After a long hiatus, we finally have real live football to analyze once more. The energy in Santa Clara was electric as the 49ers descended upon the practice field at SAP Performance center to participate in the first training camp practice of 2022.
Here are the three biggest things I took away from watching this practice.
- The speed of the wide receiver core
Danny Gray’s speed was well publicized since the 49ers selected him in the third round of April’s draft, but getting to see it in live action was an eye-opening experience. Gray looked explosive getting in and out of his breaks and showcased that elite top-end speed when he turned the burners on.
It wasn’t just Gray. However, Malik Turner showcased his burst with a deep touchdown down the left sideline as a free agent signing. Keesean Johnson also surprised me with the quickness he displayed on a couple of in-breaking routes over the middle.
And finally, Ray-Ray McCloud and Brandon Aiyuk, who both looked smooth as can be, ran routes with great pace throughout most of the practice. Add in the all-pro level explosiveness you get from Deebo Samuel, and this once uncertain group of wide receivers immediately becomes one of the most dangerous in the entire league.
This is a unit I expect to take full advantage of the speed they possess across the board, leading to opposing defenses being stretched out vertically, married with the ability to hit splash plays through the air regularly with a quarterback who has monumental arm strength to hit the throws downfield.
2. The interior of the defensive line picked up right where it left off
The 49ers' defensive line closed out the 2021 season with a string of heroic performances, and after watching the first day of practice, it appears this unit has not missed a beat. Kevin Givens and Arik Armstead were two of the best players on the field today, and Javon Kinlaw appears to be moving well and without restriction while he put the finishing touches on his comeback from a brutal knee injury last season.
This is a unit that looks poised to be a major force going into the regular season, and the potential for an incredible amount of depth given the guys buried on the depth chart like Hassan Ridgeway, Maurice Hurst, and Robert Nkemdiche.
I will add, I’m holding off until the pads come on to make any definitive judgments, but the top-to-the-bottom depth of this defensive line makes me believe this is the best one they have had under John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan.
3. Encouraging signs from players making their way back from serious injury
Mike McGlinchey, Tarvarius Moore, and Kinlaw all missed significant time last season due to a string of brutal injuries, but on the first day of practice in 2022, they look like they will be ready to make significant contributions by the time the regular season rolls around.
Kinlaw worked during positional drills but sat out 11 on 11s ( a common precaution that is taken in a situation like this) but appeared to not be hindered while going through the drills he participated in. A healthy Kinlaw is a major weapon for a defense that finished top five last season in spite of the adversity they faced after losing Kinlaw to a season-ending injury.
McGlinchey appeared to be in good spirits and maintained his starting spot at right tackle. I will keep an eye on how McGlinchey continues to progress as he returns from a devastating injury that sidelined him for the majority of 2021. While moving, he looked crisp and confident in his legs underneath him, and again is poised to be a major difference maker on the 49ers' offensive line.
Lastly, Moore appears in line for some significant snaps at safety, given how frequently defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans deployed three safety sets last season. Moore looked very explosive while doing any kind of rapid change of direction movement, a very encouraging sign for a player that ruptured their Achilles a little over 13 months ago.
Stay tuned for more Day 2 coverage coming up later today, following the conclusion of today’s practice.