With a week of practice under it’s belt, the 2014 version of the San Francisco 49ers has already seen the fruits of perhaps it’s deepest roster since Jim Harbaugh became coach in 2011. The easy thing to do at this time of year is read way too much into the happenings at practice while starters and reserves get (roughly) equal shares of playing time and practice reps. But hey, it’s the NFL, which stands for “Fans Overreatcing in July League” - or - “Please Give Me Football Now That I Know LeBron James is Going Back to Cleveland League.”
Now that we have a week-long sample of dress rehearsals and sun burn, let’s dive into it. Because after next week, us meddling writers will no longer have access to the entirety of the team’s practices, which couldn’t make Trent Baalke any happier. Here's your stock watch from the first week of camp.
Gone are the days of Summer 2013 when Marlon Moore and Chad Hall were Kaepernick, Boldin and Vernon Davis’ supporting cast in a passing game that was a struggle for most of the regular season. The additions of Lloyd, Johnson and a healthy Crabtree have pepped things up significantly for Kaepernick as he looks to take big developmental steps as a pocket passer in 2014. Lloyd has brought his quirky film room habits and keen route running to the group while looking like he didn’t spend last season out of the league. Patton doesn’t have a broken hand (or foot) this time around which is allowing him to show signs of promise as a long-term option for a receiving corps that isn’t the youngest out there. And don’t sleep on Reed, who has made a number of impressive catches while he pushes Chuck Jacobs for his presumed spot on the practice squad.
The 49ers have lost Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, sure. But Gore and Hyde don’t appear too down about it in their play. In the early going both look poised to continue the 49ers’ time honored tradition of telling defenses “we both know we’re running the ball, and it’s going to work anyway.” Hyde continues to look like a great fit for the offense and has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, which could be vital in his role as No. 2 behind No. 21.
Looney looks more and more like a starting guard in the NFL. But that’s easy for us to say given defenders aren’t actually allowed to hit anyone with any force yet. Alex Boone’s holdout could be the best thing to happen to the former fourth-round pick since… ever? Starting jobs in the NFL aren’t easy to come by and it looks like Looney is being gifted his. Thanks, Alex! As for Snyder, the veteran, he looked like he would have a hard time making the roster with Boone around. But now he seems primed to play the role of the versatile backup.
Holdouts aren’t the most popular things in the world, but it’s going to work for Boone, unless he caves. Not only does he get to miss perhaps the most laborious time of the year, but it’s becoming more evident by the day that a trade to another team is the end game for this scenario. The 49ers like Looney (and their cap space) enough to maintain their stance and wouldn’t have any problem with getting a future draft pick for Boone’s services should he remain away. There are plenty of teams in need of upgrades along the offensive line. And a key to remember is Boone can play the more glamorous and lucrative position of tackle, which could allow him to get the raise he’s looking for elsewhere. Unless something Earth-shattering happened to Joe Staley or Anthony Davis, Boone doesn’t have a chance at getting tackle money in San Francisco.
Ray McDonald and Justin Smith are allowed to take their sweet time getting back to the practice field with the regular season still over a month away. Their absences have allowed for Carradine and Dial to get a volume of reps with the first two units and both have looked promising. Dial looks like he has the makings of a quality run stuffer while Carradine brings pass rushing explosion to a defense that’s relied far more on outside rushers to get to the quarterback. Look for Tank to get a lot of work in nickel situations this season. As for Okoye, there are still times when he looks like he’s playing checkers and not chess. But he’s also shown physical flashes that make you wonder if another team is dying for the opportunity to pluck him away from the 49ers as they try and land him on the practice squad. Watching the former Olympian cover kickoffs might be worth the price of preseason admission. Well, maybe the price of admission at Candlestick.
All his off-the-field troubles aside, Smith has been the team’s best player in camp and it isn’t close. You can bet the 49ers are hoping with everything they have his looming suspension doesn’t bite too hard. This is the 2012 version and then some. As for Brooks, he’s been no stranger to meeting Smith in the backfield so far.
Cox is having a nice camp showing he can play both outside and inside. And as one of the three veterans of the group that have been in the system, he could play an important role this season whether it’s on the field or grooming Ward at the nickel position. As for the rookie, he’s exhibiting the ball hawk tendencies that made his college tape fun to watch. He looks like he’s relishing the challenges of learning arguably the defense’s toughest position to play.
Yes, they’re coming off injuries. But there isn’t a player in the league who would turn down the chance to have a starting job without having to participate in the first week of training camp. Just the other day I saw Smith lying on a beach chair getting fanned and fed grapes by Jim Tomsula during special teams drills. Ok, they were protein bars. But still.
You would think given the fact the 49ers did so much work in the offseason to address the receiving corps Baldwin would be in the best shape of his life battling to prolong his football career. But that hasn’t been the case so far in camp. In fairness, it’s unclear how much his offseason injury was/is hindering him. As for Ellington, it appears safe to read into Harbuagh’s comments about his “basketball-type” ankle injury he had while away from the team. I asked Harbaugh about Ellington this week, and instead of his typical praise heaping Harbaugh was pretty short about his new receiver. Ellington has looked good during practice, but from the outside it doesn’t look like his head coach was thrilled about his ankle injury that kept him out of the first few days of camp.
Maybe it’s because he’s gotten a number of his reps against Brooks and Smith. And maybe he’s still not physically 100 percent after having mononucleosis in the spring. But Martin has been rough around the edges so far in practice while working with the starters at right tackle with Davis out. However, we’re just a week in and there’s plenty of time for Martin to turn his play around.
Neither rookie has practiced, although they did begin stretching and doing individual drills with the team Thursday. If Martin is competing with Kilgore for the starting center job, he’s certainly well behind in the early going. Lynch is one of the roster’s biggest wild cards. Should he turn back into what he was at Notre Dame, he could vie for some playing time. Otherwise, his roster spot could go to any number of worthy candidates. Lynch has to get on the field.
Lattimore says he’s all the way back from his knee and hamstring injuries. The coach says there are still physical hurdles to overcome. The general manager says he has to get back to having 100 percent confidence mentally. There seems to be a disconnect there and no timetable for his return to practice has been given.
Dobbs has missed practice over the last two days with an undisclosed injury. Meanwhile Carradine and Dial are putting some heat on him for his roster spot. Dobbs was working with the first team in McDonald and Smith’s absence while he was healthy, but could be in danger of getting usurped. After undergoing four surgeries on his broken ankle since the injury, Williams doesn’t look like a player close to returning to action any time soon. Injuries are the worst.
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