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Takeaways from training camp after 49ers’ final open practice is defense’s best



Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla

Training camp is nearly over, and it’s at least concluded publicly. Thursday’s practice was the final one open to media, with one more, likely light practice or walkthrough to follow on Friday before the 49ers’ preseason finale, and regular season dress rehearsal on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders.

Final practice report

There was more of Nick Bosa versus Trent Williams in one-on-ones, and it’s unfortunate that’ll be the last there is to report of it. The two reps today saw a stalemate and then Bosa slip, with Williams obliging him on his trip to the ground. It was yet another standout day in those one-on-ones from Kentavius Street, who is by far the quickest and most forceful player off the line of scrimmage. He beat Alex Mack multiple times. D.J. Jones also wreaks havoc in those drills, too, given how he creates force with a squatty frame, meaning he’s almost always the low man.

This a game-wrecking defensive line, and someone will have to be the odd man out, at least for a day, assuming the 49ers put Maurice Hurst on injured reserve, when the 53-man roster is announced at the end of the month. There were pressures abound, with Javon Kinlaw often finding himself double teamed.

As for the quarterbacks, it was similar to Wednesday, with — as Kyle Shanahan pointed out — the 49ers shifting both quarterbacks in and out. Jimmy Garoppolo had his second day repping with the second unit for a few snaps, and Trey Lance got a few extended first team reps. The most obvious objective of this is to get both quarterbacks and offensive units accustomed to quick switches and the feel of both quarterbacks.

You’ll always get varying numbers depending on various assessments of would-be sacks (and counting or not counting the throws that come after), but Garoppolo went 14-of-23 with one terrible interception and Lance was 11-of-17 with a couple sacks and a pair of touchdown runs.

Garoppolo’s one interception was thrown egregiously behind Deebo Samuel, and came out fluttery, hanging up in the air for far too long. It looked like a pass intended for Emmanuel Moseley, who went up and grabbed it fairly easily. There was also a throw behind Ross Dwelley, which Dwelley — who arguably has the best hands on the team — snagged by contorting his body backwards. If not caught, the looming safety behind him would have had a chance to make a play on the ball.

He finished well down the stretch, and was robbed of two completions by a bad Raheem Mostert drop, and an incompletion… off of Trent Williams’ dome. Williams was getting out in space to block for a short pass to Mostert, and did so too quickly, breaking up the pass himself.

Lance was impressive, especially when given the opportunity to use his athleticism and throw on the run. That’s not to say he looks uncomfortable in the pocket, but he obviously appears more comfortable when able to create time and space for himself and find the open man. It sometimes appears like he’s trying too hard to do the right thing when he’s in the pocket, like he’s remembering coaching points, rather than just playing.

The more reps Lance gets — whether in practice or in game situations — the more he tends to look comfortable, especially if he’s given the opportunity to get out of the pocket. He did that excellently on Thursday, running for two touchdowns, one of which was at the edge of the red zone.

On the whole, though, the running game didn’t get much going. There were, as mentioned above, plenty of pressures, and the defensive backs group left little operating space for receivers, negating any explosive plays. Additionally, Jaquiski Tartt, back for his second day of practice, made a couple nice run stops.

DeMeco Ryans described it as the “best” defensive practice of training camp, and that seems like a fair assessment.

Camp recollections

Here are some overarching themes/recollections of training camp:

  • Trey Lance has been impressive. He hasn’t been consistent, but you wouldn’t expect that from a 21-year-old who has played just one full year of football since high school and did so in the Missouri Valley Conference. He’s made plays almost every single day that caught your attention because they were plays only he is capable of making, at least regularly. He also cleaned up a lot of the exchange issues that plagued him early on in camp. Whether it’s from the start, in Week 7, some time down the road, it’s not going to take much convincing that he’s the guy, and that’s a massive thing to earn from this training camp. He’s going to play, and his arm talent, intelligence, and physical ability are all game-altering. He might not start immediately, but having observed him throughout camp, it feels unlikely that he won’t start this season.
  • Reclamation projects: It feels like it happened so early in camp that he’s since been forgotten about, but Mohamed Sanu is a valuable part of this roster. Depending on the situation, he is either the third or fourth receiver, along with Trent Sherfield, who might have had the best camp out of anyone. Those two guys have given a previously dire-for-depth receiving room teeth. Oh, and Dee Ford. He’s back. No one knows how long it will last, but his timing and first burst off the line of scrimmage is absolutely a problem. The 49ers are working on some very tricky things with him on some blitzes, too.
  • Standouts: Besides Sherfield, Kentavius Street, both tight ends in Ross Dwelley and Charlie WoernerJonas Griffith, Talanoa Hufanga have all had impressive camps.
    • If Street can translate his practice performance to the regular season, it’s going to be impossible for offensive lines to adequately deal with the 49ers’ defensive line rotation adequately.
    • Dwelley probably has the best hands on the team, and while he’s still a subpar blocker, he’s at least had moments that show you he’s worked to improve. And Woerner has gone from a kid who looked like he was just treading water to a valuable third tight end, both with receiving potential, and as someone who can be used in the run game. He’ll still have to prove he can hold his own in-line, but he’s improved significantly.
    • Jonas Griffith showed up everywhere in camp, making countless sideline-to-sideline tackles in both the run and pass game. He’s gotten work directly at MIKE linebacker as Fred Warner’s backup, and looks like he has to make this roster. He plays with crazy speed and force.
    • Talanoa Hufanga has definitely had rookie moments, sometimes taking the wrong angle or getting confused in coverage, but he absolutely has a nose for the ball, and in a way where he’s far more deliberate and less reckless than in the way Marcell Harris ball-hunts. He’s going to make a difference on this team, not just on special teams, and his one-handed interception stands out as maybe the most impressive play of camp.
    • That’s also just the under-the-radar guys. When on the field, both starting corners in Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley look outstanding, but they’ve rarely been on the field at the same time. Deebo Samuel has also had a stellar camp, and only missed one day due to injury. He’s been healthy, and that’s massive
  • Disappointments: Richie James Jr., Jalen Hurd and Aaron Banks are the more standout, well, non-standouts.
    • James Jr. just can’t seem to hold onto the ball. He also displayed pretty terrible body language after he couldn’t get open on a curl route on Thursday, and Lance threw the ball away over him. His hands are deeply unreliable, and it’s uncertain that he brings enough as a returner to warrant making the roster.
    • Hurd, meanwhile, has looked great on the approximately two days he’s been targeted in 11-on-11s, but is his knee tendinitis and lack of ever being fully healthy worth keeping him around? It’s always a point of note when he’s actually on the field.
    • The same goes for Banks, who really needed this camp to work out some of those rookie moments. There were plenty of those to be had, and a shoulder injury has kept him on the sidelines for most of camp.
    • There have been other disappointments, too, like Travis Benjamin and Nsimba Webster, but the expectations for them weren’t exceedingly high. Colton McKivitz also had a rough start to camp, but has improved as of late.
  • Things to be excited about: Regardless of how the quarterback situation pans out, this team has serious talent at every position.
    • Verrett has looked like his former All-Pro self
    • Fred Warner is the same, ridiculous, best-linebacker-in-the-game player he was last year, and commands the defense imperiously
    • George Kittle remains an offensive wrecking ball
    • Kyle Juszczyk, the best fullback in football, consistently creates mismatches, especially when split out wide
    • Jimmie Ward can cover any position on the field and directs traffic in the secondary
    • The defensive line is nonsensically talented, and deep, and will have some terrifying blitz packages
    • Trent Williams hasn’t been beat, at least not badly, since Anthony Zettel spun on him and then promptly, perhaps appropriately, retired
    • Raheem Mostert looks healthy and greatly improved as a receiver, and the running back room, even without Jeff Wilson Jr., is exceedingly deep
    • Brandon Aiyuk’s had a few drop issues, but has made some of the most ridiculous catches you’ll ever witness; he’s a clear No. 1 if he cleans that up, and Deebo Samuel, as mentioned has had a terrific, and healthy camp
    • Kyle Shanahan is still the head coach, and he finally has the quarterback he wants
  • The concerns:
    • Mike McGlinchey did not totally remove concerns about his ability in pass protection, and could definitely get targeted on that side.
    • Daniel Brunskill is the entire glue for the offensive line. He’s the backup at every position… and also the starting right guard, while Aaron Banks has barely played, and Jaylon Moore, who might be the backup swing tackle, is potentially better-suited on the interior.
    • Deommodore Lenoir has come on strong late in camp, but the 49ers have two corners who have missed a lot of time in their careers, and it’s counting on Lenoir and Ambry Thomas to back up those positions while also working in as special teamers for the first time.
    • It’s still unclear if there’s a comfortable second blocking tight end behind George Kittle. MyCole Pruitt was brought in to be that guy, but had two holding penalties in the second preseason game, and missed the majority of camp.
    • The big one: if the 49ers take the approach of trying to ease Lance into games in spot situations, there’s a chance he fails to get comfortable and loses confidence. If Garoppolo gets hurt, you then have a rookie quarterback, potentially in key, down-the-stretch games, who missed out on valuable early-season opportunities to start against easier teams, and who is now less sure of himself. Again, that’s worst case, but Lance is young, and has consistently looked better when he’s been able to get his feet under him over an extended period, just as you’d expect for someone lacking experience. We shall see how this all plays out.

Extra notes: Robbie Gould’s song, absences, Joe Staley

  • Absences from practice: Aaron Banks (shoulder), Maurice Hurst (ankle), Jauan Jennings (ankle, but in full jersey), Jason Verrett, Kai Nacua, Davontae Harris, and Jaylon Moore were all out. Moore is a new absence, and yet unexplained, along with Verrett, Nacua, and Harris. Azeez Al-Shaair practiced again with a right elbow brace, wearing a blue jersey normally used to indicate non-contact, but he practiced in full for the second-straight day.
  • Joe Staley was back at 49ers practice again, as he takes on a role with NBC Sports Bay Area (first reported by the Mercury News’ Cam Inman). His, uh, reporting chops, could use a little work.

  • Robbie Gould had the funniest moment of practice, and maybe of camp, when he came out to his own, self-entitled song, Robbie Gould, by Chicago-area rapper, Famous Dex. If there’s one player on this team who definitely has the intimidation factor to warrant their own song, it’s clearly the 38-year-old Gould.