard. Saleh said he's been fine with Witherspoon's physicality to this point, saying he's "not a coward by any means." It's a safe bet Witherspoon will be better prepared next time Hyde comes at him full speed in practice.
Defensive end Elvis Dumervil got a veteran's day off Wednesday as the Niners wanted to use Tuesday's day off to allow Dumervil to double down on his down time. Like Buckner, cornerback Zach Franklin also suffered an apparent left ankle or foot injury during individual drills. Newly acquired receiver Louis Murphy attended the practice but did not participate. He spent the day observing and taking notes from the sidelines.
With Reid, Jimmie Ward (hamstring) and Jaquiski Tartt (rib) not practicing, the Niners rolled with undrafted rookie Lorenzo Jerome at free safety and Vinnie Sunseri at strong safety. Further down the depth chart, the Niners got cornerback Adrian Colbert some work at free safety, as well. Colbert played all over the secondary in college at Miami and actually came down with an interception on what appeared to be a miscommunication by the offense.
Speaking of interceptions, quarterback Brian Hoyer threw his first of this camp Wednesday as he overthrew receiver Jeremy Kerley, allowing cornerback Dontae Johnson to come down with the pick. Johnson has showed up more consistently the past couple of days and has a prime opportunity with Keith Reaser injured to nail down a starting spot opposite Rashard Robinson.
The clear emphasis for the Niners in Wednesday's practice was the run game. They ran outside zone sweeps and stretch plays over and over again. Some were more successful than others with Hyde, Tim Hightower and Joe Williams coming up with some of the longer runs of the day. Hightower still looks like he has the best grasp of what's expected in the confines of the scheme, which is why he continues to get plenty of work.
I've mentioned him before, but rookie defensive tackle D.J. Jones continues to impress. He had a couple of run stuffs in team drills and was again impressive in one-on-one pass-rush drills against guard Zane Beadles. I asked Saleh about Jones after practice and he noted that the game isn't too big for Jones and he seems to be plenty comfortable doing whatever is asked of him. Jones needs to get more work against the ones and twos, but he's making an early case to be a pleasant surprise from this draft class.
Defensive end Tank Carradine had some good moments in this practice, coming up with a sack in team drills and later giving left tackle Joe Staley problems in one-on-one pass-rush drills. That's particularly notable since Staley rarely struggles in those situations, even if the defensive player normally has the advantage.
Strongside linebacker Ahmad Brooks has come on strong recently and even showed some coverage ability on Wednesday. He dropped back and perfectly timed his jump to break up a pass intended for tight end Vance McDonald early in team drills. He also had a sack a bit later. Brooks continues to work as the starter at that spot and got even more work with Eli Harold sitting out because of a head injury.
Punter Bradley Pinion also had a strong day, dropping a couple of long punts out of bounds at the 2- and 3-yard line. On one, Pinion kicked it approximately 65 yards in the air angled toward the right sideline where it bounced away.
The Niners will be back at practice on Thursday morning.