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Rookie report card: Ronnie answers the Bell

The 49ers rookies received plenty of playing time against the Raiders. Let’s recap how each one performed.

San Francisco 49ers v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Let’s remove the quarterbacks from the equation and talk about how the 49ers rookies looked in their preseason debut against the Raiders on Sunday. They may not get an opportunity to play this year, but the way the injury bug goes around, you never know. Either way, a few of the first-year players may earn playing time with how they perform this month.

Ji’Ayir Brown

Brown has the best shot of earning a significant role this season. Brown didn’t particularly stand out during training camp practice, but lived around the ball. He finished with four solo tackles in limited action, including bringing down the ball-carrier in the open field.

Brown’s play was encouraging because when a player is around the ball as much as he was, that tells you he’s trusting his instincts and what he’s seeing from the offense. That’s the type of play that’ll translate into making plays on the ball.

Jake Moody

No need to spend time on Moody as we’ve covered him already today.

Cameron Latu

Latu found himself in the “losers” section after losing a fumble. Ball security was an issue at Alabama, has been throughout training camp, and reared its ugly head again against the Raiders.

Nobody wants to hear about Latu blocking an edge rusher and creating a running lane. While that happened, the 49ers have specialized in blocking tight ends under Kyle Shanahan. Fans would like to see a tight end who can create for himself when the ball is in his hands.

It’s one game, and, honestly, one target, so it’s not the end of the world for Latu. But he’ll need to become far more consistent as a pass-catcher if he’s going to make the team and not be “redshirted” this season.

Dee Winters

I’ll be interested to get a better feel for Winters after re-watching the game. Speed and coverage aren’t an issue. What I’ll be looking for is how physical Winters was and whether he was aggressively fitting the run.

Winters finished with two solo tackles and an assist.

Brayden Willis

Willis, much like Winters, deserves an incomplete for now. He caught his only target for five yards, but there weren’t any plays that stood out beside that for Willis, who needs to prove to the coaching staff that he’s a complete player to make the roster.

Willis was only on the field for 15 snaps.

Ronnie Bell

If you asked me last week if Ronnie Bell would make the team, my answer would have been “no chance.” Bell struggled to separate consistently during practice and looked like just another guy out there. When you’re a seventh rounder, you have to go above and beyond and do something to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Ray-Ray McCloud’s broken wrist opens the door for another wide receiver to make the roster, if only for the first month of the season. Bell’s experience as a return man gives him a slight edge. He averaged 19 yards on three kick returns, and didn’t do much on both of his punt returns.

However, as a receiver, Ronnie answered the Bell. Listed at 6’, 190 pounds, Bell isn’t a burner, but he’s not big enough to be that “power slot receiver.” Well, you’d assume so. On multiple occasions, Bell won his reps. That’s what you’re looking for.

He caught three of his six targets, but that should have easily been five. One target clanked off his hands for an interception. But another sailed over Bell’s head on third down on what was a sure-fire first down had the pass been accurate.

We saw Bell gain a step on the cornerback for a 37-yard gain. There was also a seam throw that looked like a back-shoulder fade down the middle where Bell made an adjustment and held on for another first down. It’s critical for Bell to show he can win at multiple levels and areas on the field, and he did just that.

Jalen Graham

Five picks away from Mr. Irrelevant, Graham made some noise on the field against the Raiders. Tackles don’t tell the whole story, but Graham had five, and it felt like they were all at the line of scrimmage. Graham’s aggression was encouraging. He was physical during practice, and it was nice to see that continue in a game setting.

Graham did allow all three of his targets to be completed for 44 yards, so falling for play-fakes and getting his eyes in the correct position are a couple of areas where he needs to clean up.

D’Shawn Jamison

We can’t mention the rookies without bringing up Jamison, who allowed two of his three targets to be completed, but for only seven yards, and even forced the wide receiver to go backward on one. Jamison did miss a tackle, but that didn’t turn into a positive gain for the offense. And, his return abilities, independent of the blocking, were superb.

Jamison looked like a player drafted in the fourth round.