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Five things we would’ve been watching at 49ers OTA practices

So many position battles on the roster

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the NFL in a major way. While we still experienced free agency, the NFL Draft, and the schedule release, we missed rookie camp and OTAs. There is always a player around the league that makes a name for himself during OTAs and carries that momentum into training camp. You see this all of the time with undrafted free agents. Not every example is as extreme as Vikings receiver Adam Thielen working over every starting cornerback and eventually find his way on the roster, but the players fighting for a roster spot and to make a name for themselves are missing out on an opportunity to perform.

Here is what we would have been watching if the San Francisco 49ers were participating in OTAs.

The endless questions at receiver

Would Jalen Hurd have been cleared to practice? Would Trent Taylor take reps with the starters? What kind of shape is Dante Pettis in? You can guarantee after a few practices; you’d think nine receivers would make the roster. OTAs are the time where a player makes a few plays, and fans will latch onto that for the next two months until training camp.

Seeing the usage of Hurd and Jauan Jennings would have been fun to watch. Also, would Brandon Aiyuk standout right away? You want your first-round pick to make an impression. I also would have liked to see if Kendrick Bourne maintained his quickness by adding a few pounds. There are endless questions at receiver, and we’ll have to wait until late July to get those questions answered.

The hype machine

We would undoubtedly be hyping up multiple players as we speak. Hype that would make Jarryd Hayne blush. Jerick McKinnon, one of the 16 receivers, probably wondering why Richie James doesn’t get a shot, but it’d likely be an undrafted free agent. I’m a little disappointed that Mr. Cohn can’t tweet about how Broc Rutter can make throws that Jimmy Garoppolo can’t.

There is minimal contact in OTAs, which means the more athletic players tend to stand out. After a couple of clips, I’d bet good money JaMycal Hasty would be a fan favorite, and fans would want Tevin Coleman cut.

How does the linebacker rotation go?

The best roster battle is between Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw. Two talented players fighting for who plays an extra 30 or so snaps a game. The 49ers are going once again have one of the strongest defenses in the NFL, so this is a good problem to have.

OTAs would give guys like Jonas Griffith an opportunity to show what they can do. As I said, not much contact, so Griffith or an athlete like Joe Walker could prove that they are more than just camp bodies and special teamers. Also, can we tell the difference between Azeez Al-Shaair a year removed from a serious knee injury? This is a linebacking group that oozes with athleticism, and they have a chance to be the best in the NFL this year.

How many players get a shot at cornerback?

You have Richard Sherman; then you have Emmanuel Moseley, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tim Harris, and Jason Verrett. The last four players are all players John Lynch has mentioned at some point this offseason. Verrett hasn’t stayed healthy in forever, but the team brought him back because Verrett’s talent is undeniable. Harris is an intriguing option that is probably still a year away from competing, but seeing how his game has grown would have been fun to see. It’ll come down to Moseley and Witherspoon, more than likely. That’s another battle that will play itself out in training camp, but OTAs would have given us an idea of how the rotation worked.

Is there a plan at running back?

Raheem Mostert said he’s added muscle and plans on having a bigger role in 2020. It’s safe to assume Mostert will be the team’s top option to open the season. Kyle Shanahan has always rotated backs everywhere he’s been, and 2019 was no different. Mostert said he’s been working with McKinnon on improving on his pass-catching abilities, but would he have stayed on the field on passing downs?

Speaking of running backs, I was interested to see if they were involved in the passing game more. Between the two above and Tevin Coleman, those are three viable threats. You could also throw in Jeff Wilson and Hasty to that group.

You could do this for every position, from offensive line to defensive line, and probably even backup quarterback. OTAs give guys like guard Ross Reynolds an opportunity. When you have the type of depth the 49ers do, competition is necessary. It’s too bad; we’ll have to wait until July.