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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

PFF names QB among three 49ers training camp battles to watch

Jul 21, 2021 at 7:04 AM--

It's almost too easy to name the quarterback competition among the upcoming San Francisco 49ers training camp battles to watch. With players set to report to the team's facilities in Santa Clara next week, a lot of eyes will be focused on observing the progress of the No. 3 overall pick — quarterback Trey Lance.

Should it be among the most intriguing competitions, though? San Francisco's brass has repeatedly stated that Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to be the starter come Week 1. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has a lot of confidence in his veteran quarterback. His availability, not his ability, has always been the concern.

That doesn't mean the rookie won't try to prove himself a quick study and unseat Garoppolo.

"I definitely see it as Jimmy's the starter," Shanahan said last month. "But if Trey's ready to compete, I have no problem with it. ... But like I kind of said before this happened, it'd be really hard for any rookie quarterback. Jimmy is a very good player. He's not just coming in trying to beat out a guy who hasn't done it before. When Jimmy's played, he's played at a very high level."

Any time you have a highly-drafted quarterback enter the mix, that storyline will dominate everything else. The 49ers' situation, despite having an established starter, is no different. That's why Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus lists quarterback among the three 49ers training camp battles to keep an eye on.

"[Lance's] athleticism and success in the designed run game at North Dakota State open up additional possibilities for Kyle Shanahan as a play-caller — a point going in Lance's favor," wrote Linsey. "However, San Francisco may decide that it wants to take things slowly with Lance, who averaged just 18 pass attempts per game in his lone starting season against FCS competition. The 49ers offense ranked seventh in expected points added per play with Garoppolo at the helm in 2019. He's capable of success with a strong supporting cast."

Another battle to watch is at wide receiver. Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, two young breakout stars, are expected to be the starting wideouts when the 49ers take the field against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on September 12. The third receiver role, however, is up for grabs.

"It feels like a long time ago that [Mohamed Sanu] was traded for a second-round pick," wrote Linsey. "He may no longer look like the guy who warranted that kind of return back in 2019, but he does appear to have a good opportunity to fill the void left by Kendrick Bourne's departure, having reunited with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco.

"[Jauan Jennings] is an intriguing candidate to earn a role on this offense, as well. The seventh-round selection in 2020 didn't see any playing time as a rookie, thanks in part to a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve. But he projected as a good fit in San Francisco's offense after forcing 30 missed tackles after the catch in his final season at Tennessee."

Lastly, Linsey feels the one-technique along the interior of the defensive line could be a battle worth watching. D.J. Jones is the established starter. However, one of the 49ers' most under-the-radar offseason additions might be the signing of Zach Kerr.

"Jones has manned this role for San Francisco the past few years, and the 49ers decided to bring him back on a one-year deal to compete for the job again in 2021," wrote Linsey. "But Kerr, another free agent signing, represents legitimate competition for the job. He's coming off a career-high 84.1 PFF grade on the Carolina Panthers' defensive line in 2020. Kerr has earned grades of at least 70.0 against the run in five of the last six seasons — a threshold that Jones has yet to clear in his four-year career."

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