The offseason will be coming to a close soon for the San Francisco 49ers as the rookies are set to report to training camp on July 19th, and the veterans are set to report on July 24th.
There are some new faces in Santa Clara and it will be exciting seeing how they are able to mix in with the returning players.
The wide receivers will be the most interesting group to watch, in my opinion.
Michael Crabtree’s achilles injury left some big shoes to be filled. Anquan Boldin will be the main option to fill in the gap. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams may not be ready for the start of training camp. All of this puts a huge spotlight on a rather unexperienced group of receivers in A.J. Jenkins, Ricardo Lockette and the rookie Quinton Patton. Someone will need to make their mark in camp.
“We’re excited for the young receivers that we have,” said head coach Jim Harbaugh. “Really feel that somebody’s going to emerge there because they have to. And competition will create that. We’ll look forward to watching that.”
Jenkins and Patton have been rather impressive in organized team activities. Donte Whitner actually called Jenkins the most impressive young player that he has seen during OTAs. According to Jenkins, he has added eight pounds to his slender frame and is ready to go across the middle if he needs to. To me, Jenkins is the most logical fit at the X position. Be on the lookout for how he does any time that he faces with press coverage.
I will be at training camp during the first week of August and I will keep a close eye on Jenkins, especially in one-on-one situations. It will be crucial for him to develop the ability to get off the line of scrimmage without getting jammed. He will face some press coverage during the season as teams try to force him to prove that he can get his release without having the timing of his route disrupted.
The development of Patton will be another thing to watch for in training camp. Last year, Jenkins had some trouble grasping the playbook which led to a season with limited action on gameday. Patton will need to progress fast if he plans on grabbing a spot in the receiver rotation. During the preseason games, be sure to look at whether or not he has to be directed where to line up once they break the huddle. Watch his interaction with the quarterback. An easy way to tell that a player is struggling to learn the playbook is when he lines up at the wrong spot and the quarterback has to get him in the right spot.
Also watch how he and the quarterback talk after plays. Patton will be running with the second/third teams. That means he will have Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien or B.J. Daniels as his quarterback. McCoy will surely let him know when he doesn’t run the right route, especially if it results in an interception. I actually feel that Patton will challenge for time in the slot and at the Z position. He is a very polished and sure handed receiver that has drawn comparisons to Reggie Wayne and Chad Johnson because of how well he runs routes.
Lockette is still the wildcard. He was world class speed and has transferred that to the football field. He already has a 44-yard touchdown against the 49ers and a 61 yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. He is the classic field stretching receiver that could be a threat from the outside.
Nnamdi Asogmuha will make his return to the Bay Area when he reports to camp. Many fans have felt that the secondary needed some help and he could be just the answer. It will be important to watch and see how he sticks with receivers, especially during double moves. He has reportedly lost a step, but will that prevent him from returning to the premier press cover corner back that he once was? He will get the opportunity to press some in the 49ers defense.
One thing that was evident when Nnamdi was with the Philadelphia Eagles was his loss of confidence. That will be something that he should get back after being in a winning atmosphere like the 49ers. Watch his demeanor during interviews and how he carries himself during practices. He did not blend well with his Eagle teammates, but that will need to change in San Francisco if he is to succeed.
That confidence will also be a thing to watch for during the preseason games. Does he walk around with his shoulders slumped and head down after a play doesn’t go right or does he shake it off and get ready to make something happen on the next play? Be on the lookout for small things such as how he lines up against receivers. Does he give them a large cushion or get right up in their face and jam them at the line of scrimmage? These are things to watch for.
An injury to Kendall Hunter caused LaMichael James to be rushed into action. Hunter is reportedly ready to start training camp already. Watch how he cuts and how smooth his change of direction is at camp. This will be a good indicator of how well he has recovered from the injury.
Before he got hurt, Hunter was an explosive back. It will be interesting seeing if he can still hit the holes as suddenly as he did pre-injury. Hunter will be a large part of the running back rotation so let’s take note of how many reps he gets during training camp and at preseason games.
Tank Carradine will be working his way back from injury as well. I am curious how soon he will be at full speed and how he will do in individual drills against the 49ers’ offensive linemen. Carradine was one of the top defensive linemen in the NCAA prior to his injury.
The 49ers used a lot of 12 personnel (two tight end sets) last year with Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis. Vance McDonald will take the place of Walker. Pay attention to how often the 49ers use double tight end sets during training camp and preseason games. McDonald was selected because of his ability to be effective in an offense like the 49ers. He played a lot of pistol while at Rice Univeristy.
The most intriguing and influential part of camp will be how quickly Eric Reid takes his place as a starter on this football team. Craig Dahl was signed to compete with Reid, but if Reid doesn’t win the starting job, something is really wrong. The 49ers traded up 13 spots to draft Reid because they expect him to start soon.
Take a close look at how he picks up the defense and how soon he works exclusively with the first unit. It will be important for him to get his chemistry down with rest of the secondary. He will need to get as many reps as possible with the first team.
There are many things to watch for in training camp this year. New faces and developing players will be the focus. As always, Jim Harbaugh will have competition at every position. Hopefully the work that these players put in now will contribute towards a Super Bowl season for the 49ers.