There is nothing quite like the smell of grass and the sounds of pads popping in an early morning training camp practice. That was the scene on Monday in Santa Clara as I had the opportunity to attend the first padded practice for the San Francisco 49ers. It was great to see live football again and the crowds were packed with fans waiting to see a glimpse of the team’s new franchise quarterback Trey Lance. There was plenty of talk around Deebo Samuel and his new extension and his role with the 49ers in 2022 from a usage standpoint as well.
Before I get into some specific takeaways I had from practice, the one major takeaway I want to share is that there is no denying that this team is indeed loaded with talent. Just being out there on the field, you see guys like Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, George Kittle, and Samuel. Quickly you begin to realize why they have enjoyed the type of success they have had in recent years.
There are a ton of expectations entering 2022 and if things go their way, the 49ers could be looking at another deep postseason run. But with all that said, below are my three biggest takeaways from 49ers camp.
1. Trey Lance has the talent but is in desperate need of experience
By now everyone knows that the 49ers have made the decision to roll with 2021 No. 3 overall pick Lance at quarterback and move on from former starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Even though Garoppolo has enjoyed some levels of success as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, head coach Kyle Shanahan felt that he needed more playmaking ability and consistency from the position, and feels that Lance gives him more in those aspects.
Based on what I saw on Monday, I feel like Lance will give Shanahan more playmaking ability but there are going to be a ton of growing pains here. When watching Lance at practice, the first thing you notice is his size. He is a big quarterback who has a commanding presence about him. He is a good athlete and throws very well on the run, but he certainly isn’t a blazer by any means and is much more Josh Allen than Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson running the football. He has a big arm and throws a nice tight spiral. Long story short, he certainly looks the part, and I can see why he was taken so early.
Now, the issue here with Lance is his decision-making at practice was rough. He consistently held the ball for too long and was late with his reads. These mistakes led to a pick in the end zone and multiple plays where he would have been sacked. His ball placement at times was spotty as well, putting the ball on the inside shoulder when it should have been placed outside so the defender doesn’t have a chance to make the play.
Lance trusts his arm and isn’t afraid to fit the ball in windows. On Monday, he was bailed out a few times by Brandon Aiyuk and Kittle, who both made tremendous catches in the end zone. Lance did have some very good moments, however, as he moved very well with his legs, escaping pressure and picking up yards on the ground. He delivered a beautiful pass to Aiyuk down the sideline, showing off his arm and downfield accuracy.
The good thing for 49ers fans is that Lance is only going to get better as camp and the season progress, but the rate at which he improves will be something to monitor as this is a team with Super Bowl aspirations. They don’t have the luxury to wait for Lance to develop into the quarterback they need him to be.
TDN scout @Brentley12 checking in at 49ers training camp.
A Trey Lance update, impressive plays made by Brandon Aiuyuk and find out which rookie caught his attention 👀#FrontOffice33 | #FTT pic.twitter.com/r1YbzjWs1d
— The Draft Network (@TheDraftNetwork) August 1, 2022
- 49ers are loaded with playmakers
When I think of teams with an abundance of talent at skill positions, I think of the Los Angeles Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But rarely are the 49ers listed in this category. Well, after watching practice on Monday, I think they should be.
The most well-known member of the 49ers’ skill group is Kittle, who is an All-Pro level player. He looked phenomenal on Monday and had a couple of nice grabs in the team portion of practice. Of course, Samuel is the player who led the 49ers in receiving last year and was used out of the backfield down the stretch of last season as San Francisco dealt with injuries to their running backs. Samuel made his training camp debut on Monday after signing his contract extension and looked in shape and is likely primed for another monster season.
One note from Shanahan’s presser is that I don’t think the team has any plans on scaling back Samuels’s touches from the backfield, as in the words of Shanahan he will do whatever it takes for the team to win the ball game.
The two offensive players on Monday who really stood out are Aiyuk and second-year running back Elijah Mitchell. Aiyuk had multiple stand-out plays on Monday and just carried himself like a guy who knows he is one of the best players on the roster. With Samuel sitting out the entire offseason of workouts, Aiyuk and Lance had an opportunity to build their relationship and grow chemistry with each other and I saw that chemistry in action on Monday. I expect a breakout season for Aiyuk. With Mitchell, he just looks explosive. He moves differently than the other backs on the roster and if he can stay healthy this season, look out.
- 49ers might have found a steal in Drake Jackson
The 49ers selected Drake Jackson out of USC with their first pick of the draft in the second round and it looks like they got themselves a steal. As a prospect, there was a lot to like about Jackson. He is a long and explosive athlete who shows an impressive ability to change direction and bend. He flashed natural pass-rush instincts and a variety of rush moves.
The issue with Jackson was his inability to consistently set the edge as a run defender, as he struggled to keep on weight throughout his USC career. He told reporters pre-draft that at one point he was as low as 234 pounds whereas now he is a well-built 274. The weight gain is evident as he appeared to be much more muscular in his lower half than he looked on film at USC last season.
With Arik Armstead out dealing with an MCL sprain, Jackson got to work in with the first team at practice and he looked phenomenal. He flashed an explosive first step and an impressive bull rush. He even got Trent Williams on rep where he quickly won with an inside counter. He looks ready for a big year-one impact playing alongside a talented defensive front.
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