Brunskill is back with the first team, but this time at a new position
It’s important to note that defenses generally have an advantage during the early stages of camp, particularly while these practices are being conducted without pads on.
Having said that, for the second consecutive day, the 49ers‘ defense stole the show during the 11-on-11 portion of practice.
This is a unit that is returning the majority of its starters following a season that saw them finish as a top-five defense for the third consecutive year, and they look like a group that is poised to be even better in 2022.
The defensive line has been loaded with studs for years and has rightfully received the recognition that comes with being one of the most talented units in the entire NFL. But what has really separated this defense from years past is how elite the secondary has looked thus far.
Charvarius Ward, in particular, has flashed immense potential, looking every bit of the number one cornerback the 49ers signed him to be this past off-season. During the 11-on-11 portion of practice, Ward terrorized the first team receivers all morning long, making life extremely difficult for the first team offense as they tried to build a rapport in the passing game with a new quarterback under center.
A few plays, in particular, highlighted Ward’s chops on the boundary, including a play that saw him matched up one on one Jauan Jennings on the outside with Jennings running a vertical route up the right sideline.
Ward did a tremendous job of rerouting Jennings at the line of scrimmage and pinning Jennings to the sideline with a very small window to operate with. Trey Lance threw a good ball downfield to Jennings, but Ward was able to get a hand in at the catch point and fight through the ball to create a pass break up and negate what would have been an explosive play for the offense.
Ward also had a great rep against speedster Danny Gray, who has been stretching the field vertically with his blazing speed. Gray got deep down the middle of the field for what looked like it was going to be a huge gain, but Ward completely altered Gray’s path to the football without laying a finger on the receiver.
The real highlight of the day was the battles he had against Brandon Aiyuk, who has consistently looked like the best player on the offensive side of the ball, save for his reps against Ward. There were a couple of plays where Ward didn’t allow Aiyuk to get any kind of separation, forcing errant throws as Lance attempted to fit the balls in the tiny windows left by Ward’s savvy play.
On day two, Ward was the best player on the field on either side of the ball, and it was not particularly close either. It’s only the early stages of training camp, but right now, at this moment, the 49ers brass has to feel extremely confident with the contract they gave Ward and the talent he will bring to an already star-studded defense.
Here are a few other takeaways from my notes today.
Lance shaking off the rust
It was an up and down day for the 49ers signal caller, who finished the 11-on-11 portion of practice 6-14 with an interception. However, hold off on hitting the panic button because it felt like a situation where Lance is kind of working off the rust and just needs to get acclimated and get more comfortable in his first full season as the 49ers’ number one quarterback.
There were a handful of plays where the ball placement from Lance wasn’t ideal, including an interception thrown to Jimmie Ward. There were also a number of plays that really highlighted the upside of Lance and why the 49ers are so encouraged with moving forward with a quarterback they moved mountains to acquire.
To me, the only real issue with Lance in the bigger picture of Wednesday’s practice stems from a consistency standpoint, and the only way he will improve on that is with the reps he will continue to get over the coming weeks. It’s also important to remember that he is going against an extremely tough defense while playing behind a makeshift offensive line that is attempting to block a devastating pass rush without pads.
Brunskill taking 1st team reps at center
After Jake Brendel took snaps with the first team on day one, on day two, Brunskill was the center with the first team offense during the 11-on-11 portion of practice. I thought Brunskill looked extremely comfortable playing the position and solid throughout the team drill periods.
Brunskill has the ideal body type to play the position, a great ability to work to the second level in the run game, and a solid chunk of experience at the position after the work he received there in 2020. It feels like Brunskill is in the driver’s seat to replace the recently retired Alex Mack and start at center when week one rolled around.
Explosive young running backs
Rookie running back Tyrion Davis-Price showed an exceptional amount of burst with the football in his hands, and I can only begin to imagine what that acceleration will look like when he is bouncing through the holes created by this rushing attack once the regular season rolls around.
While Davis-Price had a solid day, I think that the most impressive running back of the day was undrafted free agent Jordan Mason. Mason looked explosive, strong, and decisive with his cuts during team drills. He looked every bit the part of a back that Shanahan would fall in love with, and when you add in the value he potentially brings on special teams, I think there is a very legitimate chance that he ends up making the final 53-man roster due to the versatility he brings.
Before I wrap this up, I also wanted to shout out Maurice Hurst, who had a very strong showing Wednesday while rushing the passer on the interior of the defensive line, including a sack against the first team offense during 11 on 11’s. Hurst is a proven veteran who has a very strong case to make the final roster, and if he plays like he did today over the next couple of weeks, I’m not sure how the 49ers can not include him in their plans for 2021.