Image Credit: Associated Press
With the first round of practices now in the books, the San Francisco 49ers are finally back in full swing. The first four days provided plenty of ups and downs for head coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff entering their third season. These are the aspects of practice that stood out the most:
Wide Receivers and Defensive Backs Get Chippy
Rookie WR Jalen Hurd got into a pair of scuffles before the pads even went on. Safety Antone Exum and cornerback Dontae Johnson took exception to Hurd’s voracious blocking and this turned into fisticuffs. The next day, CB Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted a pass intended for Hurd only to turn around and toss the ball back to him. The competitions in the wide receiving corps and secondary are set to be the most exciting during training camp. Since then, both groups have been chirping at each other nonstop. Hopefully this animosity between the two groups brings out the best of everyone.
Dominant Defensive Line
Second-year right tackle Mike McGlinchey summed up what it is like blocking the new look defensive line very simply. “It’s a gauntlet out there.” The quarterbacks have struggled to find a rhythm with the pass rush consistently disrupting their timing. The new Wide-9 alignment of the defensive line has also thrown a very particular wrench into the system for Shanahan’s offense. Running backs are struggling to get to the edge with any consistency. Even running back Matt Breida chimed in saying, “Going against (the defense) right now, it’s hard to even run the ball.” Much of the success of the 49ers rides on this group loaded with five former first round picks to get home early and often.
Picking up right where OTAs left off, rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw has made his presence known since he stepped on the field. Already getting run with the first team, it appears as though Greenlaw is working his way into a starting role alongside Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander. His aggressive play style and knowledge of the 49ers offense has him in the right spots at the right times. Not to be outshone, second-overall pick Nick Bosa has been thoroughly dominating lesser competition when given the chance. He was also seen with left tackle Joe Staley, who had a veteran day off Monday, working on pass rush counters. On the offensive side of the ball, Jalen Hurd’s physicality has been the biggest standout. Fellow rookie WR Deebo Samuel has been winning his fair share of one-on-ones and is showing how he made his money running the slant route in college.
Players Returning from Injury
Nearly every single set of eyes was on the return of QB Jimmy Garoppolo when he was given a clean bill of health to begin training camp on time. However, he is not the only player returning from injuries that slowed or ended their 2018 campaigns. WR Trent Taylor has appeared to return to his 2017-self with crisp routes that create separation from defenders, even taking a slant pass to the house before the pads went on. Safety Adrian Colbert, a much-maligned player before his season ending injury last season, ran with the first team defense during team drills. Even S Jimmie Ward was activated from the PUP List before Wednesday’s practice following a broken collar bone in OTAs, although he did not participate.
Wide Open Competitions
This is the first year of the Shanahan and Lynch era that most of the starting positions are locked in. Those that are up for grabs, though, are fully up for grabs. QBs Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard have been deadlocked for the backup spot behind Garoppolo with neither gaining an advantage against the tough defense they are facing. Along with Colbert, Tavarius Moore and Jaquiski Tartt have seen snaps with the first team safeties during multiple drills. With Ward slated to return to action sooner rather than later, the safety competition is the one to keep an eye on closely.
Obligatory “Player in the Best Shape of their Career”
With every training camp for nearly every team, one player shows up to camp in drastically better playing shape than they have in previous years. This sparks fresh buzz around a player who has so far underperformed during their time with the respective teams. The candidate for the 49ers in 2019 is easily defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. He made his presence and physique known early on in the drills with the blocking sleds, manhandling them up and down the field. Whether this turns into on-field production is yet to be seen but being stronger, faster and more mentally tough is never a bad thing for a player looking to resuscitate his career.
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