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5 burning questions as 49ers begin OTAs

Marc Adams
May 23, 2023 at 1:00 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers began OTAs (organized team activities) on Monday. They are required to open at least one session per week to the media. This week, that session is on Tuesday. So we'll likely hear things from reporters after the practice, and even begin seeing some video throughout the session. Coach Kyle Shanahan is expected to address the media, as well.

I can tell by the look in your eyes that you are undoubtedly ready to get some answers to questions surrounding the 49ers OTAs. Keep in mind that most of these questions won't be answered in non-padded OTA sessions, but it's ok to start asking them anyway. So here are five burning questions that we look forward to being answered:

1. Will Trey Lance's transformed mechanics be noticeable?

Much has been discussed about Trey Lance's throwing mechanics. Shanahan admitted that Lance's 2021 preseason finger injury not only affect his delivery during the 2021 season, but also throughout the offseason in 2022, as he prepared to be the 49ers' new starting quarterback. Lance's coach reported that the young signal-caller has fully healed and that he looks the best he's looked so far with the 49ers.

Matt Barrows, of the Athletic, spoke with QB coach Jeff Christensen, about his offseason work with Lance. Christensen is also the private QB coach for Patrick Mahomes. Christensen said the issues with Lance's throwing motion initially were substantial. The QB coach said it usually takes him a day to diagnose what's wrong with a quarterback's delivery, but with Lance, it took four days.

Fortunately, Christensen said he has been able to help Lance change his throwing motion and it has made a noticeable difference. Christensen even used Mahomes as an example of how to throw the football, with Lance standing right behind the Kansas City Chiefs star QB, watching.

"I said, 'Watch this. Watch what he does here,'" Christensen told Barrows. "It was something I was telling him to do that he wasn't quite doing. And then he saw Patrick apply it perfectly. And I think that visual buy-in, that mental buy-in, helped him past that mental hump. And to his credit, he just kept getting better. (Over) the last seven days, every day was a substantial jump."

According to Christensen, this has helped with Lance's:

  • Accuracy
  • Spin of the ball
  • Delivery time
  • Arm soreness he has dealt with in the past

Christensen said Lance told him he has had zero arm soreness since the two worked together, even the day after a very rigorous workout.

The question is, will Lance's new mechanics change his delivery enough that it's noticeable? Or could the QB guru simply be promoting his work?

2. Will Lance and Sam Darnold split reps equally?

Shanahan said Lance and Sam Darnold would be splitting first-team reps this offseason. The question is, will it be a 50/50 split, or will Lance, who has been in this system longer, take a greater amount of starter reps?

Personally, I want to see what Lance can do, and I think the 49ers need to see what he can do, in spite of Shanahan's affinity for Darnold. Regardless of all the national media types saying Darnold will be higher on the depth chart than Lance, expect to see the opposite. Lance will take more first-team reps than Darnold, especially early on.

Maybe the bigger question is how often Darnold will turn the ball over against air. Sorry, low blow.

3. Who is playing right tackle?

Colton McKivitz is the leader in the clubhouse to be the starting right tackle, but who else will be getting reps at that position? And with Trent Williams likely to be a no-show for OTAs, it will be interesting to see who gets first-team reps at left tackle.

The 49ers did not address the offensive line in the draft, but they did bring in some undrafted rookies, although two of them, Ilm Manning and Joey Fisher, are likely going to be guards. Barrows reported, after the rookie minicamp, that "right tackle Leroy Watson, a one-time tight end, has bulked up considerably. Well into the 300-pound range." So where will Watson fall in?

Don't forget about second-year tackle Jaylon Moore, as well veterans Matt Pryor and Alfredo Gutierrez. I doubt any of these unseat McKivitz, but we may still learn a little from how they progress through the reps., especially when it comes to depth.

4. Who is playing the edge position opposite Nick Bosa?

The 49ers desperately need someone who can put pressure on the quarterback, opposite of Nick Bosa. Preferably someone who gets off the line quickly. Enter Robert Beal, Jr., the draft pick with the fastest "get off the ball " metric the 49ers evaluated in the draft. But he's raw, and will need time to develop.

The 49ers spent a high draft pick on Drake Jackson in 2022. He played well, but ran out of gas as the season went on. He apparently showed up looking much better this off-season.

The team did add veterans Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, in addition to bringing back Kerry Hyder, Jr. Alex Barrett is returning, as well. But none of those guys will be what the 49ers are needing. So Jackson really needs to step up, and hopefully, Beal can develop into that guy, too.

5. How do the draft picks look, and where do they fit in?

Defensive Coordinator, Steve Wilks, has already spoken about how he is impressed with rookie defensive backs, Ji'Ayir Brown and Darrell Luter. It's unlikely either is ready to step in as starters, but there is hope both can work their way into starting positions in the near future. As far as some other rookie questions we'll be looking to see answered:

There are plenty of questions as the 49ers begin OTAs. Let's see if anything of them start coming into focus.
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