The San Francisco 49ers will hold their third OTA of the offseason on Thursday, and for the first time of the program, it will be fully open to the media. The team does not have to open full practices in the first month and a half of the program, but once OTAs start, the team has to open one up each week. That means media can observe the practice and get a better handle on a variety of issues. There will also be media availability following the practice session.
The open session means we will get plenty of reports on what happens at practice. There won't be details on specific plays, but we'll get an idea of trends of the day, the depth chart, and what injured players are participating. It will not tell us everything we need to know about the roster, but it will provide some early context.
There is plenty to track in OTAs, and I wanted to list out a few things I'll be looking for in the reports. Unfortunately, I will not be able to get out to the Bay Area during OTAs, but the beat writers will be around to do their usual strong job of providing the details. Here are a few things I'll be looking for today and through the next few weeks:
1. Injury returns
There are numerous players coming off significant 2014 injuries, and this is our first chance to see who is making significant progress. Some injured players will not be on the practice field until training camp, but ideally we see a few notable names back, even for this no-live-contact work. Guys like Brandon Thomas, Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey are three particularly notable players. Darnell Dockett and Daniel Kilgore are both rehabbing, and I would be surprised if either was overly active during OTAs.
2. Who is present
Alex Boone is not expected until the team's mandatory minicamp. However, there have been other players missing some of the voluntary workouts. They are indeed quite voluntary, but OTAs are a bit more significant than some of the early work. We'll be looking for an attendance report.
3. Colin Kaepernick throwing mechanics
We saw some new mechanics in a quick video late last month. The next step is seeing how it looks through a full practice with offense vs. defense drills. None of this matters if he can't keep it up when the pressure is coming in a game, but his performance in OTAs is still of significance. The key for him is to keep it up in OTAs to slowly build the necessary muscle memory so this becomes a normal part of his routine.
4. Depth chart
We'll get into position competitions a bit more, but for now, it really is about figuring out how the depth chart shakes out. Who will be getting first team cornerback reps? Who will be starting along the defensive line? Where do Blake Bell and Busta Anderson fit into the tight end depth chart? Who is handling the most return work? That last question likely will be a mix of players, but the other ones can potentially get some more concrete answers.
5. Practice tempo and the coaches
I don't think there is much to be made out of how the coaches are interacting with players in OTAs. However, given the change in coaching staff, I imagine there will be media reports on the interactions and the tempo. It should be taken with a grain of salt, but we'll still keep an eye out for any details on that.
What will you be looking for today and throughout OTAs? Most of the five I mentioned are fairly general, so feel free to get into more specifics about given positions.