• Will Cuberos

Fifty-Three Pick Up: 49ers Training Camp Battles to Watch

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

As John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan look at the roster with training camp just a few days away, some tough decisions are looming on the horizon. Earlier in the offseason Shanahan said the goal of building of team is cutting players that will eventually catch on with other teams, and looking at some position groups on the roster, we’ve possibly reached that point.

Back-up Quarterback

C.J. Beathard vs. Nick Mullens

C.J. Beathard was hand picked by Shanahan during his first draft as head coach. The Iowa quarterback was taken with the 104th pick in the draft and believed by some in the franchise to be a challenger to Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback position. Following the 2017 draft, the team also signed a little-known free agent quarterback from Southern Miss, Nick Mullens. After Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury in 2018 the coaching staff inserted Beathard as starter and elevated Mullens from the practice squad.

Unfortunately for Beathard, his 2018 season looked much like his 2017 rookie year: he seemed slow to process the offense, held on the ball for too long, took needless big hits, and continued to throw the ball to defenders. Mullens got the start against the Raiders on Thursday Night Football and never relinquished the starting duties. He finished the season 3-3 as the starter and suddenly a back-up quarterback controversy was brewing. Reports from OTAs were that Beathard may have been a step ahead of Mullens during 11-on-11 drills, but considering the product on field during 2018, it’s hard to think that Beathard is the better option. It’s doubtful the team would be able to stash Mullens on the practice squad considering how good he looked, and Beathard may have some trade value for a team interested in a back-up. Either way, it’s unlikely the team keeps three quarterbacks.

Wide Receiver

Richie James Jr. vs. Jordan Matthews vs. Kendrick Bourne

Bourne led the team in receiving last season, but considering the struggles at quarterback, that’s not necessarily something to hang your hat on.

James, on the other hand, seemed to struggle finding opportunities last season even with in a shallow receiver corps. James amassed only nine catches for 130 yards while seeing 192 snaps on offense. He contributed on special teams, returning both punts and kickoffs, including a Week 17 touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks.

Matthews brings something that no other player on the roster can, he’s a big slot receiver and the possible red zone target that the team has been missing; of his 22 career touchdowns, 16 have come from inside the 20-yard line. Shanahan typically keeps six receivers on his roster and depending on who you talk to there are four or five locks, so that leaves the three above players fighting for either one or two spots.

Defensive Line

Sheldon Day vs. Jullian Taylor vs. Kentavius Street

The offseason additions of Dee Ford and Nick Bosa will push some players off the roster. Day has been a solid backup since being claimed off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars, he’s shown the talent to play either the 3-technique or at nose tackle. Taylor, a seventh-round pick in 2018, impressed during the preseason and played well with limited snaps during the year. Street was taken three rounds before Taylor even though he had torn his ACL in a pre-draft workout with the New York Giants.

The interesting part to this battle is Day’s contract status: he’s currently in the last year of his rookie deal and there have been no reports of the team offering him an extension. He may have some minor trade value and it’s entirely possible the 49ers view either Taylor or Street as his eventual replacement. The defensive line is clearly the strength of the defense so the question would be if the coaching staff values depth or are they ready to groom the youngsters to take Day’s place.

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