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49ers Notebook: Elijah Mitchell health concerns; Danny Gray, others improving; Brandon Aiyuk’s confidence; Javon Kinlaw update

Aug 3, 2023 at 3:23 PM--

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On Thursday, the San Francisco 49ers held their seventh training camp practice. The team is working hard to prepare for the rigors of the NFL season, which quickly approaches.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and several players spoke to reporters after Thursday's practice. Below are some key topics discussed.

Elijah Mitchell health concerns

Elijah Mitchell has dealt with several injuries throughout his two NFL seasons. The running back is one of several players working through injuries in training camp. He is expected to miss over a week due to an abductor strain.

The latest injury led to a question about Mitchell's physical running style and if that has contributed to his inability to stay on the field consistently.

RELATED Injury updates on Elijah Mitchell, Jaylon Moore, Aaron Banks, Jon Feliciano

"Elijah is an extremely good back, and he's had some unfortunate things with injuries," Shanahan said. "He is a very physical runner, but you don't strain your abductor because you're running physically. I think all of our runners are pretty physical. Sometimes that can happen, but his bad injury last year, he had his foot in the ground, and someone hit his knee. I think it was his MCL.

"So you can't change your style. That's also what makes him great. I don't always think that's what's getting him hurt, either. But he has had some muscle strains and stuff, and I think he got hurt on the exact same day last year in camp. It'll probably help him to be out here a little, about a week and a half, most likely. But Elijah does everything right. He's just been unfortunate with it. So hope we can find the secret remedy as we go."

Young players making strides

Danny Gray looks to rebound from his one-catch 2022 season. The speedy second-year receiver has been impressing his coaches, which could lead to more opportunities during the upcoming season.

"I think he's having a real good camp," Shanahan said. "He put in the work in phase one, two, and three. Was able to get through OTAs working hard and not having an injury, and he obviously spent the 40 days away well because he's catching the ball well, he's in real good shape, and he's been out there very consistently, and the ball came his way a little more today."

Defenders have noticed a difference too.

"Danny, I think he runs his routes a lot harder," cornerback Charvarius Ward said. "He's blocking a lot harder. He's definitely listened to the coaches a lot better. ... Young guys just got to learn how to mature a little bit, and I definitely see that out of Danny. He's got something that you can't teach—that speed. When Danny lines up in front of me, I know I got to be on my toes because he can run by anybody at any time. He's got to know how to use that to his advantage, and I think he's doing a better job of that this year, using his speed, coming off the ball hard, and everything like that."

Shanahan praised another second-year player—running back Jordan Mason.

"I thought Jordan had a great rookie year," the coach said. "[He] helped us out a lot. I think [he's] just understanding the offense better as a whole, getting better in the pass game. I definitely think he's [making] some strides."

Then you have cornerback Ambry Thomas, who many expected to have a big sophomore season last year after showing some promise during his rookie campaign. Thomas ended up playing only 41 defensive snaps last season. However, the defender is making his presence known this offseason.

"I think he's working harder," Shanahan said. "I think he attacked OTAs, phase one, two, and three a lot harder than he did the year before, which made him look so much further ahead in OTAs than he was the last two years. Then he leaves for 40 days, and he comes back, and he looks a little bit better than he did in OTAs. So I think his mindset and everything has been great."

Shanahan admits that Thomas likely eased up a bit last season, perhaps thinking he had already made it. That's not uncommon for a lot of players who enjoy first-year success.

"That's why he was a little bit on the outside looking in last year, but he ended up making it," the coach added. "He competed, and this year, I think he learned what happened to him, and when you just watch out on the field, you can see his urgency and preparations so much better."

Ward has been working with Thomas this offseason, helping him get stronger and improve his technique.

"I believe in A.T.," the cornerback said. "He's got a lot of talent and abilities, so he's just got to keep it up and just know it's a cutthroat business. Just because you were drafted in the third round, it doesn't mean you're going to be a starter on the team. So I try to talk to him about those type of things and motivate him a little bit, and he's definitely becoming more mature and more professional."

Brandon Aiyuk more confident

Everyone is talking about Brandon Aiyuk's impressive training camp. The fourth-year wide receiver is coming off his first 1,000-plus-yard NFL season and could be poised for a breakout 2023 campaign.

One 49ers teammate sees a lot more confidence in Aiyuk, and that is translating to production on the practice field.

RELATED Deebo loves Aiyuk's no-one-can-guard-me attitude

"I think he had a big year last year, and it's good to just have that reassurance and know that you are the player who you thought you were, and that you can do the things that you were brought in here to do," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "He's put it on tape. And once you have that, it just instills this confidence in everything you do.

"And it's not even just on the field that I see it from Brandon. It's just walking around the locker room, and his interactions with everybody, and just how he speaks to players, to coaches. He's a confident veteran now, that knows he can accomplish big things out there, and that's awesome to see."

Ward also shared his thoughts on Aiyuk, who he loves going against in practice.

"He's ballin' right now, but I look forward to getting out there and competing against him when I get back, a couple of one-on-ones," the cornerback said. "We're going to make each other better. So he's definitely ballin' right now. He's in his bag, for sure."

While everyone else talks about Aiyuk's impressive practices like they are something new, Ward remembers how good the wide receiver was last offseason. Although, Aiyuk has been dominating from the start this summer.

"Last year in camp, he kind of eased his way into things," Ward explained. "This year, from day one, he's been doing his thing. So yeah, he's looking good."

Javon Kinlaw continues to impress

Could things be turning around for defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, the former first-round pick who hasn't been able to live up to his draft status? Shanahan has praised the massive 25-year-old defender's efforts this offseason, which continued on Thursday.

"Every year, we're really hoping, Javon, I mean, since we took him, we know how talented he is, and every year we're hoping he can come back and have the health, and play the way that we know he's capable," Shanahan said. "And every year, it's just heartbreaking with how hard he's worked and what happens with him.

"And this year, it's been so encouraging because it's the first year that he's gone from February all the way up to now with no setbacks. And for him to have the OTAs that he did and to bring it into now, you know how much it means to him. You know how much he's put into it, probably as much as I've seen any player.

"It's hard when you have those three years where you don't have good luck. And to see him having the results of the effort he's put in, you really are pulling for the kid."

Rookie safety impresses the vet

Ji'Ayir Brown was the 49ers' first draft pick this year. The team lacked first and second-round picks, so the safety didn't hear his name called until the third round.

Most expect Brown to eventually replace veteran Tashaun Gipson. Although, the rookie is showing enough promise that he may get worked into a lot of game plans this season.

"Yeah, I think he's a grown man," Charvarius Ward said. "You look at him, he looks like he's been in the league already for a couple of years. I definitely think, in the preseason, when the pads come on, he's going to be smacking people around. His game's really going to show real good. In practice, he might not be making a lot of plays right now, but I know on game days, Sundays, against whoever we play, he's going to be a dog. He's a dog for sure."

Ward added, "On the field, he's aggressive. He plays hard. He plays fast. ... He's definitely not scared of nothing."

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