If you’ve been reading the beat writers’ reports on training camp, you might think that the Niners’ admittedly young corps of wide receivers has been getting embarrassed by their defensive counterparts.
On Thursday, for example, Cam Inman’s headline read “DBs trump QBs; WRs nicked” while Matt Barrows said the session, “was marked by numerous dropped passes by receivers and by break ups and interceptions by defensive backs.”
And Matt Maiocco concluded that, “It was a tough day for the passing game. When the 49ers’ defensive backs were not batting down passes, the receivers were doing it on their own.“
In particular, everyone has been amazed by rookie Rashard Robinson’s confidence and aggression. Barrows wrote that, “Robinson highlighted the action, batting away two passes during seven-on-seven drills. He also intercepted a pass by Colin Kaepernick in an earlier session.”
And all that was before rookie (and CFL star) Eric Rogers tore his ACL.
So, the secondary is simply dominating the receivers, huh?
Not necessarily, according to coach Chip Kelly. At his press conference Friday he offered two reasons that these results must be misleading.
First, training camp focuses on a particular down-and-distance situation each day.
“[If] you covered a lot of third-and-longs, well obviously the defense should have the upper hand on third-and-long as opposed to the defense. But, the day you go to third-and-short, you hope the offense has an upper hand on the defense. “
What about Thursday, then?
“We did a lot of second-and-long work yesterday, which is probably skewed a little bit more towards the defense. If it was a different situation, it may have been skewed a little bit towards the offense. So, I don’t really put stock in who won the practice in terms of the offense or the defense.”
The other reason is that there haven’t been any officials to call penalties, which allows the cornerbacks to get pushy and grabby. That won’t fly when the penalty flags do, as Kelly noted.
“...part of that too is we need officials here, because sometimes I think some of our young DBs are [still] fighting [more than] five yards [past the line of scrimmage], which is not legal. There’s a five-yard contact area, which you want to be real aggressive there and disrupt the timing of the routes and the precision of the passing game and after that you have to go hands off.”
Chip has praised Rashard Robinson as much as anybody, but clearly the rook tops the list of defensive backs who will need to dial it down. Veteran safety Eric Reid told Barrows that:
“He might be too handsy, a little bit at times. At times, he has to reel that in a little bit. But he has the attitude you want.”
In fact, Barrows notes, Robinson has been playing with boxing gloves on his hands. Literally.
“It’s because Robinson, the 49ers’ fourth-round draft pick out of LSU, also has a tendency to be a grabby guy, using his hands to slow and redirect wide receivers, sometimes more than might be allowed by an NFL officiating crew.
“The mitts prevent him from grasping and tugging his opponent, forcing him to use proper footwork to keep pace.”
Even with these cautions, the secondary remains one of the team’s stronger (or at least deeper) units, while the wide receiver corps started thin and thinner. Still it’s too early to draw conclusions, says the coach.
“We’ll have a couple days next week where we’ll have the officials in here to practice and that will really kind of help us out and we’ll get a better understanding and a better feel at that point in time.”