The first week of training camp practices is underway for the 49ers, and the pads come out Monday. Until then, the offensive skill players get to shine with no fear of contact.
San Francisco’s quarterbacks and wide receivers have dominated the headlines this offseason, and training camp will be an important time for both units, along with the tight ends. Other units previewed include the defensive ends, defensive tackles, linebackers and defensive backs.
Ever since the 49ers traded up to the number three pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the quarterback position has been the target of plenty of debate and speculation. First it was over who San Francisco should draft, and since then it has been over who should start. While the saga will not technically be over until Jimmy Garoppolo is no longer on the roster, it was mostly settled by head coach Kyle Shanahan at the start of camp.
Shanahan stated that Trey Lance is the present and future of the 49ers. Jimmy Garoppolo, on the other hand, has likely practiced as a 49er for the last time. He is expected to land elsewhere before the season starts, via trade or release.
Behind Lance are last year’s practice squad quarterback Nate Sudfeld and seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy, who will compete for the backup spot. Sudfeld has the advantage of experience, and Purdy will likely end up replacing him on the practice squad while Sudfeld backs up Lance.
Lance will have an elite arsenal of weapons to throw to, but one in particular has been a question mark that has loomed over the summer.
When Deebo Samuel reportedly requested a trade before the draft, it was a gut punch for 49ers fans. Samuel was the engine that drove San Francisco’s offense in 2021, finishing with the second most scrimmage yards by a wide receiver in a season (including playoffs) in NFL history. Reports suggested that he requested a trade because he was dissatisfied with the contract offers he had received, and with his heavy usage as a running back out of the backfield.
A trade never came before the draft, and the relationship between player and team looks like it may be on the mend. General manager John Lynch said that he has made progress with Samuel’s agent on a long-term extension, and Shanahan said the two have had productive discussions about Samuel’s usage.
Brandon Aiyuk will be starting opposite Samuel, assuming the latter is a willing participant when the season begins. Aiyuk had an impressive rookie year in 2020 before a rough start in 2021 preceded a much stronger finish to the season. He could be primed for a breakout as one of Lance’s favorite targets.
Jauan Jennings is the favorite to start in the slot after emerging as a reliable third-down and end-zone target last season, but recently added return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud could push for snaps as an athletic and versatile piece in the offense.
Rookie speedster Danny Gray is another name to watch. Gray may need some time to develop before he gets consistent snaps, but he could be a big play threat who allows Lance to stretch the defense with his arm strength.
Free agent signings Marcus Johnson and Malik Turner will battle for the sixth and likely final receiver spot on the roster, with the young KeeSean Johnson, Austin Mack, Taysir Mack and Tay Martin nipping at their heels and competing for practice squad spots.
Superstar George Kittle headlines the tight end group as usual, and he will be tasked with heavy loads as both a blocker and a receiver. Recent backups Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley and Tanner Hudson will compete with converted wide receiver Jordan Matthews and free-agent signings Tyler Kroft and Troy Fumagalli to fill out the roster.
Week one prediction
QB: Trey Lance
WR: Deebo Samuel
WR: Brandon Aiyuk
SWR: Jauan Jennings
TE: George Kittle
QB: Nate Sudfeld
WR: Danny Gray
WR: Malik Turner
SWR: Ray-Ray McCloud
TE: Charlie Woerner
TE: Tyler Kroft