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Rookie recap: Womack makes his case to start in the slot

Plus, a look at how the guards did in their debut

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The 49ers’ 2022 rookie class gave us our first glimpse at what they bring to the table Friday night against the Packers. Trey Lance is a first-year starter, but he played in 2021. In addition, we’ll include Aaron Banks since he was effectively redshirted last year.

For you Brock Purdy lovers, there will be no detailed breakdowns of the seventh-rounder. Friday, each QB played relatively well. Purdy only attempted six passes, led a touchdown drive, and threw for a couple of first downs.

Here’s how the rest of the Niners “rookies” performed Friday.

Encouraging upfront

The 49ers’ coaching staff wanted to see how the youngsters performed when the bright lights were on. Banks and rookie Spencer Burford totaled 51 snaps. Jason Poe and Nick Zakelj, the “other” rookies along the line, both played over 30 snaps.

Neither player had any alarming whiffs while the starting guards flashed:

I believe that was one of his five “pressures” allowed from PFF on that last rep from Burford. That’s a clear-cut win in my book.

Another pressure came when Burford had to block the defensive tackle in the gap next to him. It was the play where Lance slid:

“Burton,” as Tim Ryan said in the clip above, blocks the defensive tackle to his left. Lance’s reaction to climbing the pocket is due to the edge rusher. I wouldn’t argue with anybody who felt that rep was a loss for Burton, but he doesn’t have to worry about giving up sacks this season if those are his losses.

Burford didn’t bring his lower half with him on two separate plays. As a result, he’ll need to consistently bring his hips and feet into the blocking equation. Let’s see if Burford can iron that issue out during the preseason.

Banks wasn’t charged with a pressure by PFF, but he had as close to a QB hit as possible on the play Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled. On another running play, when Banks was asked to pull, he couldn’t make his way through the traffic and ended up not blocking anyone. In both plays, agility was the issue.

When there are only a couple of plays to gripe about when discussing first-time starting offensive lineman, it’s encouraging. Banks and Burford knew who to block and where to go. There were more positives than negatives, which is what you’re looking for in their first preseason action of the season.

Aside from how they performed, the move away from predominantly running zone schemes to a 60/40 split with gap schemes tells you the shift the 49ers plan on making to running in between the tackles this season.

Rookie runners

Ty Davis-Price had ten carries for 36 yards. Jordan Mason carried the ball six times for 30 yards. The coaching staff is telling us the type of runs each back excels at, as four of Mason’s carries were gap runs while only three of TDP’s were.

Davis-Price is a no-nonsense, one-cut runner. TDP forced two missed tackles and ran for three first downs. Davis-Price is at his best in the Burford clip, where he decisively cuts upfield. Impressively, 32 of TDPs 36 yards came after contact. Unfortunately, he did have a drop, which won’t help his chances of becoming the third down back.

Mason didn’t struggle after contact, as he averaged 2.8 yards after someone touched him. Mason ran for a couple of first downs and looked challenging to tackle, just like he’s been during training camp.

Gray gets it done

As with Banks and Burford, Danny Gray’s usage foreshadowed what’s to come this season. Gray was targeted four times, with two of those over 20 yards, and each ending in receptions. The out route, where he and Lance were off by a split second, came on a beautiful Hi/Lo concept Shanahan can use on early downs, knowing Lance has the arm to use the full field.

I’m excited to see the other ways the 49ers find ways to take advantage of Gray’s speed. He will need to improve against press coverage, though. On one play, Gray struggled to get off the line of scrimmage. That’s been an issue during camp and popped on a couple of occasions Friday.

Action Jackson

Drake Jackson returned to practice Sunday after suffering a stinger, though he only participated during individual drills.

Jackson only played 14 snaps, notching a pressure, batted pass, and chasing down Jordan Love:

DeMeco Ryans said he’d seen steady improvement with Jackson:

“Drake did some good things that translate to us winning games, when it comes to him, like on the boot play with the quarterback rolling out with him being able to attack the throwing arm—affecting the throw, not allowing the quarterback to follow through. His effort on a play over on their sideline, his effort chasing down the quarterback. Those things that he did right there, those things translate to us winning games.

The effort, attacking the throwing arm, those things can help us win games, so we’re just expecting even more out of him. Good first outing from a lot of our rookies, good first outing, but those guys, again, they’re still learning. They’re still growing, but we are pleased with some of the things that they’ve shown us.”

Even if Jackson is a work in progress, it’ll be difficult not to make plays on this defensive line with the type of effort he showcased. Jackson seems like a player who could grow into the Arden Key role, where an edge rusher kicks inside on obvious passing downs.

Stud in the slot

The 49ers drafted two cornerbacks on Day 3. Tariq Castro-Fields played 15 snaps and was not targeted. Samuel Womack played 28 snaps and is in the running for the preseason Hall of Fame.

Womack’s instincts are apparent. They showed up on two plays against the run, where he diagnosed a running play and nearly met the ball carrier in the backfield on both occasions. It comes off a bit reckless, but Womack’s chaotic play and athleticism are precisely what the 49ers need in the slot.

He was only targeted twice, with both played ending in interceptions. Womack’s second interception was textbook coverage from a technique standpoint. But he has Amari Rodgers locked down all night. In zone coverage, Womack related to receivers constantly.

On the other end of the spectrum, Darqueze Dennard didn’t relate to a crossing route and created a big running lane on the same possession. The difference in both players' games should lead to Womack taking snaps from the veteran with the starters sooner than later. You can’t keep Womack’s competitive spirit on the bench. He fits right in with the 49ers' defensive identity.