The first padded practice is in the books for the 49ers, and tempers flared. Aaron Banks spoke at the podium afterward and said, “when you practice for four days without pads, things are going to build up.”
Boy, did they ever. Jauan Jennings is a master at provoking defensive backs. The third team was up, and Jennings felt as though one of the defenders hit his fellow wideout late. Jauan didn’t like that, and wasn’t going to stand for it. For the next 30 or so seconds, we had our first skirmish of practice.
After one of the players was in a headlock, head coach Kyle Shanahan had enough. He stopped the period, called the team to the middle, and gave everyone a tongue lashing. Jennings sat out the rest of the period, but that wasn’t the last time he’d find himself in the middle of something.
Maybe 20 minutes later, Jennings was going at it with Talanoa Hufanga. The two pushed and shoved each other, but it was broken up before it escalated to a fight.
A dominant defense drives practice
You wouldn’t know the Niners defense was playing without the Defensive Player of the Year based on how practice went. While everyone wants to know how each quarterback performed, it was the defense that stole the show.
If you watched Terrence Crawford fight Errol Spence Jr. Saturday, that’s how practice looked. Kyle Shanahan added a 13th period, which was a first for me in six years. That tells me that he wasn’t happy with the offense’s production and wanted to get something accomplished before ending practice.
Hufanga, Dre Greenlaw, and George Odum all had highlight-worthy hits that forced the ball carrier to leave their feet. The numbers I jotted down are much different from the rest of the media on-hand today as most of the throws would not have counted thanks to the defensive line getting after it.
There were a handful of times when there was a free runner at the quarterback and the play would have been blown dead. We were told that new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks would be more aggressive, and we weren’t lied to. The blitzing went from primarily on third downs with DeMeco Ryans to what feels like every other play with Wilks at the helm.
And that change has added to what was already an aggressive defensive unit. But that aggression hasn’t been sacrificed for big plays. The quarterbacks' completion numbers will all read as impressive today, but that’s because they had to check the ball down to underneath receivers.
Javon Hargrave is as advertised. The 49ers have another interior presence to pair with Arik Armstead who can push the pocket. Hargrave is also nimble enough to execute the games’ and twists upfront, which only creates more headaches for the offensive line.
Drake Jackson beat Colton McKivitz for a sack. We’ll see if he can continue to stack days together as Jackson will be needed. But Javon Kinlaw continues to open eyes in a good way in a backup role. Less is more may be just what the doctor ordered for Kinlaw, who had a couple of wins today, including a sack.
Robert Beal Jr. also stood out. He displayed power during 1-on-1s, and that translated to the team period, when he pushed the tackle back and ended up batting a Sam Darnold pass.
Ji’Ayir Brown had a would-be tackle for loss where he timed his blitz to perfection. As training camp goes along, we’ll see if there are more 3-safety sets with the first team that include Brown.
On Sunday, the offense seemed to do whatever they wanted. Monday, when the pads came on, and you couldn’t avoid the physicality, the tune changed, leading to a dominant day from the defense.
Offense is OK
The only explosive play the offense had would have been a borderline sack. It came on a route down the seam where Christian McCaffrey beat Fred Warner. McCaffrey had another long run earlier in practice where he beat Warner to the edge. Fred is one of the fastest players in the league at his position but was no match for the Niners best weapon.
I mentioned McKivitz giving up a sack, but he looks like he belongs. He was the only offensive lineman to not lose a rep during 1-on-1s. As was the case on Sunday, you don’t notice No. 68. That’s what you want for a lineman.
The defensive line created plenty of chaos, which led to confusion, and apparent sacks. The pressure put the running backs in a bind, and if we’re pointing the finger, the sacks were on the backfield. Which brings us to...
Baby steps for Brock
Purdy’s first day of pads looked like a player still getting used to the speed of the game. No matter how you slice it, Brock was likely the worst of the three quarterbacks Monday.
But I’m willing to give him a grace period. I understand some don’t want to hear the “rust” word, but it’s evident that he’s not comfortable yet. On his first attempt, Purdy fumbled the ball as he attempted a pump-fake.
On the ensuing dropback, Purdy underthrew Deebo Samuel, who had a step on Qwuantrezz Knight, but Knight broke up the pass thanks to the poor throw. There was another throw later on where Purdy underthrew Brandon Aiyuk, but was bailed out by a defensive pass interference call thanks to the throw.
Purdy wound up holding on to the ball longer than he should have on a few reps. It’s one thing to practice throwing the ball on air, but it’s another when there’s a speedy defense out there.
Purdy was the quarterback who found McCaffrey down the seam, but his indecisiveness led to those sacks and also an interception. George Kittle ran a corner route, and Greenlaw read it the entire way. Purdy didn’t see Greenlaw, who jumped in front of the pass for an interception.
At one point, Purdy was 3-for-7 with an interception, a fumble, and a couple of sacks.
Purdy had a similar play where he fumbled, but Clelin Ferrell received a “talk” from Kyle Shanahan for coming too close to the quarterback, which is understandable. Let’s just say Ferrell won’t make that mistake again.
So, a tough day at the office for Purdy. This is one practice. If his inconsistency becomes consistent, then I’d start to worry. But there’s a great chance we see Purdy revert to the quarterback we saw during the second half rather than the player on the field today who seemed unsure of himself. It’ll take time.
He’ll have every opportunity to do so, which is important. Purdy took 25 reps compared to 17 from Trey Lance and 19 from Sam Darnold.
Calling Darnold an above-average quarterback feels like a stretch, especially in July. But it’s obvious that he’s a player, in this setting, who can win games for the 49ers if called upon. Darnold, playing behind the backup offensive line, was forced to check the ball down on the majority of his throws.
He was off target on one seam throw, but took what the defense gave him, again showed off his athleticism, and proved that he could throw from different arm angles.
There’s also noticeable zip when Darnold throws in-breaking routes. He has a tight spiral, and hasn’t panicked under pressure yet. Again, it’s early, but Darnold looks to be an ideal backup quarterback. He finished with two incompletions on the day.
Take advantage, Trey
The rotation to start would have had social media up in arms. It went Brock - Sam - BRANDON ALLEN - then back to Purdy. What? Was Trey in the bathroom? As practice went on, Lance found himself going third, then he went second a couple of times, but ultimately ended up with enough reps to make an evaluation.
Purdy and Darnold’s first attempts were checkdowns. Lance’s first came on a “glance” route, which is essentially a 15-yard skinny post. Lance started 3-for-3, including another play where he drew the defense offside.
Trey is not a singles' hitter. He’s swinging for the fences. He was the only quarterback to throw beyond the sticks when the offense was in a 3rd & long situation. More importantly, Lance completed each pass, sometimes well beyond the first down marker.
Lance had two incompletions on the day. One where there was miscommunication it appeared, and he threw to where he thought a running back would be. There was one completion where I refused to give him credit. It was an awkward looking play that was likely a sack. Lance kind of double-clutched, then leaped as he was going to throw.
Trey did have the best throw of the day, where he found Tay Martin on 3rd & 12 for a first down on an in-breaking route. Martin wasn’t open, but Lance put the ball in a spot where only Martin could catch the ball, pulling him away from the defender.
While Lance looked the best of all quarterbacks, there were still enough “sacks” or potential throwaway plays from each quarterback where I wouldn’t say any of them separated themselves from the competition.
On a scale of 10, I’d say:
Trey - 7
Sam - 6.5
Brock - 5
A solid day for Trey and Sam, but nothing that would wow you.
Both kickers nailed their kicks from 55+ to end practice. They each were 3-for-3.
Today’s MVP: Dre Greenlaw
Greenlaw was flying around, had an interception, a big hit, and was a difference-maker on a unit that won the day.