• Nicholas McGee

Senior Bowl 2019: Observations from day one of practice

Image Credit: John David Mercer/USA Today

The 2019 Senior Bowl is underway and the San Francisco 49ers' coaching staff was front and center as they took charge of the opening practice in Mobile, Alabama.

Kyle Shanahan and his coaches put the South team through their paces at Ladd-Peebles Stadium on Tuesday, giving them an early opportunity to get up close and personal with some players who may already be high on the Niners' draft board.

Defense is the main area of concern for San Francisco, but numerous players from both sides of the ball stood out in the first session, which was followed by the Oakland Raiders coaching the North team in their first practice.

With day one in the books, here are some of my observations as the Niners attempt to use the advantage of coaching the Senior Bowl to get a better idea of who they will look to add to their roster come April.

Ya-Sin stands out among corners

Pass rush is seen as the 49ers' biggest need this offseason, but you will find plenty of people desperate for them to add to the secondary after what was at best an up-and-down year for Ahkello Witherspoon.

And those keen for the Niners to add a top-tier corner to the roster will have been very intrigued by the performance of Temple's Rock Ya-Sin, who stood out early in the one-on-ones between receivers and defensive backs. Ya-Sin is only 5'11" - below the perceived height threshold for the Niners' Cover 3 scheme - but displayed patience when defending at the top of the route, smooth hips and an ability to make plays at the catch point as he logged a pair of pass deflections on his first two reps.

Big receivers make their presence felt

With Pierre Garcon's brief and injury-hindered 49ers career expected by many to come to an end this offseason, San Francisco may have an opening at Z receiver, where the addition of some size to complement Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin would not go amiss.

And plenty of more sizeable targets in Mobile enjoyed strong showings on day one. Old Dominion's Travis Fulgham shone, demonstrating fluidity in his routes and enough speed to separate over the top, while Anthony Johnson flashed some physicality in his routes and West Virginia's David Stills showed off his ability to track the ball and bring it in with late hands that don't come up until the last second.

Sweat shows snap in his hands

You don't want any of Montez Sweat's hands. Oh no you don't. The Mississippi State edge rusher is arguably the best pass rusher on show in Mobile, (though Louisiana Tech's Jaylon Ferguson may have a strong case) and Sweat proved he has plenty of power in his hands to go with his length and athletic ability when he bullrushed Tytus Howard in DL-OL one-on-ones, viciously knocking the Alabama State tackle on his back.

Powers held up excellently in pass protection and, coming from an Oklahoma offense that relies heavily on zone blocking, figures to be a natural fit for a 49ers offense that could be lacking a guard if Mike Person departs in free agency.

A local prospect to watch

In truth I don't think there was as much to glean from the Raiders-led North practice as there was from the South's first session. However, the 49ers may have been intrigued by what they saw from Keelan Doss, an Alameda native who played his college ball relatively close to home at UC Davis.

The 6'2" and 207-pound Doss was one of the better receivers on display for the North, getting vertical with ease and showing a similar aptitude for sinking into his breaks and working back to the football quickly.

Doss was well-matched in one-on-ones, however, and was smartly defended by USC's Iman Marshall on the rep below.

Kansas State's Dalton Risner, who has the versatility to play every spot on the O-Line and figures to be a potential target for the Niners should they collect more picks in a trade down, had an up-and-down day at tackle, suggesting a move inside could be in his future.

TCU defensive end L.J. Collier enjoyed success working on the edge as well as the interior in one-on-ones. Viewed as a later-round guy, that kind of versatility should stand Collier in good stead with teams like the 49ers, who have made a point of adding players who can play multiple roles in recent years.

Shanahan turns the air blue

The end of the South practice saw Shanahan send the team off with an impassioned reminder as to the importance of punctuality as players take meetings with representatives from the 32 teams. His post-practice speech had was cut short by NFL Network, however, due to the language used by Shanahan, who dropped the calm and well-mannered facade we usually see in press conference to let loose with a few f-bombs.

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