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49ers Mailbag: center concerns, wide receivers, safeties, starting QB, and more

Marc Adams
Jun 9, 2022 at 10:07 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers moved the mandatory minicamp up one week, and the two practices (on Tuesday and Wednesday) were open to the media. As a result, we have posts to read, videos to watch, and news to share.

In case you may have missed it, David Bonilla wrote a piece on 49ers Webzone about comments made by Peter Schrager, of NFL Network, regarding Trey Lance. Bonilla also included some comments about Lance made by 49ers left tackle Trent Williams.

There is also an interesting article on 49ers Webzone about Lance receiving advice from Hall of Famer Steve Young. That story includes some other quotes about Lance from teammates. Anytime Lance is receiving advice from a Hall of Famer, it's a good thing.

And Rohan Chakravarthi has a 49ers Minicamp Notebook from day one. Be sure to check it out for some highlights.

Now let's hit the 49ers Mailbag.

@shoqmax: Brandon Aiyuk. How is he looking?

It sounds like Brandon Aiyuk is looking good so far. I read that he caught four passes on Tuesday and that a couple of them went for big gains. He did have a couple of drops, but it sounds like he is in a better place than he was a year ago.

Charvarius Ward spoke about the wide receivers on Tuesday, including Aiyuk. Said Ward, "Jauan kind of surprised me a little bit. He got a lot more talent than I thought he had. He's a great route-runner. And we all know Aiyuk, he can be receiver No. 1 once he puts his mind [to it], and puts everything together. He's going to be a great receiver in this league even though we got Deebo Samuel. Once he comes back, and George Kittle, once all those guys come back, the offense, they going to do their thing, I'm pretty sure."

Kyle Shanahan also spoke about Jennings and Aiyuk, saying, "And this offseason, him [Jennings] and [Aiyuk], the first day they got here, they've had as good of an offseason as they've had since they got in the league. And they're as good as they've been right now, both of them."

Shanahan also talked about how he has seen Jennings and Aiyuk step up more as leaders. "And those guys to come in this year, to come in at the beginning this is by far the best I've seen them at this time," Shanahan said. "And I think that's allowed them to be leaders. They knew what they were doing. They were in shape. They're able to talk to other guys. I know how much they went into training camp or the season a little unprepared just from lacking experience. And you can see that experience that's led them to prepare this offseason so much better. And that's why their game's a lot better. And it's cool for other guys to see that."

So far, so good for Aiyuk. I'm hoping he takes a huge leap this season.

Abe D: Will Jimmy Garoppolo compete with Trey Lance (for the starting job) if he is not traded?

In addition to commenting on pass catchers, Ward also mentioned the guy who is throwing them the ball. Speaking of Lance, Ward said, "He QB1, so he's the face of the franchise. He's going to show the world this season, I think."

Garoppolo was excused from the mandatory minicamp. But Shanahan did comment on him, saying, "[If] Jimmy's under contract with us, and he's healthy, right now, I would see him coming to practice [during training camp] unless we traded him.

"All his rehab is down in L.A., so for him to stop and come up here for a three-day minicamp doesn't make much sense for him or for us," Shanahan said. "So we want him to stay with his rehab."

I think the 49ers will do everything they can to move on from Garoppolo before the season begins. If Garoppolo is with the team during training camp, it could create more problems than the team wants to deal with. And if they let him practice during training camp? Ugh. I don't want to think about that.

I still think they will trade or release Garoppolo before training camp begins. But if the 49ers decide to keep him, and let him practice, it's possible Shanahan could let him compete with Lance for the starting job. I doubt it will happen, though.

This is Lance's team, and if Garoppolo is still in Santa Clara in August, it will be as a backup.

@NotoriousGav_: Is this the year we see Kyle Juszczyk as a captain on the 49ers?

The 49ers have a lot of strong leaders on both sides of the ball. Kyle Juszczyk is one of those, and he is certainly worthy of being a team captain. Whether or not he is named as such, and given the big "C" to wear on his jersey, remains to be seen.

But one of last season's captains, Raheem Mostert, is now a Miami Dolphin. Perhaps Juszczyk will replace Mostert. I'm surprised he wasn't elected ahead of Mostert last season.

So yes, this could be the year "Juice" becomes a team captain.

Does Deebo Samuel's appearance at minicamp signal a deal is coming soon?

Shanahan doesn't seem too concerned about the Deebo Samuel situation, for what it's worth. The head coach said, "I mean, I know we go through the business part of this league and things like that, but I don't think the relationship was ever too far away to not get it back to normal. And I think we're working on that. Any time you're away from each other for a while, it's always harder, but it's good to get him back in here, and start getting around the guys again.

"I'll talk to him about it [potentially practicing this week]," Shanahan said. "I think us not being around each other much, I don't think that's smart for the team or him. So that's not something I'm really counting on him doing, but I'll see where he's at, but I think he'll be all right with it too."

Samuel's appearance at minicamp doesn't necessarily mean he's dropped his trade request, but it is a positive sign that he arrived, that he seemed to be having a good time with his teammates, and that he was wearing 49ers gear.

I still expect a deal to be made before training camp. It needs to happen because Samuel won't practice without a new contract.

@JenniferFry1: How many wide receivers will the 49ers carry on the 53-man roster and who will they be, in your opinion?

Shanahan would likely want to carry six wide receivers on the 53-man roster, but that may not happen because of needs elsewhere. They will carry at least five but could try to slide a sixth on there. Here are the five they will definitely place on the 53-man roster:

  1. Deebo Samuel
  2. Brandon Aiyuk
  3. Jauan Jennings
  4. Ray-Ray McCloud
  5. Danny Gray

If they were to add a sixth receiver on the roster, and I doubt they will at this point, I'm not even sure who it would be. Here are the options (in no particular order):

  • Connor Wedington
  • Malik Turner
  • Austin Mack
  • KeeSean Johnson
  • Marcus Johnson
  • Taysir Mack
  • Tay Martin

The 49ers aren't really going with Jake Brendel at center, right?

I've been saying that I think the team is high on Brendel. I have no inside knowledge. It's just been a sense I've had, based on a handful of factors. And it seems like it may be the case, especially after what the head coach said on Tuesday.

"Jake made our team last year as our backup center and if you do that, you better believe that all backup guys have the ability to start," Shanahan said. "And then when they get that opportunity, how long can they do it for? But we had a lot of confidence in Jake last year to make the team. And if Mack would have ever missed a game or something, we wouldn't have hesitated and we would have gone into that game very confident with him.

"Chris [Foerster] is the one that brought [Brendel] to our attention," Shanahan said. "Just him having him in Miami. He was a big fan of his there. We got him in, I believe during the COVID year, he had some things that he opted out, went right down to that last minute. We were able to get him back and last year was our first year with him and yeah, Chris talked highly of him and he's been better than advertised."

Lance also spoke on Brendel, saying, "I got to spend a lot of time with Jake. Obviously, I took all my reps pretty much with Jake, and Jimmy was with Alex [Mack] last year. Obviously, you know [it was] sad [because] I wanted to play with Alex for sure, but super excited about Jake. His athletic ability, I think, is one thing that stands out about him."

Shanahan also threw out Daniel Brunskill as an option. He said, "We also have guys like Brunskill who's done it before and I think we have some young guys who can do it."

Don't forget about undrafted rookie Dohnavan West. I can't see a rookie starting at center early in the season, but perhaps West can work into that spot as the season progresses. For now, I think Brendel is the likely starter. And I think Foerster, the offensive line coach, likes him a lot.

Jay R.: Who is the leader in the safety competition to start alongside Jimmie Ward?

The leader to start at strong safety is Talanoa Hufanga. He may not have the speed Tarvarius Moore has, but Hufanga has great instincts. He's always around the football and makes plays. The coaching staff really believes in him. Their faith in Hufanga is probably why they haven't resigned Jaquiski Tartt.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans spoke earlier this month on Hufanga, saying, "This offseason has been eye-opening for me. To see the way Huf is communicating out there, louder, better... Huf is definitely ascending in the right direction."

I expect "Huf" to be the starting strong safety for Week One.

Why isn't Danny Gray practicing?

It seems rookie wide receiver Danny Gray may have a hamstring issue that is costing him some practice time. Shanahan confirmed this, saying, "Yeah, he tweaked his hamstring last week in OTAs. That's why he was out this week and will most likely be out next week." Let's hope Gray recovers quickly and is a full-go for training camp.

Thanks for all your mailbag questions. We'll have another for you in two weeks.
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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