The 49ers took the field today for their eleventh practice of training camp. Here are my biggest takeaways from what I saw during today’s practice, and a couple of other tidbits from my notes
Trey Lance had his best practice of camp
Just yesterday, I wrote about how Lance’s 4-12 stat line from Sunday’s practice was blown out of proportion and how those numbers did not reflect the progress I thought Lance was making with his decision-making and mechanics.
I charted Lance at 13-17 today, with a rushing touchdown and a couple of big gains on designed runs as well. For those keeping score at home on completion percentage watch, Lance was at 76% today.
Lance was 2-3 during the red zone period, where he also recorded a rushing touchdown after escaping a collapsing pocket. There were a handful of plays during this portion of practice where I thought Lance could have been a hair quicker with his decision-making, leading to him holding the ball longer than he should have. Here are my notes from Lance’s red zone period.
- Collapsing pocket — found check down in flat for completion and a positive gain.
- Scramble for a touchdown, felt pressure coming, didn’t appear to be a clear option open downfield; Lance decided to step up and run for the goal line.
- Ball broken up by Fred Warner, but I had this play charted as a sack well before the ball came out. Solid win all around by the defensive line
- Hit Deebo Samuel on an out route to the left sideline wasn’t the cleanest ball by any means, but Lance was able to put it in a spot where only his guy could make a play on it, and Samuel made a great catch while extending towards the sideline.
- Tucked and ran on a play where the pocket wasn’t clean; I had this charted as a likely sack.
- Clean pocket, really good rep from the entire offensive line; Lance missed very high to Brandon Aiyuk in the left corner of the end zone. Bad miss; the only way Aiyuk has a chance to catch this ball is if he was 12 feet tall.
- Another sack on a rep where it felt like it could have been a coverage sack, but ideally, Lance gets the ball out quicker. Feels like Lance is fine under pressure when he is outside the pocket, but when chaos ensues within the pocket, he still doesn’t look fully comfortable making decisive decisions with the consistency he does when he is on the move.
During a situational move the ball drill, Lance was 4-5, with his only miss coming on a designed roll out on the goal line on a ball intended for Jauan Jennings. Didn’t think the ball placement was bad, looked more like the defensive player in coverage getting a hand in the way to break it up.
Lance also had a 25-yard gain on a designed run down the right sideline. He ran well beyond that, but I had it charted where it looked like Jimmie Ward eased up and pulled up just before the sideline because he was unable to touch the quarterback. If this was a real game and that was another team’s quarterback, Ward would have knocked him into the first row of seats in the stands.
A couple of other throws in my notes, both good and bad.
- Play action fake that did a great job of moving the defense; Lance demonstrated tremendous patience allowing Aiyuk’s route to develop downfield on a deep crossing route. Lance stepped up with textbook footwork and delivered a strike over the middle to Aiyuk for a big gain.
- Near interception by Fred Warner on a ball Lance threw off his back foot while falling backward. The kind of throw you shrug off during practice but never even think about making during a real game. By far, Lance’s worst throw and decision of today’s practice.
- Flushed out of pocket to the right side, Lance rolled to his right, and instead of taking off and running, Lance kept his eyes downfield and delivered a great ball under pressure while on the move. Lance’s instinct to try to win with his arm before relying on his legs while he is scrambling is a very impressive trait for a young quarterback that is such a physically gifted runner.
Ultimately this was the practice where it felt like Lance checked all the boxes. Decision-making was good, ball placement was good, and he even flashed the dynamic element he brings to this offense with his rushing ability.
More important than anything was he looked confident, and he looked consistent. It’s clear how much more comfortable he is getting as camp progresses, and even with the ups and downs, there is tangible progress to point to over the last couple of weeks.
Jeff Wilson Jr. and Trey Sermon shine in the backfield
Wilson Jr. had the two most impressive runs of the day today, with two carries going for 15-plus yards apiece against the first team defense. Barring any medical setbacks, Wilson Jr. is all but a lock to make the final 53, in my opinion. He is a veteran with experience in the system and, more importantly, someone Shanahan can trust to be in the right spots.
Especially working in a third-down role, where Wilson Jr. is by far their best pass-protecting running back, which is invaluable as the 49ers will look to do everything possible to protect the investment they made when they selected Trey Lance.
Sermon is another player who continues to look better as camp continues. The thing that really stood out to me today was how he performed as a receiver in the passing game.
Sermon had a couple of really nice catches, including one away from his body while moving laterally in the flat towards the sideline. Sermon recently said that he is able to play faster now that he has a year in the system under his belt, and it has certainly shown in a major way over the last week or so of practice.
Offensive line starting to gel
After being the scapegoat for any and all issues with the offense to start camp, the offensive line has strung together a few practices in a row where they have consistently been able to hold their own against a ferocious 49ers defensive front.
One player in particular who has stood out in a big way is rookie Jason Poe, who has been dominating his reps from the interior. While Poe is noticeably smaller than a typical NFL offensive lineman, you would never know that based on the strength and power that he plays with.
Poe tested off the charts, and all those great physical traits have been translating to the practice field with the increase in reps he has seen. Here are his testing numbers and where they would have stacked up amongst the offensive linemen who participated in the 2022 scouting combine.
4.89 40-yard dash - 2nd
34 reps on the bench press - 1st
31.5-inch vertical - 5th
9’3″ broad jump - 10th
I charted Poe on four one on one reps against the defensive line, and I had him absolutely dominating three of them. I was in awe watching how he could anchor against the bull rush in a phone booth with a tremendously talented group of players on the 49ers’ defensive line.
It’s not matter if Poe has a future in the NFL. It’s a matter of where. Whether it’s at one of the guard spots or possibly the center of the future, the 49ers are going to need to find a way to maximize this guy’s skill set. He is the real deal, and I cannot wait to see him in action during the preseason.
As for the rest of the offensive line, I had them with 17 wins on 38 reps against the defensive line on the one-on-one reps that I charted. Spencer Burford and Colton McKivitz recorded multiple wins during this period, and I was very impressed with how both played today.
The only real concern is how the interior offensive line is getting beat by the bull rush. Every player, except Poe, has consistently lost reps when the opposing lineman opts to utilize power over finesse. Something to keep an eye on going forward.
All in all, though, this group has made major strides since the start of camp, and it was only fair to exercise patience and allow them time to gel with three new starters manning the interior.
A couple of other bits from my notes to conclude today’s observations.
- Ray-Ray McCloud continues to make plays during move-the-ball drills. He is extremely quick in the open field, and that, paired with Shanahan’s ability to scheme players into open space, makes me believe McCloud will play an important role in the passing game as well as the value he brings as the primary return specialist.
- Malik Turner had a deep touchdown today where he got behind the defense down the right sideline before catching a ball from Brock Purdy and turning on the jets to get into the end zone. Turner has been really good throughout camp, and he is a veteran who can contribute to special teams. All of those factors make me believe he has to be in the driver’s seat for a spot on the final 53-man roster, where Shanahan typically will keep six wide receivers.
- Javon Kinlaw and Kevin Givens both made plays in the backfield during 11-on-11s, and even in the absence of Arik Armstead, the interior of the 49ers’ defensive line looks poised to be a nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with.