RNG Report Forums 49erholics Anonymous 49ers Talk 2021 Training Camp Reply To: 2021 Training Camp

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RedBluff
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Kawasucki on the Athletic:

It was worth a large double take during the team’s first training-camp practice on Wednesday, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one at 49ers headquarters doing some gawking.

Wait, was that really Dee Ford moving around out there, No. 55 jersey and helmet on, actually looking quite spry, lively and potentially within a few good weeks of playing in an NFL game for the first time in almost a year and absolutely the first time he was near a live practice in longer than that? Well, yes, it was.

And nearby, also limited to individual drills and side work, there was bookend defensive end Nick Bosa, who appeared to be quite close to game speed. Which means: Explosive as all heck. So there they were: Bosa and Ford, who both were wiped out for almost all of 2020, taking most of the 49ers’ ferocious pass rush with them, back in practice gear and enough to get 49ers people pondering a return to defensive dominance.

Kyle Shanahan, did you take some time during other drills to sneak a few glances at Bosa and Ford working with blocking sleds and other specific sessions?

“A little bit,” Shanahan said after Wednesday’s practice. “I looked a couple times.”

Obviously, Bosa’s recovery from his ACL tear last September has always been more certain than anything surrounding Ford’s back/neck injury. Bosa was always presumed to be headed toward a Week 1 return. Ford’s situation was murky last season, with many of us presuming that such a tricky and sustained injury would probably lead to his eventual release. I think there were some people in the 49ers football operation that were thinking that, too. But Ford worked diligently with the 49ers through the offseason, and the team adjusted his salary to lessen his salary-cap hit in 2021 but also guaranteed him more money into the future, which all but locked him onto the roster this season.

And for the first practice, both were present, the twin keys to the 49ers’ surge into the defensive elite in 2019, when the team racked up 48 sacks and had a league-leading 14.7 percent pressure rate on opposing passers. Last season, with Bosa and Ford both done by the first quarter of Week 2 and combining for zero sacks, the 49ers only registered 30 sacks and had an 11.2 percent pressure rate.

It’s probably too much for the 49ers to count on having both back at full speed. If they can just get Bosa into the mix for most of this season, the ripple effect through the defense — and the NFC West — could be quite significant.

“Nick takes care of himself better than anyone I’ve ever been around,” Shanahan said. “The guy is kind of a one-track mind. And it’s awesome. We knew he’d come in great and now, given how much time it’s been since the injury, it’s him moving and looking like the player he is so when he gets out there with 22 people he can react and feel safe if he gets cut in an awkward position. So we’ll take our time with that and be smart.”

But what if the 49ers could get Bosa and Ford back at some point this season? They could use free-agent signee Samson Ebukam as a backup edge rusher, move Arik Armstead inside on all passing downs and that would look and feel a lot like 2019.

“It’s just good to have them back,” middle linebacker Fred Warner said. “Having them back just gives a boost not only to the defense but to the entire team, having two playmakers, guys who are leaders on this team.”

I asked Shanahan: With Ford looking like this, is it tough to resist pushing him to do more and more?

“No. I’ve just been with him and I’ve seen the history,” Shanahan said. “We’ve gotta be smart with it. It’s been a tough situation for him and us, just going through it, and the sensitivity of his injury. I try to never get too high or too low with it.

“If Dee Ford’s healthy and can play, we all know how much he’s going to help us and how much he did when he was healthy in 2019. I keep my fingers crossed, but I sit there, I’m not going to hope or wish. I’m going to go about our business. And if things work out for him, it’s going to be a hell of a deal for him and a hell of a deal for the Niners.”

That’s the first thing I noticed at 49ers camp on Wednesday. Here are four more things:

2. Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance seemed to be feeding off of each other
Well, yes, this is a nice development for the 49ers. Maybe Garoppolo and Lance — the incumbent and the very valuable next-in-line — will eventually stagger into a problematic and awkward relationship. But nothing like that was in evidence through the offseason and definitely not on Day 1 of camp, when the last 20 minutes turned into a crescendo of Garoppolo (with the first team) and Lance (with the second) unleashing tremendous throw after throw until the final whistle of the day.

“Jimmy looked great; Trey looked great as well,” said receiver Deebo Samuel, who caught the biggest pass play of the day, deep down the left sideline from Lance.

Both QBs made off-script plays, rolling either left or right to gain time and then picking out the right receiver downfield. It also should be noted: Without Bosa, Ford or Javon Kinlaw participating in the team sessions, the QBs weren’t as harried as usual in a 49ers practice. But it still was impressive just to see Garoppolo and Lance going throw-for-throw and picking up the energy of the whole team.

Then Garoppolo put a cherry on the proceedings with his relaxed and occasionally cheeky media session, which included his first-ever swear words in public (that I can recall) and a little bit of light, grinning deadpan humor when asked about the potentially awkward situation with Lance: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

3. Lance’s re-arrival
Back in June, Shanahan said he liked what Lance did in OTAs and minicamp, but he really wanted to see how the rookie processed it all going into training camp after a 40-day break. So how did Practice 1 go?

“I saw a guy who didn’t stop working, and we definitely check up on him a lot,” Shanahan said. “So I know Trey working, that’s not the issue.”

Shanahan wasn’t thrilled when Lance’s unit messed up a snap count early in the practice, but the coach was happier that it was corrected and things otherwise seemed to go so well with the No. 2 offensive group.

And then there was Lance’s quick move to the left to buy time and set up a perfect lob to George Kittle — who outjumped multiple defensive backs and pulled it down for something close to a 25-yard gain.

“The one to Kittle, it was pretty good coverage, but he gave him an opportunity ball and Kittle went up and made the play,” Shanahan said.

If there’s going to be a real QB competition, it’ll probably come after the first week of practices, which is when Shanahan said he and his staff install the offense. It takes seven practices (which would take the 49ers into the middle of next week) and then he’ll start to get into deeper strategy and plotting out specific roles.

“I like to get those seven over, ’cause when you get it all out of the way, you can start kind of forming your team and the direction you’re going based on how they look off those seven practices,” Shanahan said.

4. Rookies who stood out (non-QB division)
First practice. No pads (yet). All judgments are qualified by those and other factors. But sometimes you can get a true feel for the way rookies fit in (or don’t) immediately. And if I had to pick two notable rookies, other than Lance, from Day 1, I’d say:

• Trey Sermon, the third-round pick who already seems to be pretty much 1B to Raheem Mostert’s 1A at the tailback spot. Sermon runs hard and often pretty much in a straight line, which, of course, are two perfect qualities for a Shanahan runner.

• Ambry Thomas, taken 14 picks later than Sermon, also in the third round, doesn’t look like he’s in over his head as an NFL cornerback. He makes decisive moves and seems to glide into spots. We’ll know more after the pads go on (hello, Ahkello Witherspoon in 2017), but Thomas definitely is passing the eye test.

And I’ll add a second-year player: Brandon Aiyuk made plays all over the field on Wednesday and was particularly synched up with Garoppolo, who seemed to be looking for No. 11 whenever possible. Which doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

5. This is a loose and confident team
Garoppolo’s F- and S-bombs were one sign. So was Trent Williams’ smiling declaration on Tuesday that he thinks the 49ers are the team to beat this year. Add in Shanahan’s light mood on Wednesday.

OK, some of this likely happened because it was just good for all of us to be back in the same rooms, asking live questions in the moment and not having to press “raise hand” every time on our Zoom screens. Jokes happen when everybody’s in the same room (after going through all NFL health protocols, of course). Body language and tone are easier to convey. Everybody — even coaches and media members! — missed these human connections a little bit.

But also, there’s not a doubt that the 49ers feel very good about themselves to start this camp. Obviously, things went horribly last season. Obviously, they could suffer through another wave of injuries at any moment in 2021. Obviously, they might not be as good as they think they are. However, they went to the Super Bowl after the 2019 season and they have the right to believe they might get right back there in February 2022. And we’ll see how it unfolds.