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49ers Training Camp: Position battles heating up

Day two of training camp is in the books. The San Francisco 49ers began practicing Saturday for the first time as a complete team. Sunday’s practice consisted of more of the same storylines as the day prior: fierce position battles all over the field.

The wide receiving core

The depth the 49ers have created at the wide receiver position has forced an early battle in camp for a limited amount of roster spots. Last season, the team broke camp with six active receivers for Week One in Minnesota. With the addition of Jalen Hurd, who may see time at multiple offensive positions, head coach Kyle Shanahan will have to decide how he’s going to stack his roster with the depth they’ve created. The team may stick with the normal six receiver stack, but there is a chance they decide to carry seven, with just two tight ends while using Hurd as a potential third-string tight end. Of course, this is all just speculation.

Speaking of Hurd, the rookie wide receiver was involved in not one, but two scuffles in practice. The first involved cornerback Dontae Johnson and was broken up quickly. It’s unclear who was involved in the second scuffle, but it resulted in a dogpile.

Shanahan said after practice that he wasn’t sure how the whole thing unfolded, adding:

“I don’t like guys fighting in practice — I don’t like punches being thrown. I like guys pissing each other off, I like guys competing, but I think real toughness is controlling it. … In practice, I like guys to get as close as possible to fighting, because that is the mentality of football, but it’s got to be a controlled aggression.”

With the roster as deep as it is, there will certainly be some difficult moves before final decisions are made. With Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin and Deebo Samuel all but guaranteed spots on the roster, the last few spots will be fought for until the end of camp. Players like Hurd, Kendrick Bourne, Trent Taylor, Jordan Matthews and Richie James Jr. are left to fight for roster spots. Of the receivers that will likely be fighting for roster spots, Taylor and Matthews have stood out the most early on in camp.

Who is Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup?

Whoever is backing up Jimmy Garoppolo is playing a very important position. They’re playing such an important position, that the 49ers are hoping they don’t have to see the field this year. Last year, after Garoppolo went down with a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs, both C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens started games for the team the remainder of the season. With Garoppolo healthy and a full-go for camp, the decision on who will back him up has not yet been made.

Shanahan has always liked Beathard, he’s the guy the 49ers traded up to draft in 2017. Despite being out-performed by Mullens last season, Beathard is still in the mix for the back-up job. Shanahan talked post-practice about how these early reps are no indicator of who is ranked where on the depth chart:

“I don’t even know who’s going with the one’s and two’s, I know (linebackers coach) Demeco (Ryans) is mixing them in, throwing them in for different periods. There’s a number of guys there, there’s going to be some competition.”

The defensive backfield

In 2018, the 49ers defensive backfield was one of the worst in the league. Their defense as a whole only had seven takeaways last year, which was worst in the league. There’s no question that the improved defensive line will wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and potentially force more turnovers, but what about the safeties and corners? The defensive backfield is arguably the area with the most question marks. Aside from Richard Sherman, nobody else has locked down a starting spot.

Sherman was spotted breaking up a pass from Garoppolo, but aside from that, there was not much action coming out of that defensive backfield. With competition underway between cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon, D.J. Reed, K’Waun Williams and others, as well as the safety competition with Adrian Colbert, Jimmie Ward, Antone Exum, Tarvarius Moore and Marcell Harris, the defensive backfield could feature any sort of combination at this point.

One player who was signed in the offseason was cornerback Jason Verrett. Coming off a torn Achilles last year, Verrette is finally healthy enough to participate in camp, a huge first step for a player who has battled injuries his entire career. Shanahan discussed the importance of not only the physical hurdle but also the mental hurdle:

I see a guy who’s getting his confidence back, Varrett has worked as hard as anyone. I went up to him in that period, because i didn’t get a chance to talk to him yesterday after practice. I went up and said ‘congratulations on getting through your first day, i know that was a mental hurdle for you,’ and he felt good about it and he was excited. I said ‘lets just take it day-by-day and we’ll get there.’ He’s feeling healthy, but i wanted to check on him and see what he’s feeling mentally. If a guy’s been hurt that much, coming back to this high-intensity, it’s not like he’s been playing pickup football at the YMCA the past few months, this is his first time playing football (since the injury).”

Another area of strength where players will compete for a spot on the roster is running back. The depth at running back has given the 49ers the opportunity to potentially deploy three startable backs throughout a game this season.

Sunday was the team’s last day without pads, which they will put on for the first time Monday. As the team looks to continue to get healthy, this first week of contact will be crucial for the final rehab of certain key players.

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