Photo Credit: Christopher Mezzavilla
For the entire offseason, the 49ers had at least one explicitly and publicly-stated goal: improve the depth at quarterback. Without question, that has happened, and you didn’t need the first day of training camp to prove it.
But the first day back hammered home just how far the 49ers have come at overhauling their quarterback depth. No more are the days of groaning over C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens reps following the often tepid Jimmy Garoppolo sets.
That’s not to say Garoppolo was horrendous in past training camps (though there were brutal days, like that infamous five-interception performance), but that he clearly had no one competing with him for the starting job.
Whatever competition Mullens and Beathard were having was leagues below Garoppolo, who, again, has not always lit it up in camp.
That’s all to say that watching Garoppolo, who has a discernible fire lit under his rear, and Trey Lance, is a breath of fresh air. Heck, Nate Sudfeld even looks alright and Josh Rosen… well, he threw one ball to no one on his only rep.
It’s Day 1, and pads won’t come on until Monday, so making any sweeping judgments about the direction the 49ers are heading and who’s performing well or who’s not, are premature. But there were a few observations of note.
Garoppolo looked comfortable and in command of the offense, as you’d expect. He made an inch-perfect off-schedule throw to an outstretched Brandon Aiyuk over the reach of Tim Harris Jr. who covered well on the play. Harris was on the wrong end of far too many receptions as he filled in for the Reserve/COVID-19 listed Emmanuel Moseley opposite Jason Verrett.
Verrett, by the way, looks as tough to shake as ever, and broke up a difficult intended pass from Garoppolo to the speedy by slight-framed Travis Benjamin.
Lance, meanwhile, had a few cadence issues, with some false starts and confusion in some of his sets, which Kyle Shanahan later pointed out.
“There was one exceptionally bad,” Shanahan said. “Like 11 guys came off on a different cadence.”
Those growing pains are to be expected in the same way you expect Garoppolo to be comfortable in running the offense. Now, if it persists towards the end of camp and through the preseason, we might have something to be concerned about.
But what stood out from Lance besides those hiccups is just how quick everything is. His first steps from the snap to his dropback and/or into a bootleg are unbelievably quick, and because of that, he’s often got a little more time than his fellow quarterbacks do to survey the field, even if it’s only a half-second.
When he does have time to identify a target downfield, it’s a real moment of art. You see heads turn around the field to watch the trajectory, and on two separate occasions, he completed gorgeous deep balls down the sideline.
One was in 7-on-7s to a streaking Deebo Samuel which comfortably went at least 40 yards on a perfect spiral and hit Samuel in stride. The second was to Kittle down the left sideline; he had to turn back to the ball, but it was high enough to avoid coverage and allow Kittle to make a play on ot, which he did spectacularly over Kai Nacua.
Four players were present for individual drills but not team drills on Wednesday: Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Jalen Hurd and Javon Kinlaw. Kinlaw had some swelling that Kyle Shanahan said was from flying and the 49ers are trying to be cautious with him after undergoing a purportedly small knee procedure.
Jaquiski Tartt and Jauan Jennings joined Emmanuel Moseley on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, so we saw plenty of Tim Harris Jr. and Tavon Wilson. Jennings really can’t afford to miss much time, given that it looks like four receivers are probably locks to make the roster already. There’s Samuel and Aiyuk, the latter of whom simply could not stop making ridiculous catchers on Wednesday.
Mohamed Sanu remained as impressive as he looked in OTAs, making a few eye-popping catches. Richie James Jr. also had a nice YAC play over the middle of the field, juking a defender to a resounding “OOH” from the benches.
That leaves probably two wide open spots up for grabs, and with Hurd and Jennings not yet in team drills, that leaves opportunities open for people like River Cracraft, Travis Benjamin, Trent Sherfield, even Kevin White. The back end of the receiving corps seems absolutely up for grabs right now.
On the other side of the ball, the linebacking group is as young as it’s ever been and looks quicker than in past seasons which featured the veteran likes of Mark Nzeocha and Joe Walker.
As for the defensive line, D.J. Jones remains a freak of nature, and put Daniel Brunskill on his rear in one-on-ones. Without Kinlaw participating in team drills, it was Kevin Givens and Kentavius Street operating as the main interior defensive linemen. Street had a would-be sack on Lance in which he blew up the play almost simultaneously with the snap.
Perhaps the last unmentioned point of order is the running back corps, which is as intriguing as ever. Every back provides something a little different. Trey Sermon is more in the mold of Jeff Wilson Jr., with a bigger frame, but enough burst after the line; he was, however, stripped once by Tavon Wilson. Eljiah Mitchell, meanwhile, is freaky fast, and is exceedingly difficult to track if he gets past the first tackler.