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49ers training camp, Day 7: 4 non-quarterbacks who stood out

Danny Gray finds a role, the backup running backs take advantage of an injury, and a linebacker that isn’t a rookie shines in Greenlaw’s absence.

NFL: MAY 31 San Francisco 49ers OTA Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jordan Elliott will have a report on the 49ers quarterback play from Thursday. The most important takeaway was that Brock Purdy practiced when he was reportedly going to take the day off according to his scheduled throwing regimen. That tells us that Brock is progressing, doesn’t want to lose reps, or both.

Plus, no team reps for Brandon Allen. As the preseason approaches, Kyle Shanahan may be trimming the fat and giving reps to the three quarterbacks who will make the roster.

OK, enough of that. Let’s discuss a few non-quarterbacks who stood out during practice. Remember, with several key contributors out, that opened the door for some players we don’t get to talk about.

Marcelino McCrary-Ball

With Dre Greenlaw out, Marcelino McCrary-Ball, and not one of the rookie linebackers, subbed in with the first-team. When you think about what makes an ideal weak-side linebacker, speed is the first thing that comes to mind.

McCrary-Ball, a former collegiate safety, ran a 4.51 40-yard dash. That speed was apparent today when MMB made a tackle near the line of scrimmage on an inside run, and sniffed out a screen for a tackle for loss on the other side of the formation.

You’re bound to make numerous plays behind this star-studded defensive line, but McCrary-Ball has the inside track for the final linebacker spot thanks to his speed and instincts he’s displayed early on in training camp.

Dee Winters had an interception against Trey Lance, but he also missed a would-be tackle on a running back in the backfield, which is a no-no.

Jordan Mason/Khalan Laborn

That’s a perfect segue, as Laborn was the running back to make Winters miss in the backfield. Laborn showed off his shiftiness, but that wasn’t the only play where he made an impact. There were a few carries where Laborn created for himself.

The running back depth will almost assuredly be tested throughout the regular season. Christian McCaffrey remains on his maintenance plan that keeps him out of practice every couple of days. Elijah Mitchell has suffered his second injury this offseason, and we’re a week into camp. That means the youth will get the ball in the backfield.

Ty Davis-Price looks serviceable, but something is missing. What is it? I’m not sure if we can put our finger on that just yet. But there’s a difference between his carries and say, Jordan Mason.

Mason is more sudden and has more burst. He also moves the pile and does so consistently. Kyle Shanahan said Mason had a great rookie year after practice, but also needed to work on becoming a threat in the passing game. Well, Mason split out as a wide receiver with the first-team and caught a curl route from Purdy.

There wasn’t anything special about the route, but Mason must show he can consistently be a threat out of the backfield. Simply running routes is a step in the right direction, but catching the ball forces defenses to honor him.

Shanahan mentioned how Mason’s grasp of the offense has helped him during training camp.

Danny Gray

Gray’s biggest issue is that he plays in an offense with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Those two are Gray’s biggest cheerleaders when they’re on the sideline. On Tuesday, Gray ran a crisp curl route and created separation. Deebo saw it coming, and was quick to let the defensive back know that Gray got the best of him on that rep.

The biggest question for Gray heading into the season is what his role will be. We’re getting closer to that answer. Last year, Gray was relegated to slot fades and vertical routes. You could see what was coming a mile away when No. 6 came into the game.

So far, Gray is using his speed to stretch the defense horizontally. Shanahan is the king of high-low concepts, and Gray has little to no problems running away from defenders. Gray has consistently caught 20+ yard passes during camp, and that was no different today.

One area where Gray could help is on underneath dump off passes. Get Gray in the open field and let him show off that 4.3 speed. Here’s what Shanahan had to say about Gray:

“I think he’s having a real good camp. He put the work in phase one, two and three. He was able to get through OTAs working hard and not having an injury. And he obviously spent the 40 days away well because he’s catching the ball, he’s in real good shape, and he’s been out there very consistently and the ball came his way a little more today.”

The more comfortable Gray is at running multiple routes, the more dangerous the offense becomes. His lethal speed provides an element that the Niners do not have on the perimeter, so the quicker Gray gets acclimated to his role, the better.