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10 49ers Training Camp Observations (Non-Quarterback Edition)

Marc Adams
Aug 5, 2021 at 1:45 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers are off today. Practice resumes tomorrow. As is always the case, I won't be there. For starters, the Chicago to Santa Clara commute is a little too time-consuming. And then there's the whole "protesting Jim Tomsula's hiring" incident. So I have to rely on those who are actually allowed within 100 yards of Levi's Stadium to give me information. From all the people I have read and listened to, here are ten training camp observations. I'll omit any quarterback talk, since you all appear to be tired of hearing about Nate Sudfeld and Josh Rosen.

1. The defensive line is deep...real deep.
Last season that depth was tested. It could happen again, but for now, this is still the strongest part of the team. With Nick Bosa and Dee Ford (more on him below) returning, and appearing to be healthy, the 49ers edge rush will again be a force. Samson Ebukam and Arden Key have also impressed in camp. If either one of them can reach their potential, the 49ers front office will look brilliant for bringing them in, and these edge rushers will terrorize opposing quarterbacks. I have also read good things about Arik Armstead. If he can return to 2019 form, the pass rush will be dominant on the edge and on the interior.

The interior line is strong, and perhaps even deeper than the edge. D.J. Jones has looked good in camp, and is always disruptive when he is healthy. Javon Kinlaw has flashed, but he has also missed some time due to swelling in his knee. I am hearing great things about Kentavius Street, Zach Kerr and Kevin Givens. And let's not forget about Maurice Hurst. This defensive line is really stacked.

2. The offensive line is much improved.
From all accounts, Alex Mack has been terrific. The 49ers hope he can be what he was in Atlanta, a consistent, stabilizing signal-caller in the middle of the line. If he stays healthy, he will no doubt be the team's best free agent pickup. Mike McGlinchey has added some bulk and has looked good in camp. Writers have commented on his physical improvement, as well as his mental improvement. Trent Williams is Trent Williams. He throws grown men for a living. Laken Tomlinson will be fine at left guard. What happens at right guard is still up in the air. Rookie Aaron Banks is still taking second-team reps. He's still learning and is having to do some things he didn't do in college. If he can't take over the starting job, Daniel Brunskill will be just fine there.

3. The running back group will be the best of the Kyle Shanahan era.
Trey Sermon instantly makes this group better. He makes Raheem Mostert better. Sermon brings a combination of power, vision and speed that is different from what the other running backs offer. Fellow rookie, Elijah Mitchell has been turning heads, as well. In fact, one observer mentioned that Mitchell may end up being the best of the bunch. Jeff Wilson, Jr. will return at some point in the season. And let's not sleep on Wayne Gallman. This unit is really good, and has more depth than in seasons past.

4. The wide receiver group could be the best of the Kyle Shanahan era.
Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are a great pair of starting receivers. But the question coming in to training camp was who, if anyone, would step up to be a solid number three. Just over a week and a half into camp, no one has really shown that he is the one. There have been many reports about how Mohamed Sanu looks really good, and is probably the leader for that spot. He's healthier, and as a result, quicker than he has been for a couple of years. So he has performed well so far. A lot has been written about Trent Sherfield (more on him below), as well. Then there's fan favorite, Jalen Hurd, who we'll discuss below. There's Travis Benjamin and Jauan Jennings, too. None has separated himself. There is a chance this group, behind Samuel and Aiyuk, could be terrible. But I also think there is good depth, and the potential to have more production from this unit than we've seen from any other wide receiver group Shanahan has had in San Francisco.

5. Ross Dwelley is becoming a receiving threat at tight end.
I've been hard on Ross Dwelley so far. I know Shanahan wants a second tight end who can be a threat in the pass game, to compliment George Kittle. Up to this point, Dwelley has not been that player. But everything I have read about him lately suggests he might be developing into that player. I'll withhold my verdict for a few more months, but it's encouraging to hear he is making some great catches, consistently. Shanahan actually said recently that Dwelley "has the best hands on the team." That would be a great development if it's true.

6. Tavon Wilson may start at safety.
Jaquiski Tartt is the starter, as far as we know. But he has missed all of training camp so far. And he has a history of injuries. In his absence, I expected Tony Jefferson to take over and potentially become the starter. But instead, it's been Tavon Wilson, who has impressed. From what I'm hearing and reading, it is possible he could unseat Tartt. This would certainly be a surprise, but players, coaches and media have raved about Wilson so far. Keep an eye on this position battle.

7. Cornerback is scary thin.
Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley are the starters on the outside, with K'Waun Williams in the slot. The 49ers are solid at corner with these three players. But beyond them, it gets scary. The team has high hopes for rookies Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir, but neither seems ready yet. With Moseley having missed all of training camp so far, no one has stepped up in his place. The rest of the cornerbacks are players you probably don't know, or would prefer not to know. This is the one unit that cannot afford injuries.

8. Dee Ford may actually play.
Dee Ford missed most of last season with a back injury, an injury he has dealt with for some time. Most of us thought he wouldn't be on the team this season. Some believed he would retire. But earlier in the summer, we heard rumblings and rumors that he was ready to go. And so far, in training camp, he has looked ready. He has been in full pads, has participated in team drills and individual drills. He looks quick and he looks healthy. This is great news for the 49ers.

9. Jalen Hurd may actually not play.
Jalen Hurd. Just the mention of his name in a tweet, a post or a news item, and fans rush to read it. Matt Maiocco and Laura Britt, of NBC Sports Bay Area, have mentioned on their podcast that Hurd elicits about as many questions from fans as any player. We all want him to succeed. He deserves it, especially after all the injuries he's fought through. But we also know the team needs a number three wide receiver. And two years ago, everyone believed Hurd would be that guy. But injuries have set him back, costing him the last two seasons. Could this be the season he breaks out? Perhaps. But the team is moving slowly with him, so at this point, it's impossible to say. He may play and be great. Or he may not play at all.

10. Trent Sherfield may be more than just a special teamer.
When the 49ers signed Trent Sherfield, most assumed he would be no more than a special teams ace. After all, that's what he was known for. But so far in training camp, he has shown himself to be much more than that. Sherfield is now famous worldwide for his catch and run of an especially impressive pass from a rookie quarterback (who shall remain nameless, since you're sick of hearing about guys who throw footballs). But from what I have read, that wasn't the only play in which Sherfield has turned heads. He has been running good, crisp routes, and the guys who throw the ball have looked for him often. A few fans have suggested he is the leading candidate to be the number three wide receiver, but I don't see him passing some of the others mentioned above. Even so, good for Sherfield. He'll make the team, and hopefully will make an impact on offense, in addition to special teams.

There you go. Ten observations from 49ers training camp. And I didn't even mention "you know who." Impressed?
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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