The San Francisco 49ers play football in just 20 short days from now, can you believe it? Football season crept up on us, and it’s about to be in full-swing.
Starting Monday, August 17, the 49ers put on the pads for the first time in training camp. There were plenty of storylines out of 49ers camp this past week. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Here’s what happened.
Let’s get it out of the way first – the ugly
Injures, and plenty of them. It’s not uncommon, it’s not surprising, but it is unfortunate. The 49ers are banged up right now, and key players are in doubt for Week 1 on September 13.
- The worst injury news out of camp was a torn ACL for second-year wide receiver Jalen Hurd. He missed all of the 2019 season due to a back injury, and now will miss a second consecutive season. Hurd was expected to carve out a significant role in Kyle Shanahan’s offense this season. The do-it-all offensive weapon was an exciting piece for this offense, and now they will have to wait until 2021.
Shanahan had this to say about Hurd’s injury:
“It’s a pretty unfortunate thing for him. We know what he went through last year with his back. The guy’s worked as hard as anyone on our team to get back. For him to get hurt before he actually got to go out there, just a freak thing on air, cutting. Really feel bad for the guy, but he will be back next year.”
- Offensive line depth is one of the most important needs of any team. Last season the 49ers lost multiple offensive linemen to injury and got by with the depth they created.
One of those potential depth pieces on the offensive line went down with an injury in Sunday’s practice. Rookie guard Ross Reynolds suffered an injury in the team’s 11-on-11 drills and had to be carted off the field, while teammates came up to him to show their support.
- Center Ben Garland suffered an ankle injury early in the week. With starting center Weston Richburg expected to miss a third of the season, the 49ers cannot afford to lose any more centers. Shanahan is optimistic that Garland can return for Week 1.
- The 49ers signed former Pro-Bowl tight end Jordan Reed on August 9. Reed, the oft-injured tight end could be a very exciting compliment to George Kittle. When healthy, Reed has been one of the game’s best tight ends. Unfortunately, he has yet to participate in any contact drills.
When Reed did not participate in the first day of padded practice, Shanahan gave an explanation:
“We were being smart with Jordan, very similar to Hurd. Jordan hasn’t been here very long. We do know his history and he just hasn’t been here as long as the other guys, so we eased him in today, routes on air did all the individual work, but we didn’t want him going against anyone yet. We’ll reassess that each day and we’ll get him in there when we’re comfortable with it.”
With the season quickly approaching, it’s not a good sign that Reed hasn’t participated in a full weeks worth of padded practice.
- Rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, another 49ers pass-catcher, suffered an apparent injury in Sunday’s 11-on-11 drills. He had a phenomenal practice that day before he appeared to injure his hamstring on a deep pass down the sideline. He immediately removed himself and was sidelined the rest of practice as trainers tended to him on the sideline.
There are no updates on Aiyuk as of now, but Shanahan will meet with the media after Tuesday’s practice. But for now, any injury to any remaining 49ers receiver is bad news.
- The first of the 49ers two first-round draft picks this year was defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw, who they drafted to replace DeForest Buckner. The rookie had very high praise coming into camp but has struggled so far.
That assessment comes from Kinlaw himself:
“I’d be lying if I thought it was good, but I’m making improvements, that’s the main thing. Just get better day by day, that’s it. I come in and I’m looking and I’m like, ‘Dang, I’m the biggest guy,’ but just because I’m big, that doesn’t really mean nothing because everybody is strong, everybody is big. It’s all about technique for me now.’
- Aside from Aiyuk’s potential injury, the rookie wide receiver has had a great training camp thus far. First-year receivers rarely play to their full-potential in year one. Shanahan’s offense is very complicated, and it usually takes a rookie receiver — Deebo Samuel for example — at least half the season, to a full season to take on that starting job.
Now take away rookie mini-camp, OTA’s and the fact that Aiyuk has had to learn the playbook over Zoom, and development becomes more difficult. Fortunately for the 49ers, Aiyuk has looked great. He’s been a popular target of all three quarterbacks, and has come down with plenty of catches this past week. He’s developing quickly.
Shanahan gave his assessment of Aiyuk, and his reps with the first-team offense:
“He’s got the ability and he’s worked hard from a mental standpoint, so he’s earned some reps there. He hasn’t been going with him all the time. For the most part, our guys have been pretty interchangeable. Right now, the ones and twos are blending a ton together, but Brandon’s still got a lot to learn, a lot to go, but these practices are huge for a rookie like that. We’re expecting him to play a lot this year, just like we were expecting Deebo and [WR] Jalen [Hurd] last year. When it’s that way, you’ve got a lot of pressure on you, so you can’t miss a day or you get behind and he’s doing that both mentally and physically.”
- Could it finally be happening? Jerick McKinnon is on track to play for the 49ers in a regular-season game for the first time since signing with the team in 2018. Not only that, but he’s looked really good in camp so far.
McKinnon garnered plenty of praise as an offensive weapon when he signed. The pass-catching running back was supposed to carve out a big role in the offense the previous two years before going down with injuries before each season.
This past week he’s looked explosive, dynamic, and versatile out of the 49ers backfield. So far, Shanahan is pleased with the work he’s seen from McKinnon and cautiously optimistic:
“[Jerick McKinnon] always been as hard of a worker as there is, he came in as prepared as anyone could be. My only worry about Jet is sometimes he might overdo it because that’s how hard he works. The good thing for Jet is, we’ve been through this twice with him and when he came back last year with it, trying to get him back and he’d get out there and try to work through it, you could tell it just didn’t heal right and then he had to go through all that stuff again. It’s still the first day, the first step, but you can tell that it healed right and you can tell Jet’s put that work in and you feel all this that he’s gone through in the last two years. I feel he’s finally in a position where he has a chance to have this comeback now and everyone’s pulling for him. He’s as good of a guy there is on our team and he had a real good first day of practice.”
- 2019 was a season to forget for third-year wide receiver Dante Pettis. After a promising rookie season, Pettis was nowhere to be found in the 49ers offense. He was so deep into Shanahan’s doghouse that he didn’t even suit up for the Super Bowl at the end of the season.
This season though, Pettis arrived to camp with a fresh mindset, and a few pounds added to his frame. He’s looked good so far, and the hard work he put in during the ofseason is showing.
Pettis spoke honestly about his motivation for the upcoming season after his very disappointing season in 2019:
“If that doesn’t change the way someone approaches the offseason, they don’t really want to be in the NFL. There’s not too many things worse than that, football-wise, that could get you going — being inactive for the Super Bowl. That was kind of like the final straw, you could say.”
Shanahan explained how his coaching may have fallen on deaf ears last season:
“Dante and I had a pretty good talk when he came back. He wanted to talk and it was pretty cool hearing him tell me some of that stuff that I think he shared with you guys yesterday. Even when he said stuff like, ‘I thought I was accepting coaching,’ and stuff. But then, when I sit back and look at it, sometimes you realize you take things personally and you don’t totally hear it all. There’s a two-way street on that. Our goal in everything is to get a guy better and there’s thousands of ways we can do that. You better not do the same thing with each person. I knew Dante came in a little bit behind last year and I tried everything I could to try to get that fire and I didn’t get that done last year with him.”
- The 49ers signed oft-injured, veteran cornerback Jason Verrett last season with high hopes for the former Pro Bowler. His role with the team last season was non-existent due to injury, but so far he’s looked pretty decent in training camp.
- My favorite player to watch so far has been wide receiver Trent Taylor. In 2017, Taylor Was Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite target by far. He hasn’t played much since then, and even missed all of last season with a foot injury. This year, Taylor has had a great camp and looks like that go-to target from 2017.
- In my opinion, it’s impossible to replace Joe Staley with a better offensive lineman than Trent Williams. The former Washington Football Team left tackle was acquired by the 49ers during the NFL Draft to replace the now-retired Staley.
So far he’s been worth the price, and then some. Watching him from the sideline, you can tell that he is a man amongst boys. Even Nick Bosa has struggled against him, and Bosa rarely struggles against any offensive lineman.
Garoppolo is in very, very good hands at the left tackle position.