This offseason has a different feel to it than some of the more recent offseasons. Maybe it is the fact that for the first time since Steve Young retired the 49ers have a franchise quarterback in place (all apologies to Jeff Garcia and Colin Kaepernick). Or maybe it is the fact that the team has the same head coach in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2014. Or maybe it’s the fact that for the first time since 2014 the Niners will not have one of its top draft choices barred from participating in offseason activities by the NFL (Joshua Garnett and Deforest Buckner both graduated early to circumvent the rule).
Since 1990, the NFL has not allowed rookies to participate in training camp activities until their school’s final exams are completed, a rule that was changed this year. The rule, meant to help boost graduation rates, mainly affected draft picks from the six schools (Northwestern, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Washington) that are on the quarter system. Players from these schools, which do not have finals until the middle of June, miss out on nearly a month’s worth of team activities. However, a recent rule change allows rookies to participate in team activities prior to final exams.
Every rep is crucial for young players, especially during the offseason program. Once the season starts, reps become scarce and the focus shifts from player development to getting ready for that week’s opponent. With stiff competition facing the wide receivers looking to make the team, Dante Pettis is taking full advantage of the extra time and is getting valuable reps that were not available to last year’s top draft choice, Solomon Thomas. Thomas struggled in his rookie year, particularly early, grading out 92nd (out of 106) as an edge defender according to Pro Football Focus. Some of the struggles that Thomas faced in his rookie campaign could be due to the fact that he played out of position on the edge, but he started to play his best ball late in the year, earning a grade of 70.0 from Pro Football Focus in two of his last three starts. It is difficult to say for certain how much missing the early mini-camps set Solomon Thomas back, or how much these extra reps will help Dante Pettis, but one thing is certain: the extra work and time bonding with teammates is not going to hurt anyone.
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