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49ers coach Kyle Shanahan plans to keep it simple in preseason

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers had their final open practice Wednesday before their preseason opener Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs.

As part of that preparation, coach Kyle Shanahan dialed back a bit on the physicality of practice, as the Niners worked without full pads and will be only in helmets for Thursday's workout before traveling to Kansas City.

Of course, that didn't mean Shanahan wanted to see his team lacking intensity. But when Shanahan and the coaching staff brought out their play "cards" -- the sheet of paper that shows the offense or defense what plays to run to emulate an opponent -- there was a noticeable drop in the level of practice.

After just five plays, Shanahan halted the workout and told his team to pick it up.

"Today was our first day going on cards ... the first day that we wanted to give them some looks of Kansas City stuff, so that was our first time doing that as a group," Shanahan said. "I just didn't like the tempo of it and I kind of expected it. It's our first day in cards together and our first time really not competing running our own schemes versus each other, and I just felt as soon as we did it, I felt the intensity of practice go way down. I tried to get it up, but it didn't change after five plays, so we just started it over and let them know what we want. I expect them to do a lot better next time."

As part of a personnel meeting Tuesday night, Shanahan and his staff and general manager John Lynch and his staff put together their plan for preseason games and playing time. Shanahan said the starters will probably play about a quarter (and no more than that) against the Chiefs. He also made it clear he doesn't intend to show too much in terms of the playbook.

"Not much at all," Shanahan said. "To be honest with you, it's miserable for a coach. You never want to go out and look bad and get embarrassed, but I also am very well aware that any play that works in the preseason will not work in the regular season, so you don't want to waste anything, either. There's a fine line between that. You can feel good going 4-0 in the preseason, but I've done that before and lost the first game and no one cares [about an unbeaten preseason] whatsoever. But we also want to do good, too, as everyone does. So it's that inner turmoil that you're constantly battling as a coach to try to be simple, try to be vanilla and try to win the game."

Some other news, notes and observations from Wednesday's practice:

  • Wide receiver Pierre Garcon did not participate because of a veteran's day off. Linebacker Donavin Newsom (concussion) remained at Stanford Medical Center in the morning, but the team expected him to be released Wednesday afternoon. Cornerback Dontae Johnson was a new addition to the injury report after suffering a concussion on Tuesday as well. As you might have guessed, Newsom and Johnson are unlikely to play against Kansas City.

  • Linebacker Reuben Foster suffered an apparent left ankle injury during practice that led to him limping to the sideline for attention. He had the ankle taped and returned to practice briefly but was not involved near the end. Shanahan expressed optimism that Foster's injury is not serious, though we'll see how much work he gets on Friday.

  • With Johnson out, Keith Reaser got the majority of the work with the starters opposite Rashard Robinson at cornerback.

  • Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has had a rough camp but had a nice moment during team drills when he hung with wideout DeAndre Smelter deep down the right sideline and elevated to make an interception on a pass thrown by Matt Barkley. It was the first interception Witherspoon has had in team drills in this camp and it earned him a warm reception from his teammates.

  • After taking a few days to get thrown into the mix, receiver Louis Murphy was active in team drills. He came up with a few catches, including a nice grab over the middle from Brian Hoyer. Murphy got some work with the first team, with Garcon not participating.

  • Hoyer's best throw of the day came off play-action as he found tight end Vance McDonald deep down the left sideline for a gain of approximately 25 yards. Shanahan confirmed Hoyer will start against the Chiefs, followed by Barkley and then rookie C.J. Beathard.

  • Running back Tim Hightower has battled some injury issues lately, but after sitting out for a couple of days, he's bounced back nicely this week. Hightower continues to look the most comfortable in the scheme, making quick, easy decisions on which holes to attack.

  • The Niners open the preseason Friday night in Kansas City but won't return to the practice field until Monday.