Here’s what happened on the field
Earlier today, we spoke about the two highlights from practice: Jimmy Garoppolo throwing the ball down the field, Brandon Aiyuk, and Fred Warner headlining UFC 278.
A day full of subs
A few maintenance days and key starters opened the door for the youth to earn some reps on the first team. Ka’dar Hollman, a newcomer who appeared in seven games with the Packers last year, was the initial cornerback in place of Charvarius Ward.
Jaylon Moore was the right tackle for Mike McGlinchey. I noticed Ray-Ray McCloud wasn’t practicing. His replacement? This player is named Deebo Samuel.
So much for easing Deebo back in, as he took plenty of reps with the first and second team. The pass breakups that were to McCloud are contested catches that Samuel hangs onto. Talanoa Hufanga found that out the hard way.
The center/right guard combo of Jake Brendel and Spencer Burford continued Tuesday. The coaching staff praised Daniel Brunskill with every opportunity over the past year and a half. Because of that, I thought they’d find a role for Brunskill. He’s rotated occasionally at center with the starters, but it appears to be Brendel’s job to lose.
The tale at tailback
Ty Davis-Price worked with the starters for the first time. He fumbled a toss on one play and ran up the back of his receiver, omitting an open running lane on another. It wasn’t a great day for the rookie as he continues to adjust to the speed at the NFL Level.
Elijah Mitchell had an impressive blitz pickup on third down. The 49ers still need to figure out their third-down back situation. They have options. Trey Sermon might be the best. He looks good. Sermon looks like a no-nonsense runner. He also is the back who looks the most comfortable catching passes out of the backfield.
Running backs coach Anthony Lynn has been harping on improving in the open field during individual drills. It seems like each running back is looking for a cutback before it’s there. Mitchell is RB1, but if you had no idea who the starter was, you’d think it’s a different player each practice.
Both Sermon and UDFA rookie Jordan Mason ran over defenders. Removing the names on the backs of the jerseys, they’ve impressed the most throughout camp. But we’ll see if that changes when the defense can tackle you.
Bombs away to Gray
Aiyuk should have had another reception had Trey Lance not missed him with an errant throw. On one of the final plays of practice, Aiyuk plucked a high-velocity Lance pass out of mid-air with his go-go gadget arms. He’s an impressive wideout.
I mentioned above the difference Samuel makes. If Deebo is the threat underneath and over the intermediate part of the field, Brandon Aiyuk has made his living outside of the hashes.
Malik Turner would be my guess to win the final receiver spot. They view him as the “jump ball” receiver based on his usage. The offense has thrown strictly fade routes to Turner, who has had plenty of success. I found it particularly interesting during Monday’s practice; they threw Turner a fade with the starters on the first play in the red zone period.
It was Danny Gray’s day, as he flew by whoever was covering him all day. Gray won a couple of reps on go-balls in 1-on-1s, and that carried over to the team periods, where he torched Ambry Thomas down the sideline. That’s becoming a theme for Ambry, who has had a rough go at it through six days.
There were so many would-be sacks that it’s impossible to keep track of Lance’s stats. I had him 9-for-16. Lance’s positives and areas of improvement are consistent.
When pressured, which has been often, Lance continues to stand tall in the pocket, slide when he has to, and look to make a throw. He’s not afraid to fit the ball into a tight window and aggressively pushes the ball down the field.
There are still reps where Lance sprays the ball and misses his target. Having a consistent platform helps. It’s encouraging he’s having success against the 49ers’ defense the more he plays.
They’re a tough unit that has continually dominated the line of scrimmage during camp. Lance had a batted pass, which is a sign he was looking at his target for too long. That’ll happen, then he’ll uncork a throw down the sideline.
He’s not there yet, but you can see why Kyle Shanahan invested as much as he did in Lance, who is a unique talent. I struggle to separate how much of Lance’s perceived issues are permanent or whether it’s due to going against a defense that knows what’s coming.
Luckily, that’s a question that’ll answer itself in 2022.