Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Biggest News From 49ers Rookie Minicamp

Marc Adams
May 15, 2023 at 10:15 AM--

If you blinked, you may have missed the biggest news of the San Francisco 49ers rookie minicamp. It's hidden within the lines of a Matt Barrows article in the Athletic. Even if you read the piece, you may have missed its significance. More on that a little later.

But first, the 49ers held their rookie minicamp over the weekend, which included some rookie tryouts, as well. Before the minicamp began on Friday, the team announced they had signed all 21 of their rookies (nine draft picks, 12 undrafted free agents). It's a great sign to have all the rookies signed this early. It's much easier to do these days, but it's still good to have them all signed at this point.

Defensive Coordinator, Steve Wilks, spoke to the media on Friday. Among the highlights of what he said was that he plans to put his own stamp on the 49ers' defense, but recognizes that when things are already running really well, you shouldn't change too many things. "I think you have to embrace the success that they've had here", said WIlks. "I think it is a foundation that we all agree we wanted to keep and I think it is an opportunity as we go through the process, which we already have, to try to tweak things a little bit. I still think there's room for improvement. If you talk to the players, they would tell you the same, so when it's not broke, you don't really want to try to fix it and once again, we've had a lot of success around here and we just want to continue to build on that."

Here are some other highlights from Wilks' media session:

  • "Everything we do starts up front," so pass rush will continue to be a key for the 49ers' defense.
  • Javon Kinlaw and Drake Jackson have both impressed Wilks so far. Jackson has bulked up some.
  • The 49ers will likely blitz a little more under Wilks, than under the previous regimes, to take advantage of the talent and speed at linebacker. You may have heard that Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner are pretty good.
  • Wilks said Ji'Ayir Brown's tape jumps out at you and that he makes plays all over. Wilks seems really high on Brown and rookie corner Darrell Luter.
  • Wilks said he plans on being in the booth on game days, rather than on the sidelines.
  • He also said cornerback Isaiah Oliver will play nickel for the 49ers. "We wanted to make sure that we sort of got the best nickel in free agency," Wilks said, "and that's what we went out and did. So I'm excited about Oliver. He's long, he's physical, can tackle, can cover. He's going to be a good blitzer for us, everything that we do within this defense."
  • The 49ers will continue to use a lot of zone concepts, but it sounds as though they will play more man coverage than in previous years. Said Wilks, "I feel like we have the skill set and the talent to be able to get in a guy's face, press man, make the quarterback hold the ball, particularly with our (defensive) front."

What else went on during the rookie minicamp? Here are some nuggets of news, including the biggest takeaway from the weekend:

  • Barrows reported that both quarterbacks who attended the rookie camp had some deep-ball completions. Steven Montez connected twice with seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell, who Barrows said was "was prominent in the session." Clayton Thorson had a 30-yard throw to wideout Tay Martin (the second-year wide receiver who was invited to rookie minicamp), and an even longer bomb to Jahcour Pearson, the Ole Miss receiver who attended camp on a tryout basis.
  • Now here's the news that I thought was the biggest piece of news from the minicamp. Barrows wrote, "Thorson's arm strength is newsworthy considering he suffered an elbow injury nearly a year ago while playing for the USFL's Houston Gamblers — in a game against the Philadelphia Stars — and had the same 'internal brace' procedure that Brock Purdy had in March. Thorson did not appear to be hindered in Friday's session." This is excellent news for Purdy and the 49ers, especially if Purdy can recover as Thorson has. Same injury. Same surgery. Same city (ironically). And Thorson is throwing the ball well.
  • Barrows also reported that undrafted offensive lineman, Joey Fisher, seemed to have trouble making it through the practice, and that "he had a wet towel applied to his neck and didn't participate in the last 20 or so minutes." That's not a good sign, but Fisher has a couple of months to get in shape.
  • Barrows said that tight end Cameron Latu looked "bigger, sturdier than expected," that linebacker Jalen Graham is "tall, long-limbed, almost looks like a DE," and that right tackle Leroy Watson, a one-time tight end, has "bulked up considerably. Well into the 300-pound range."
  • By all accounts, it sounds like Bell looked great at wide receiver. He's not fast, but he has excellent hands.
  • Larry Krueger did an instant reaction to 49er's rookie minicamp and said that two second-year players looked really good over the weekend—defensive back, Tayler Hawkins, and wideout Martin. Krueger said Martin, who has great ball skills, has clearly added upper body weight and strength. I pay attention to what Krueger says. After all, this time last year, he was the only one I remember saying Purdy was the steal of the draft.
  • Krueger said Brown and Luter both stood out during the minicamp.
  • Krueger, however, didn't think Latu was that impressive, and said Dee Winters looked "ok" and maybe a little overweight.
  • Brayden Willis, the Oklahoma tight end, looked better than Latu. Krueger said he reminded him some of Kyle Juszczyk, the way he moves, and that he moves better than most tight ends.
  • Krueger thought both undrafted running backs, Ronald Awatt and Khalan Laborn, looked impressive. And with the way Kyle Shanahan and Bobby Turner find running back gems, Krueger thinks they may have a couple of good ones here.
  • Krueger said Graham looked really good, better than Winters. He also liked what he saw from offensive lineman Ilm Manning, saying, "He always looks like he's trying to find someone to hit." That seems like a good quality for an offensive lineman.
  • Krueger said his biggest standout was defensive tackle Spencer Waege. He said he is 300 lbs., but moves really well for being such a big guy.
  • It also sounds like Pearson, the wide receiver who was a minicamp for a tryout, looked good, as well. It will be interesting to see if he gets signed by the 49ers.

Next up for the 49ers will be OTAs (organized team activities) May 23-24, May 26, May 31-June 1, June 3, June 6-7, June 9 before the mandatory minicamp June 13-15. Then comes the month and a half wait until training camp.
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