The San Francisco 49ers won’t hold any more on-field team activities until training camp begins in late July.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan elected to cancel Thursday’s practice after offensive lineman Justin Skule and safety Tavarius Moore suffered season-ending injuries. Shanahan also won’t require the players to participate in the team’s mandatory minicamp, which was scheduled for June 15-17, meaning we won’t get much insight into the positional battles for roughly another seven weeks.
One position group where the 49ers need someone to step up in is wide receiver.
With Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk at the top of the depth chart, the competition for who will be No. 3 should be one of the highlights of training camp. Shanahan is happy with the group of receivers after the top two options.
“We’re looking for the obvious third spot ...,” Shanahan said during his recent media availability. “After that [Samuel and Aiyuk] I’ve been happy with our group out there. A number of guys have a chance to try to earn that third role and we need a number of guys to make the roster to be ready for starting roles in case people get hurt.”
Kendrick Bourne was a quality No. 3 receiver the past three seasons, racking up 121 receptions for 1,512 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he moved on this offseason, signing with the New England Patriots in free agency.
The 49ers have a mix of options to take over Bourne’s role. Shanahan liked what he saw from three-year pro Richie James during OTAs and mentioned a slew of other receivers he thinks could step up next season.
“I thought [James] was having a hell of a camp, so I’m excited to see him come back,” Shanahan said. “And some of the guys that people haven’t seen yet, with [WR] Jauan Jennings who was on our practice squad last year and a guy like I’m [WR] Mohamed Sanu, who’s done a lot of things in his career, who he’s been having a hell of a camp, [WR] Travis [Benjamin] has been having a hell of a camp. [WR] Kevin White’s been doing great.
“We got, I know I’m missing people, but there’s not a guy on our roster at receiver that doesn’t have a chance to make this team. All of them, I believe, are NFL players and all of them gave themselves a chance in OTAs to show us that and we’ll see what they do in their 40 days away. It’ll be a fun competition to watch. If everyone stays healthy it’s going to be a battle. It’s a good problem to have though.”
Shanahan was also asked about the 49er’s pursuit of All-Pro wideout Julio Jones, who was traded to the Tennesee Titans earlier in the week. The head coach loves Jones as a player but felt making the right move was to take the long-term approach to build the roster.
“No one in the world doesn’t want a guy like that, I mean everyone knows the player he is. but it’s not as simple as that,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to build a team and it’s not just year to year, you’ve got to build it for the future. You just think about how hard it is going into drafts. You know, you never know what you’re going to be able to do in free agency, who you’re going to lose, who you’re going to be able to bring in. You’ve got lots of guys on one-year contracts, things like that.”
The 49ers made one of the biggest moves of the NFL offseason when they traded three first-rounders and their 2022 third-round pick to the Miami Dolphins to move up to draft QB Trey Lance No. 3 overall.
Shanahan says that factored into the Niners’ decision to make a serious run at acquiring Jones.
“Everyone knows we don’t have a first-round pick,” Shanahan explained. “But what happens when you don’t have a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick, and you lose the number of guys in free agency, which you never can for sure count on.
“And then you end up going into a draft and you’ve got to get six new spots, but all you have is a third and a fifth-round pick. It’s kind of tough to build your team that way and to consistently do it. But he’s a hell of a player and he’s going to definitely help Tennessee. And everyone knows how special he is, but it’s, you’ve got to think about the short-term and the long-term and that’s why those things are so risky for everybody.”
Shanahan also touched on a few other subjects, including Lance, how the rookie class looked during OTAs and his thoughts on defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans.
*Transcript courtesy of the 49ers communications team
Now that you guys are mostly done with the offseason, I know you said the rookies will stick around a little bit, how do you think QB Trey Lance did in terms of picking things up and translating it to the field over the last few weeks?
“I think he did a good job. I mean, just being able to throw everything at him, you know, we got through the whole installation and be able to do that. You know, there’s a process of it. Some days you do good, some days you do bad, but there’s a whole up and down with it that is necessary for a guy to go through. So you can get those reps, soak it in, have an idea of what it feels like.
“Now we have tape to show him, tape to talk to him about, he gets to get away on his own and have an idea of what’s expected out of him when he gets back. And just going through the process, kind of with most people with OTAs I don’t really ever say whether it was good or bad because just going through it to me is good. Even if you didn’t do that well, which I thought he did, but it’s just experience of how it affects you in camp at least what you’ve got to work on when you’re away and really helps you get your mind right and your body right for what’s ahead of us.”
What’s your overall assessment of how the rookies progressed this week? Especially RB Trey Sermon since he was allowed to take first-team reps?
“I mean, I was just kind of like what I said with Trey the quarterback to begin with, just those guys being able to go through all these practices. I mean, last year we had rookies, we didn’t get an offseason and you have a bunch of rookies show up for training camp and you have no idea what they’re into. Some they think they’re in shape and they tweak stuff and it messes up their whole year.
“To be able to get rookies here, see what it’s like to play to NFL speed, to learn the playbook, to go out there and understand how NFL practices are, how fast you go, how much better the people are across from you. It gives those guys just an idea of when they come into camp, what I’ve got to work on. And I think it helps those guys have a much better rookie year. So Trey’s been great and Sermon we’re talking about, each week he’s gotten more and more reps and as we cooled it down with [RB] Raheem [Mostert] a little bit here, the last couple of weeks, it’s given him even more opportunities.”
When it comes to DeMeco and his adjustment to his new role, how active are you in working with him and maybe coaching him up in adjusting to that role? Are you comfortable enough with him given your familiarity that you just sort of let him be and maybe observe from afar? What’s that balance like for you?
“I mean, I have a good idea of what I was getting into before I promoted him. So it was a very easy transition. It’s not, kind of had an idea what I was going to get just being around the guy for so long and knowing how ready he is for this and my style isn’t really to micromanage anyone. I kind of sit back and let people be themselves. And if I have a problem with something or if I think there’s something that can help someone be better, I never hesitate to do that.
“And I do that as much as I can, but with DeMeco, you don’t have to do that too much. DeMeco has been made for this role and he’s been successful in everything he’s done. And you know, regardless of what happens, I already know we have a real good one.”