The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up training camp after a scrimmage Friday and their preseason’s final practice on Sunday. There have been plenty of stories coming out of training camp as San Francisco turns the page to the 2020 season. Which of these stories can we buy, and which of them are your typical training camp hype stories? Let’s get into it.
Buy or sell: An improved, productive secondary that will generate more takeaways?
The secondary has been all over the field and arguably the best unit on both sides of the ball during training camp. From the starters to the backups, everyone is making plays. The safeties are flying around, and tipping passes in the air. The cornerbacks have had sticky coverage. There has been a lot to like from this group.
I’m buying the secondary. Richard Sherman and Emmanuel Moseley have been outstanding, but that’s not much of a surprise. Both starting safeties have played well and are also breaking up passes, but Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward never lacked talent. It’s been the opportunistic play of Johnathan Cyprien, Tarvarius Moore, Jason Verrett, and Marcel Harris that have made the secondary look like the best secondary the 49ers will field in some time. To his credit, Ahkello Witherspoon has regained his confidence and has made plays as well.
Buy or sell: The injuries on the offensive line won’t be an issue
The 49ers have worked out roughly 76 offensive linemen the past couple of weeks as Ben Garland will likely miss Week 1 and perhaps even beyond. Kyle Shanahan said his ankle is “more serious than others,” and Garland hasn’t practiced in a couple of weeks. The team hasn’t said anything about Garland missing time; I’m just putting two and two together.
That’s led to some shuffling up front, and now the starters at right guard will come down to Colton McKivitz or Tom Compton, both who have struggled for the majority of camp. Too often did McKivitz and Compton struggle with the Niners backups like Kentavius Street and Kevin Givens. That’s problematic, as neither are known for their pass-rushing prowess. Both guards have been worse against the run. It would be turning a blind eye to act like right guard isn’t an issue. I’m not panicking, but I’m worried. We saw the team shuffle the offensive line on Sunday’s practice because of it.
Buy or sell: The Jerick McKinnon hype train
The lovefest for McKinnon has not slowed down one bit since training camp started. The train picked up as many national writers have picked McKinnon as their breakout player. It doesn’t hurt to have seemingly each one of your teammates single you out during their media availability.
McKinnon has not disappointed.
In my eyes, Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander are two of the ten best coverage linebackers in the NFL. They don’t stand a chance 1-on-1 against Jet. Most running backs can make you look bad on an option route out of the backfield because they have a two-way go and plenty of space to work with. McKinnon is one of the few backs that can win down the field routinely. Linebackers have to respect the fact that McKinnon can run by them, but also set them up as a route runner. McKinnon is impressive, and I’d be surprised if he had fewer than 30 receptions this season. This is the easiest answer of all.
Buy or sell: Jimmy Garoppolo’s turnovers from practice won’t trickle into the regular season
The secondary has been able to get their hands on quite a few Garoppolo passes during training camp. Turnovers were an issue last season, and those have continued in practice. Yes, it’s practice, and some of these throws Jimmy would not attempt in a game. Practice is an opportunity to find out what you can get away with. Also, the defense has seen these plays so many times that they know what’s coming. Finally, the cornerbacks squat on certain receivers because they know they’re not running deep.
Those things can be true while also acknowledging that the turnovers are not okay. Three of Garoppolo’s practice interceptions had come when he was fading away, throwing off his back foot, because the pressure was in his face. There was another one where Jimmy was rolling right and threw it across his body and across the field. Those head-scratching plays that build bad habits are still there, which is why I will believe turnovers aren’t an issue when those bad habits stop happening. Garoppolo said that there are a lot of different variables that go into training camp interceptions, but the process has been concerning.
I think Garoppolo will be better in 2020 thanks to his pocket presence and knowing where to go with the football, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that the turnovers will stop.
Solomon Thomas making an impact during the regular season
The defense has controlled the line of scrimmage for all of August. Unexpectedly, players like Street and Givens have stood out. The preseason has been where the hype tends to start for Solomon Thomas, which makes it easy to be skeptical about Solly.
I don’t remember Thomas looking anywhere near as good during practice in training camp a year ago.
Playing inside predominantly is a big reason why. It’s not just about Thomas switching positions, however. Thomas has a plan as a pass rusher—something that was lacking in years past. You’ll see Solly set up defenders with a move, have a counter, or win with athleticism. Too often, it was the latter or bust in previous years. I’ll go a step further and say Thomas will be even more impactful during the season thanks to the talent around him. If we’re going based on what we saw in August, Thomas will be the three-technique on passing downs, not first-round pick Javon Kinlaw.