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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports


Five Surprisingly Strong Performances at 49ers Training Camp

Sep 1, 2020 at 7:28 AM0


In the NFL, opportunity is everything, and training camps provide that chance for many players who have to earn their spot on a roster. Annually, players report to camp, optimistic and ready to make a name for themselves. It is the time of year for outliers such as late-drafted rookies, undrafted free agents, injury-prone veterans, and NFL journeymen to come together and fight for a spot on an NFL roster. The days of camp are long and intense as players battle each other in the unforgiving heat of August. There are usually only a few roster spots up for grabs, and the players understand the consequences if they are unable to standout.

This year's training camp has been unlike any camp before, as teams are reacting to the NFL's COVID-19 restrictions and protocols. With no preseason games, and limited practices, the importance of each day is magnified for the players trying to earn their roles. As the San Francisco 49ers wrap up training camp, and prepare for the upcoming season, here are five players who I believe made the most of their opportunities, and will play significant roles this season.

Dante Pettis, Wide Receiver

After a promising rookie campaign, WR Dante Pettis fell off the map during his sophomore season, recording just 11 receptions for 109 yards in 11 games. He was designated inactive from Week 12 through the rest of the season, including the 49ers' Super Bowl run. For most players, this would signal that their opportunity within the organization had ended. Pettis, however, is not ready to throw in the towel just yet.

Pettis arrived at camp with a purpose, and a sense of urgency added to his game. He has been making spectacular catches and playing with a higher level of physicality. His work on the field has impressed coaches and teammates as they observe his preparation and drive to fight for his spot on the team.

"He's been coming along and it's very encouraging – just the physicality that he's playing with (and) the competitiveness that he's bringing," Garoppolo said. "You love to see that and it's just one of those things you've got to keep rolling." 49ers.com

"I've been very proud of Dante so far and I think it showed," Shanahan said. "I think he had his best practice two days ago since he's been here. I know he got a lot of balls and a lot of opportunities, but it wasn't just that. It was his demeanor, the way he played, the aggression and his routes and everything. I've been very pleased with Dante so far." 49ers.com

With unfortunate injuries to 49ers WRs Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, Pettis has a chance to be right back in the mix as a starting wide receiver heading into Week 1, which is something most fans would not have expected after last season.

Jerick McKinnon, Running Back

RB Jerick McKinnon has had an unfortunate start to his 49ers career. The coveted 2018 free agent was signed because of his pass-catching ability out of the backfield. During his time with Minnesota, McKinnon hauled in 142 receptions for 984 yards and seven touchdowns before hitting the free agent market. However, he has yet to play a single down for the 49ers, due to an ACL injury that has kept him off the field the past two seasons.

With these unfortunate setbacks, it would be understandable if McKinnon struggled to get back to his former self and was unable to earn a spot in the crowded 49ers backfield. However, not only has he flashed the speed and agility that he possessed before his injury, he has exceeded expectations with his strong performance during camp, including embarrassing 49er linebackers in the process.

"He's been nice. He's been working real hard, been grinding," linebacker Kwon Alexander said last weekend. "You can tell when he gets out there, his cuts is precise. Everything is on-point. He's just moving, trying to get back under himself. Everybody can see it. He's been doing his thing over the offseason."

Obviously, staying healthy will be the major obstacle McKinnon will need to overcome. But if he can stay on the field, he will bring a brand-new dynamic to this 49ers' passing attack, and finally show why the 49ers were so adamant about signing him.

Kevin Givens, Defensive Tackle

Kevin Givens signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2019, spending the season on the practice squad, until making his career debut in Week 17 at Seattle. For an undrafted free agent, who has played 10 career snaps, earning a spot on the 49ers defensive line is an uphill battle. Defensive line is the team's deepest and most talented position group; PFF has the 49ers ranked as the fourth best unit in the NFL.

However, Givens has shown up ready to prove he deserves to move up the depth chart and is making a strong case to be a part of the line rotation. Givens, who comes in at 6'1 and 285 pounds, has been difficult to stop for opposing offensive lineman throughout camp. Givens is a quick and versatile defender, who can play interior as well as off the edge. He has impressed everyone at camp, especially 49ers writer, Grant Cohn:

"The best defensive tackle on the 49ers not named Armstead or D.J. Jones. Givens is better than Solomon Thomas and Kentavius Street and Javon Kinlaw. Today, Givens beat the second best guard on the roster -- Colton McKivitz -- two out of three times in one on ones. The 49ers better put Givens on their 53-man roster or another team probably will claim him." Grant Cohen, Sports Illustrated

Givens has made it difficult for the 49ers to exclude him from the 53-man roster, giving them even more depth at a prime position.

Solomon Thomas, Defensive Tackle

As I wrote in an earlier article, Solomon Thomas entered this season with his back against the wall. The former third overall pick for the 49ers is trying to shake the label of being a "bust," which has been given by fans and analysts. Thomas did not just need a good camp; he needed an outstanding performance if he wanted to keep his role on the defensive line. Thomas showed up to camp understanding the dire situation that he faced:

"This year is huge for me," Thomas said during a video call with Bay Area reporters. "Obviously, it's a contract year. But that's not what's important. That's not in the back of my mind. I take it as a year to come into myself. I'm back inside, on the interior, where I played in college, what I got drafted for."

Thomas has risen to the challenge with the strong training camp performance needed to ensure his spot on the team. He added an additional 15 pounds, bringing him to 280, and he is lining up primarily at defensive tackle, where he has had the most success during his career. With the loss of DeForest Buckner, defensive tackle is going to be a vital position for the 49ers, and Solomon Thomas is expected to be an important part of the rotation.

Jason Verrett, Cornerback

Jason Verrett has had a rough NFL career up to this point. Drafted as the 25th overall pick in 2014 by the San Diego Chargers, injuries have limited him to just 26 career games in 5 NFL seasons. 2015 was the only season during which he played more than six games, and was awarded with a selection to the Pro Bowl. The San Francisco 49ers signed him as a free agent in 2019, as a low-risk/high-reward transaction. They hoped he could stay healthy and play close to the Pro Bowl level he has shown in the past. However, after just four snaps against the Steelers, he experienced a "flare-up" in his right knee and was done for the season. It looked as if the Jason Verrett experiment was over before it started.

Verrett entered this season with very little odds of making the final roster, but he has improved significantly each day and is now in the mix to not only make the 53-man roster, but start opposite Richard Sherman at cornerback during Week 1, which is a turn of events that no one would have predicted. Verrett appears to be gaining confidence, and Richard Sherman has taken notice:

"He's way further along this year," Sherman said of Verrett. "His feet look incredible. His confidence is rising every day. He's so sound and so hard on himself and so tough on himself, but he's been fantastic at the line of scrimmage." NBC Sports

A versatile cornerback is something the 49ers desperately need; if Verrett can stay healthy, he could provide an immediate improvement in the 49ers' secondary.
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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