Working Together: What Should The 49ers Look to Accomplish in Their Joint Practices?

Image Credit: Scott Young

NFL training camps used to be dominated by two-a-days: one practice in the morning followed by another in the afternoon and typically one of them was in pads. In today’s NFL, practice time is limited; there are no more two-a-days and there is a larger emphasis, at least with the 49ers, on load management. All of the emphasis on player safety is a good thing, but if you are Kyle Shanahan (or any other coach in the NFL) you still need to be able to evaluate the players so you can put together the best 53 guys for Week 1 that’s where joint practices come in.

Joint practices are not a new concept in NFL circles (like load management or the air raid offense), but they have become more prevalent since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed in 2011 and many coaches see them as a way to get their first string players the reps they need without the added injury risk of a preseason game.

The 49ers are in Colorado this week for two days of joint practices with the Broncos ahead of the preseason game between the two teams on Monday Night Football. What should the 49ers look to accomplish in those practices?

Tighten Up:

The 49ers were called for eighteen penalties for 216 yards, which would have been an NFL record had it been a regular-season game. Even with much more talent on the roster, the 49ers are not talented enough to overcome that many penalties, plus two turnovers, and expect to win many games. An NFL officiating crew will be on hand for these practices, so this would be a good opportunity to work on cleaning up some of the sloppy play from the exhibition opener.

Among the areas the 49ers need to tighten are their linebackers in pass coverage. Both David Mayo and rookie Dre Greenlaw allowed Dallas’ tight ends to get behind them on play-action. With a Kyle Shanahan disciple, Rich Scangarello, guiding Denver’s offense there figures to be plenty of play-action thrown at the 49ers’ defense.

More, More, Moore:

Tarvarius Moore started at free safety in the exhibition opener and played more snaps (70) than any other 49er. Now in his second year, Moore was moved from cornerback back to safety, the position he played in college, after Jimmie Ward broke his collarbone. In his July 30 press conference, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said that Moore was “by no means even close to being an NFL-ready safety by Week 1,” but that Moore has the physical gifts to become the eraser the 49ers need at free safety. Moore needs every rep he can get to make up for the year that he lost during his brief sojourn at cornerback; he needs the reps to be more comfortable in processing what he sees. Practicing against the Broncos this week will give Moore an opportunity to get those much-needed reps against different offensive personnel.

Competition at wide receiver:

Kyle Shanahan wanted to see Dante Pettis “compete,” which is why Pettis was in a game in which the 49ers held out 31 players. He barely made an impression. This week Pettis should see plenty of time against Broncos cornerback Chris Harris. Harris is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL and will make Pettis compete on every rep. Pettis should use this opportunity to show the coaching staff that he has the desire to be the team’s number-one receiver before he gets usurped by rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd because they showed plenty of desire last Saturday.

Among the standouts from the exhibition opener were rookie wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd; each had noteworthy plays against the Cowboys’ reserves. Samuel made a contested catch over the top of the cornerback when he had to come back for an underthrown pass from C.J. Beathard, and Hurd caught a pass on a simple crossing route but ran through a defender at the goal line for the first of his two touchdowns. Both Samuel and Hurd look ready to compete for starting jobs and seeing them get more reps against better competition should high on the list of things to accomplish during these practices.

Kyle Shanahan told KNBR during a recent interview that he would have a chance to work with Broncos head coach Vic Fangio on a script for the practices, so Shanahan should be able to manufacture the matchups that would be most beneficial to the development of the team. The 49ers will see a lot of top talent during their time in Denver, especially on the Broncos’ defense.

Kyle Shanahan makes no secret that he values these joint practices more than the preseason games themselves, saying that he places “a ton of value” on them. It will be worth keeping an eye on which players help or hurt their stock during their time in Colorado.

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