Kyle Shanahan: “[W]e don’t really look at that as much right now, so I wouldn’t make a big deal of anything like that.”
The 49ers head coach said that in response to a question about Eli Harold appearing to get a lot of first team snaps over Ahmad Brooks. Shanahan said he bets if he looked at every single snap from the entire practice, it would be a bit more even, but he also is not as concerned about it at this point.
We can’t make too many conclusions based on one day of training camp, particularly given that we will likely see a lot of rotation on both sides of the ball. There will be cross-training at different positions, and there will be maneuvering to see who fits best with which other players.
That being said, I am always intrigued by depth chart maneuvering, and day one provides a base line to see what changes day-to-day and into the first preseason game. The 49ers.com recap provided some helpful insight, as did some of the beat writer recaps.
The primary first string offensive line on Friday included LT Joe Staley, LG Joshua Garnett, C Daniel Kilgore, RG Brandon Fusco, and RT Trent Brown. According to Matt Barrows, Jeremy Zuttah got some first team work at center and also did some work at right guard, while Garry Gilliam got some right tackle work.
Garnett played right guard last season, but had played a lot of left guard in college. In OTAs and minicamp, he got some work on both sides, but maybe we see him settle in on the left side. Zuttah missed some time in OTAs with a leg injury, so it is possible he is just being slowly worked in.
The 49ers base defense featured Tank Carradine and Arik Armstead on the ends, with Earl Mitchell and DeForest Buckner inside. When they went to the nickel, Elvis Dumervil and Eli Harold came in. Solomon Thomas did some conditioning work, but did not participate in this first practice. Ronald Blair served as the second team strong end behind Tank.
I’m really curious to see how Buckner, Armstead, and Thomas all rotate. Buckner will be primarily an interior guy, but will Armstead strictly play on the end now that he’s lost some weight? He had some success as an interior pass rusher, but maybe they see an entirely different role for him. Ronald Blair, Tank Carradine, Chris Jones, and Quinton Dial will all have plenty to prove, as all are on the roster bubble for the time being.
The starting linebackers were Ahmad Brooks, NaVorro Bowman, and Malcolm Smith. Eli Harold got some first team reps as well, as mentioned above, and with some veteran days for Brooks, I suspect that continues. Rookie Reuben Foster started with the third string defense, but moved into the second team by the end of practice. I don’t think he supplants Malcolm Smith quite yet, but maybe we see some more regular first string rotation at some point.
Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson got first team work, and then Ahkello Witherspoon and Keith Reaser came in second. Of all the groups, Johnson, Witherspoon, and Reaser could end up with the most significant rotation among them these first couple weeks of training camp.
Jaquiski Tartt got the start with Jimmie Ward opening camp on the PUP list. Lorenzo Jerome and Chanceller James were second and third on the depth chart. The 49ers said Ward is week-to-week with his hamstring injury, and the team is clearly ready to take it slowly with him. Of course, given his injury history, getting more reps for the free safety backups is just a little bit helpful.
Tim Hightower is currently the No. 2 running back behind Carlos Hyde. Joe Williams and Matt Breida might be viewed as the future, but Hightower is the complementary option for 2017. I could see Hightower not getting a ton of preseason snaps, but he will be a significant player in this offense.
The 49ers have continued with the same group of punt returners from the offseason workout program. That group includes Jeremy Kerley, Bruce Ellington, Trent Taylor, DeAndre Carter, and Victor Bolden Jr. Ellington might have the most to gain or lose from this group. With the top of the wide receiver depth chart seemingly fairly settled, Ellington’s best chance at a roster spot might be if he impresses in the return game (and stays healthy).