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Five Things to Watch at 49ers Minicamp

Posted Jun 17, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers mandatory three-day veteran minicamp gets underway on Tuesday.

The San Francisco 49ers mandatory three-day veteran minicamp gets underway on Tuesday.

The workouts will be the final on-field practices of the offseason program. The team is scheduled to begin training camp in late July.

But before the 49ers get together for the month-long grind of training camp, let's take a look at five key storylines for the minicamp practices set to take place.

1. Passing Work

Colin Kaepernick signed a six-year contract extension and has continued to be a vocal leader throughout the offseason. That's even on a Super Bowl-contending club. In showing his moxie, Kaepernick has proved to his coaches that he can handle more on his plate. The fourth-year quarterback is "seeing things" differently, according to offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who has used the offseason practices to emphasize red zone plays. Kaepernick has a bevy of wide receivers to utilize in minicamp, a group headlined by Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and boosted with the additions of Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd. The 49ers have sprinkled in receivers, experienced and inexperienced, throughout the offseason. The camp session figures to be one last period for Kaepernick to mesh with his deep group of targets before training camp rolls around.

2. CB Competition

Tramaine Brock stands as the team's clear-cut option at left cornerback. The fifth-year veteran has also impressed some of his offensive teammates with change of direction skills. Behind Brock, free agent addition Chris Cook has taken most, if not all, of the first-team reps at right cornerback. Fourth-year cornerback Chris Culliver has yet to join practices as he is rehabbing a season-ending knee injury that he suffered in training camp. Culliver won't likely be involved in minicamp. That will continue to open the door for players like Cook to seize a bigger role heading into 2014. As for the nickel spot, first-round draft pick Jimmie Ward has not been able to be on the field just yet. Veteran Perrish Cox and second-year cornerback Darryl Morris have taken the bulk of the nickel reps this offseason. The cornerback competition remains fluid, but it's worth noting that a good showing in minicamp will be another way to earn more snaps in the early stages of traning camp. Keep an eye on rookie cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker. Both newcomers have the size and speed to compete as first-year players.

3. Second-year Standouts

Jim Harbaugh has often said that a player makes his biggest jump from year one to year two. San Francisco has a handful of players poised to breakout in the upcoming season. Minicamp will be a good indication of how far they've come during their first full run in the team's offseason program. Eric Reid, the first-round pick in '13, is already a Pro Bowler. Behind the play-making safety, most in the media have gravitated towards second-round defensive tackle Tank Carradine and fourth-round running back Marcus Lattimore. Both players essentially redshirted as rookies. However, each promising prospect has been practicing all offseason with their veteran teammates. Lattimore been making "daily, weekly progression," according to Harbaugh. The same could be said for Carradine who is part of a deep defensive line group. Two more sophomores to highlight would be tight end Vance McDonald and wide receiver Quinton Patton. Both pass-catchers have made strides this offseason. McDonald feels like a "different player." Meanwhile, Patton is learning from an experienced wide receiver group. Lastly, defensive linemen like Quinton Dial and Lawrence Okoye have also had opportunity to improve their talents from exposed to the work habits of Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, among others. Although the offseason is mostly about the offense working on its timing, the defensive line has plenty of depth mastering their understanding of San Francisco's system along the way.

4. Veteran Workload

How much will we see of Frank Gore in minicamp? Not sure, but does it even matter? Gore, the 10-year veteran, is doing what he needs to do in order to be the number one run option. Minicamp work won't change his standing on the depth chart. "I feel like Frank is still at the top of his game," Harbaugh said. So if established players like Gore and Smith don't gain much from minicamp, that means their understudies can maximize opportunities. Enter the likes of Lattimore and rookie Carlos Hyde. Both players figure to see a lot of action if Gore is used sparingly in minicamp. Elsewhere on offense, Crabtree hasn't been used during 11-on-11 work during OTAs. Will that change in minicamp? That remains to be seen. If Crabtree is put on ice for the mandatory sessions, perhaps that opens more doors for Lloyd who has "taken advantage" of his reps, according to Roman.

5. Rookie Watch

Hyde is one of several newcomers to monitor at this camp. He's a perfect fit for Roman's offense. "I think he can do pretty much anything we do," the coordinator said. But this camp is not just about seeing how far Hyde has come in just a month. Others like third-rounders Chris Borland and Marcus Martin could make a case for starting jobs in the upcoming year. Borland is competing with a group of inside linebackers to replace injured All-Pro NaVorro Bowman. So far, Borland has shown great instincts and coverage skills in 7-on-7 drills. Martin, 20, could be the youngest starting center in 49ers history. Daniel Kilgore has been running with the first-team offense all offseason, but Martin could be in the mix as the offseason develops. The inside linebacker and center competitions are two of the many battles that will have another chapter play out in minicamp.


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