The 49ers' offense practiced on the near field Friday, making it much easier to observe. Here are my five takeaways from the Niners' final practice against the Chargers.
Trey Lance gets reps with the first-team
For the first time during training camp, Lance got an extensive run with the first team. The results were mixed, as Lance had some accuracy issues to start but finished strong, rebounding with a couple of nice throws while showing exceptional poise in the pocket.
Lance started 11-on-11s with a shovel pass to Deebo Samuel, who motioned across the formation before the snap. That was followed by two designed runs that preceded his first designed pass play, which resulted in a sack after Lance held the ball a little too long while seemingly having nowhere to go with the ball due to the Chargers’ secondary’s tight coverage on the play.
Lance’s first three actual pass attempts all ended with incompletions as he continued an established pattern of missing his target high. His second attempt was a back-shoulder throw down the left sideline intended for Mohamed Sanu, a ball that wasn’t necessarily a bad throw, but one with an exceptional level of difficulty and one that Lance has attempted a few times, too many during training camp in my opinion.
Lance's third attempt was a ball thrown so high over the middle that it was nearly intercepted by the safety playing over the top, at least 10 yards beyond where Lance was targeting his receiver between the hashes.
After this sequence, Lance turned it on, hitting Deebo Samuel for a big gain over the middle for his first completion with the starters. From this point on, Lance looked far more comfortable, consistently working well through his progressions when his primary read wasn’t available. Lance ended practice with a touchdown to JaMycal Hasty on third down during situational drills.
Shaky practice for Jimmy Garoppolo
It was a rough practice for Garoppolo, as he looked extremely indecisive during team drills. He frequently held the ball too long while showing a reluctance to push the ball downfield. Garoppolo’s biggest issue has always been a lack of consistency, which was on full display during Friday’s practice.
Garoppolo started 11-on-11’s strong with a completion to tight end George Kittle over the middle but followed it up with a severely underthrown ball to Deebo Samuel deep down the right sideline.
Samuel had to work his way back to the ball, fighting through the defender to have a chance to make a play on it — which unfortunately has been a common occurrence during training camp.
The lack of velocity certainly contributes, but the most concerning part of these underthrows is that they are often happening after Garoppolo appears to be panicking in the pocket after his first read is open.
Often, these throws are placed where the defender can not only make a play on the ball but regularly has the advantage over the receiver regarding getting there first.
Garoppolo did have a couple of strong throws on the day, including an impressive 3rd down conversion to George Kittle, but today the bad far outweighed the good.
The right guard spot is a major problem
There are no two ways about it, the most worrisome part of practice was how badly starting right tackle Daniel Brunskill was getting beat. There was a portion of practice where the Chargers defensive line had one on ones with the 49ers offensive line, and Brunskill got beat on every single rep he participated in. However, the issue wasn’t just him getting beat, it was that he lost each rep by a wide margin.
Now, it’s important to note that Brunskill is extremely valuable due to his ability as a run blocker in a zone-heavy scheme. But he is clearly the weakest link on the entire offensive line in pass protection. This has been an issue for multiple seasons and likely factored into the 49ers' decision to spend a second-round pick on Aaron Banks, which makes his current absence and overall struggles in camp all the more concerning.
Ultimately the hope is that Banks solidifies that spot for years to come. Still, his current injury and below-average play during the preseason make that unlikely to happen anytime soon, leaving the 49ers in a tough spot as Brunskill appears to be what he is at this point, making it unrealistic to expect the pass protection issues on the interior are going to disappear anytime soon.
Raheem Mostert is Still RB1
Even though Trey Sermon has gotten a significant amount of reps with the first team, Mostert is still far and away the most dangerous option among the backs and will continue to be the primary ball carrier for the foreseeable future.
Mostert kicked off 11-on-11’s with an explosive 80-yard touchdown carry designed to go to the left side, which he then cut back to the right side before hitting nothing but green grass on his way to pay dirt.
It was the perfect embodiment of what makes Mostert so special, as he displayed his home run speed that was only able to be put to use due to incredible vision that helped him identify the massive hole in the defense on the right side.
The Big 3 continue to impress
The 49ers target allocation in the passing game will run through three players, all of which have had a strong showing in camp to this point. Kittle, Aiyuk, and Samuel have repeatedly dominated in their individual matchups, and have each provided a safety blanket of sorts for whoever has been in at quarterback.
Samuel, in particular, was having the strongest practice of the three before checking out of practice due to what Head Coach Kyle Shanahan described as glutei tightness. Samuel has looked much better working the deeper part of the route tree compared to previous seasons, a testament to the work he put in during the offseason.
Aiyuk continues to show off his incredible catch radius, seemingly recording at least one jaw-dropping reception during every practice. Kittle continues to be a matchup nightmare as Shanahan has utilized him in the slot more often than usual this preseason.