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49ers training camp notes, Day 9: The running game is starting to come together

Plus, a break down of the quarterbacks, depth chart, and the player of the day

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The 49ers had a glorified scrimmage on Saturday inside of Levi’s Stadium. The team announced that there were more than 19,000 fans on hand. After practice, Trent Williams told the media that one of his benchmarks is to play in front of fans.

Williams remains one of the best interviews on the team.

Arik Armstead (groin), Dee Ford, Javon Kinlaw, Nick Bosa, and Samson Ebukam (lower body soreness) did not participate during team drills. If the goal was to help the offense move the ball, then the 49ers failed. Despite missing their first team d-line, that position group was the strongest on the field.

Practice started chippy as the players fed into the energy of the crowd. Mark Fields jammed River Cracraft at the line of scrimmage during 1-on-1’s, which led to a slight scuffle between the two. Cracraft threw the ball at Fields, and Kyle Shanahan wasn’t too happy about it as he got into the receiver's face telling him, “we don’t do that. Don’t do that.”

Tough day to judge the QBs

You’ll see members of the media cite completion percentages during training camp, and most of the numbers are different. Mine will likely be off from most as I’m not giving either quarterback credit for a completion after they get sacked (twice on some occasions in one play), and the play takes six seconds.

I had Jimmy Garoppolo 15-24 with a touchdown. Garoppolo was good in the pocket once again and mostly went to the right spots with the ball. However, there are still misses that lead to pass breakups or a questionable read here and there.

Five of Jimmy’s throws were broken up or contested by the defense. He also had one play to Kevin White where he threw it behind him, forcing White to leave his feet and eventually be tagged down. There was nobody around him. Jimmie Ward had an interception opportunity on another throw into double coverage but couldn’t reel the pass in.

After going three-and-out during the first move-the-ball period, Garoppolo answered nicely by keeping his eyes down the field and hitting receivers over the middle of the field. The drive was capped off with George Kittle embarrassing poor Demmodore Lenoir at the line of scrimmage and caught a fade for a score.

Kittle is a mismatch, and the 49ers should take advantage of his size and athleticism near the goal line this year. Jimmy threw the pass on time, and Kittle did the rest.

I thought Garoppolo’s best play came on his tenth attempt where he didn’t have anybody open, bought time with his legs, and found Kittle after scrambling. He’s done a nice job of keeping plays alive the last couple of days.

That’s back-to-back practices where Garoppolo has outplayed Lance for those keeping track.

Trey Lance

The difference between the first-team offensive line and the second-team is like comparing a brand new 80” flat-screen to those old-school TVs where you had to change the channel on the TV itself.

It seems as though Shanahan wants to give reps to Lance with the first team due to not seeing him perform from the pocket. Saturday may have been the worst the second-team OL has looked during camp.

I had Lance 8-14 with an interception. In Lance’s defense, his throw to Elijah Mitchell ricocheted off his hands to his helmet and into Marcell Harris’s lap.

Lance’s best throw was probably his first, where he purposely threw behind Brandon Aiyuk instead of leading him into the safety for a big hit.

His worst throw was his next attempt when Lance was locked onto Aiyuk running a deep corner route but failed to recognize the safety coming from over the top. Jared Mayden should have picked the pass off.

Lance didn’t exactly do his blockers any favors, as he held onto the ball at times and was double-clutching. Were there receivers open? Debatable. He can’t afford to take sacks, which it felt like he would have been responsible for a few.

When Lance is on, it’s pretty. He throws with good anticipation and timing and has the arm strength to throw effortlessly to the far-hash. The hope is with more reps comes more consistency for the rookie.

Lance didn’t score during the second move-the-ball period, where he ran for a first down but couldn’t muster another first after they ran the ball on 3rd & 6. The overreactions to a triple-option call on third down would have been hilarious if it were a game.

Running game thrives

While the second-team offensive line was shaky at best, and the first team had their moments, creating running lanes was not an issue. Saturday, for perhaps the first time during camp, the 49ers rushing attack consistently moved the ball and looked like a Kyle Shanahan offense.

Elijah Mitchell had a few nice gains. While he had a costly drop that led to a turnover, Mitchell runs with a low center of gravity that helps him break tackles. In addition, Mitchell’s speed is an asset.

Trey Sermon’s vision continues to impress, as does his balance. He had the longest gain during the move-the-ball period, where Sermon cutback for a would-be 20+ yard gain. He glides and always seems to find a hole for a positive gain.

This was the best play from the offense, in my opinion. The blocking looks synchronized, and Raheem Mostert’s early cut and easy speed do the rest:

For as much focus as there’s been on the quarterbacks, both should benefit from a top-five running game that’ll make life easier on all of the quarterbacks.

Changes to the depth chart?

Jonas Griffith received reps with the first-team defense at linebacker. That’s a first. The coaches must be seeing the same things that we are. Griffith finds ways to be around the ball. He made a couple of plays near the line of scrimmage.

Daniel Brunskill is locked into RG1 at this point. He’s practiced there every day other than one day where Tom Compton played with the starters.

Rookie report

Offensive line is one of the toughest positions for rookies to transition to the NFL, and that’s been the case for Aaron Banks. He continues to work with the second team. Banks looks noticeably smaller than his time at Notre Dame. He’s far from a “bust,” but Banks has work to do if he’s going to move up the depth chart.

Ambry Thomas had his best day at practice when you factor in individual and team drills. Demmodore Lenior? The opposite. He had a rough go at it on Saturday, which is expected from time to time for rookie cornerbacks.

Jauan Jennings isn’t a rookie, but we didn’t get a chance to see him last season. He looks quicker than he did when Jennings practiced sparingly at the beginning and end of last season. Perhaps he’s in better shape. Jennings is used all over, from catching screens to a deep target.

Player of the day - CB Jason Verrett

Kittle’s touchdown was impressive, but I have to go with Verrett. He undercut an out route and dove to break up a pass against Aiyuk. Verrett also broke up a slant route on 3rd & goal against Deebo Samuel. Verrett’s closing speed is impressive, and it’s good to see him playing with confidence.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans had this to say about Verrett:

“Yeah, J.V. has done a great job of is being consistent. That’s one thing I always highlight to the guys. Mainly every, it feels like every meeting I have with the defensive group, I’m highlighting J.V. and just showing his consistency and just showing the young guys how it looks to be a true pro and J.V. is that example for the guys in our room. And he brings it every day. He competes every day and his work ethic is just unmatched. So, just happy to have him, happy to have him in a really good place where he’s not worried about the history of the injuries or anything like that. He’s playing confident, he’s playing fast, he’s playing physical and it’s exactly what I like to see.”

Emmanuel Moseley said that Verrett has “the greatest feet ever.” The veteran cornerback is making Aiyuk and Samuel better players with each rep.

Disappointment of the day

I had high hopes for Tony Jefferson. But, after one week, I’m not sure the former Pro Bowler can run anymore. He’s been the victim of big plays time and time again. Jennings got behind Jefferson on a deep post route that should have been a touchdown on Saturday.

These plays happen daily, unfortunately. It’s still early, and Jefferson can turn it around, but he hasn’t done anything yet to warrant a roster spot on a team that has plenty of depth even though Jaquiski Tartt is out for the first six weeks at defensive back.