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What matters and what doesn’t matter at 49ers OTAs

Position battles are not decided, but seeing NaVorro Bowman back from his torn Achilles does matter.

The San Francisco 49ers have wrapped up three OTAs this week, and with four left plus mandatory minicamp, the offseason workout program is rapidly coming to a close. The 49ers had media availability on Tuesday, and they will have it again next Wednesday. Practice will be open at noon, and that will be followed by defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, defensive position coaches, and players in the locker room speaking with media.

In this down time of the offseason for fans, any quotations and practice recaps are gobbled up. However, as with any of this offseason discussion, we have to take plenty of it with a certain grain of salt. A player will say he’s in the best shape of his career. A practice report will talk about another player having a huge day in OTAs. It’s interesting reading material, but there’s only so much that holds significant value.

Recently, Around the NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal put together a pertinent piece called, “What matters and what doesn't during OTA season.” Optimism flows like water in a river this time of year, but we have to decipher what is useful, and what is mostly fluff.

Rosenthal mentioned the 49ers in one of his “what matters” categories. He talked about “selective message sending,” and pointed to Kyle Shanahan’s Tuesday comments about the 49ers linebackers. Someone asked Shanahan about having Malcolm Smith and Reuben Foster both as potential WILL linebackers. He talked about it being a good problem to have a lot of talented options, but having someone talented one the sideline at times.

“There’s going to be, in my opinion, there’s going to be a very good player that’s not out there all the time and that’s not a bad thing. That makes the two guys that are out there go a lot harder and play better. It makes your special teams better and it allows you to survive injuries, which almost always happen.”

Rosenthal talked about it being a potential signal to NaVorro bowman and other returning veterans that their jobs might not be safe. I don’t know how much is Bowman’s job not being safe, and how much is just that generally speaking jobs won’t be safe, but people will make of it what they want.

One thing on the 49ers that does belong on the “what matters” side of the equation is Bowman being full go in OTAs. He tore his Achilles last October, and he appears to be making excellent progress. Rosenthal mentioned “players returning from serious injury,” and Bowman certainly fits. We don’t know exactly how he will be when Week 1 arrives, but being a full participant tells us something that just participating in individual drills would not.

Rosenthal also mentioned that position battles are part of the “what doesn’t matter” part of OTAs. I do agree that players will not win or lose jobs permanently during OTAs. However, they can certainly give a player some positive or negative momentum heading into training camp. Coaches recognize that playing in shorts and jerseys is not great for evaluative purposes, but you can’t tell me a strong or weak performance in OTAs doesn’t at least end up in the mind of a coach to some extent. Again, the player will have to build on a good performance or recover from a weak performance when training camp arrives, but a good or bad performance in OTAs does not have zero impact one way or the other.