• Travis Hawkins

49ers Training Camp Primer: Storylines to Watch

Image Credit: Bay Area News Group

The 49ers training camp, 2020 edition, will be unlike any other in history due to a global pandemic, which has wiped out all of minicamp, organized team activities, and preseason games. Even with all that is different, one thing will never change: training camp storylines.

Even though the team returns largely intact – per ESPN, the 49ers are returning 82.6 percent of their snaps from last season – there will be plenty of position battles worth keeping an eye on beginning up front on the offensive line.

Position Battles:

The Niners will be replacing two starters from the offensive line that last took the field on February 2: Joe Staley, who retired; and Mike Person, who was released (and later announced his retirement). Trent Williams, acquired in a draft day trade, will replace Staley at left tackle, but who replaces Person at right guard is not as clear-cut.

Daniel Brunskill, who filled in across the offensive line last year, is the odds-on favorite to win the job, but he will have to fend off veteran Tom Compton and rookie Colton McKivitz. McKivitz, a fifth-round selection, played tackle in college but he will get a look at guard in camp and could wind up being a backup at both guard and tackle.

Tom Compton, an eight-year veteran, signed as a free agent this offseason, reuniting with Kyle Shanahan after playing for him in Washington and Atlanta.

Reading the tea leaves, Compton could have a more direct line to the starting right guard job than most think. The 49ers could put their best five offensive lineman on the field and that would likely include Brunskill, but Compton’s $2.15 million dollar salary is high for a backup guard and if he wins the starting job then Brunskill’s versatility could be maximized by using him as the top backup at both tackle and guard spots. This will definitely be an important battle to keep an eye on throughout camp.

Flipping to the other side of the ball, the defensive line has some battles that bear watching despite the fact that the starters are locked in. Last season was a battle of attrition for the members of the front four. It started in camp with a high ankle sprain that hampered Nick Bosa early in the season and continued with Dee Ford’s knee tendinitis, ACL tears for Ronald Blair and D.J. Jones, as well as trips to injured reserve for Damontre Moore and Jullian Taylor. With all the injuries, the 49ers wound up with guys like Anthony Zettel and Earl Mitchell getting significant snaps in the Super Bowl.

With hopes of not having to rely on street free agents in crucial situations again, the 49ers added another former first-round pick to the mix with the signing of Dion Jordan, giving them six first-rounders along the defensive line. There promises to be stiff competition for spots six through ten on the defensive line, and guys like Taylor, Kentavius Street, Kerry Hyder and the rest of the linemen are going to have to find a way to stand out among this highly competitive position group without the benefit of preseason games.

Another highly competitive position group is the wide receivers. Gone from last year’s group are Emmanuel Sanders and Marquise Goodwin. Added to the mix are a pair of rookies in first-round choice Brandon Aiyuk, and seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings. The Niners are also getting back Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd after each missed all of 2019.

Things to watch for:

Who steps up and takes advantage of the additional reps that come from Deebo Samuel’s injury?

What do Hurd and Taylor look like in their return from injury?

Does a year in Shanahan’s doghouse light a fire under Dante Pettis?

Who Has The Right Stuff?

Richard Sherman is the starter at left cornerback, but who starts opposite him? Ahkello Witherspoon claimed the job coming out of camp last year and was playing the best ball of his career until he was injured in Week 3. After the injury, Witherspoon’s play was up and down and he was eventually benched in the first half of the playoff game against the Vikings.

Emmanuel Moseley took over for the injured Witherspoon and played well in his absence and again in the playoffs. Moseley’s play has likely earned him a leg up in the competition, but he will have to fight to keep it.

Things to watch for:

With D.J Reed claimed off waivers by Seattle, who will be the backup to nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams?

Do the 49ers have anything in Jason Verrett or Tim Harris?

Cleared for takeoff?

Kyle Shanahan signed Jerick McKinnon prior to the 2018 season, and with visions of mismatches in his head he designed a playbook that revolved around the pass-catching running back, but on the final play of the last practice of training camp McKinnon tore his ACL and has not played since. McKinnon has been fully cleared for practice and every cut, spin and sprint he makes will be heavily scrutinized. Whether or not McKinnon still has the speed and burst that earned him the nickname “Jet” will be one of the most watched storylines of camp.

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