Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Some 49ers rookies at a disadvantage thanks to abnormal offseason, says Kyle Shanahan

Jun 4, 2020 at 4:58 PM--

Every year, undrafted free agent rookies face the daunting uphill battle to make NFL rosters. They have to prove themselves from the moment they are signed, or their pro football careers could be short-lived.

This year's offseason is no different. It does, however, present new, unexpected hurdles for the latest crop of rookies, like running back JaMycal Hasty. He is among 10 first-year players signed by the San Francisco 49ers since the draft.

This is no ordinary offseason. Hasty and his rookie teammates haven't had an opportunity to make their case on the practice field. That's because the COVID-19 pandemic has limited NFL team activities to virtual meetings with no on-field or in-person activities allowed.

That is a significant disadvantage for any new player, especially an undrafted rookie, trying to make a roster as deep as the one the defending NFC Champions have.

"Yeah, it will definitely have a huge effect on them," head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Thursday while speaking via a video conference. "It'll affect each guy a little differently depending on what their makeup is, but we're over meeting. We don't have a lot to do. I can't go to a restaurant, can't go anywhere. Our position coaches are the same thing. Rookies, we're allowed to meet with more than just eight to 12. Those guys have gotten more meeting hours than are possible.

"I mean, you only can get so much, but it gets to a certain time where, yeah, they can almost coach the route because that's what we're doing, but then they've got to go apply it on the field. We need to see them do that. We need to film it. We need to come back in and watch how they move. Like, 'Alright, I'm articulating it this way, but obviously you're running it this way, so you're hearing it different.' That's just coaching, and that's what we're working through, and our rookies don't get any of that."

Rookies like Hasty are making an impression by asking as many questions as they can during their online sessions with coaches. They are trying to absorb as much information as possible so that when they do get onto the practice field, hopefully, during training camp in a little under a couple of months, proving themselves becomes a whole lot easier.

Of course, thinking you know the information and proving you do are two completely different things.

"They might think they have it, and they're going to get to camp, and they're not even close," Shanahan continued. "The problem is, you usually work that stuff out in OTAs and stuff, and then the rookies get away for 40 days, and they have a chance, when they come back to training camp, to make the team.

"Where I'm still worried about guys now is how do you make the team in training camp when you're on the bubble, and it's going to take you three weeks to figure it out? Well, you only have one week left, and now earn it. So, those are the guys that I worry about a lot more, but this is how it used to be with the (college) quarter system. We didn't get Solomon (Thomas) and Kendrick Bourne our first year until training camp. They were allowed to come to a minicamp, so they got two days of practice, but that was it.

"It always sets guys back, and then some guys, just the way they think, the way they learn, the way they work, it doesn't affect at all. Very few of them, but that's what we'll find out what our guys when we get to camp."

The 49ers' leading rusher last season, Raheem Mostert, entered the league as an undrafted free agent. He knows all about the uphill battle that these players would face even during a typical offseason and recently expressed concern about the predicament they find themselves in this year.

"Right now, especially for the guys that are undrafted, it's a critical time to get their careers started," Mostert said last month. "And it's sad that we're going through this pandemic, but one thing that I would like to mention to everyone is we've all got to stay positive. There's always going to be brighter days, no matter what. There's always light at the end of the tunnel."

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