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4 Downs: What to Watch for at 49ers Training Camp

Our writers are back to break down four pressing topics as the San Francisco 49ers get set to open training camp this Saturday.

Let's get to the four downs for what you should look forward to, in what will be a busy month as the team embarks on a new season.

1st Down: Who is your rookie to watch?

@Joe_Fann: Rashard Robinson

Robinson is an intriguing player all the way around. If there was rust from not playing football in a year, he certainly didn't show it much during the offseason program. At 6-foot-1 with 32 1/4-inch arms, Robinson has ideal size and length to play corner at the NFL level. His 4.49-second, 40-yard dash is evidence that he has the speed to keep up with the top athletes in the league as well. Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley has already praised Robinson for "having some dog in him." Robinson will be fun to watch in August amid a tight competition with the other nine cornerbacks on the roster.

@TaylorPrice: Joshua Garnett

It was no secret that the 49ers wanted to upgrade their offensive line this offseason. Enter veteran guard Zane Beadles and Garnett, the 28th overall selection in this year's draft out of Stanford. Garnett was a decorated linemen in the Pac-12, winning the Outland Trophy as the nationa's top interior linemen as the Morris Trophy winner as his conference's top offensive lineman. At 6-foot-5, 321 pounds, Garnett has the size and quickness to push veteran teammates for playing time. With both Beadles and Garnett on the roster, Chip Kelly's offense has added maulers in the mix to upgrade the run game and pass protection.

2nd Down: Which 49ers player is a breakout candidate in 2016?

@Joe_Fann: Arik Armstead

The 49ers were calculated in their use of Armstead as a rookie, but the team's 2015 first-round pick made the most of his opportunities. Pro Football Focus handed Armstead a cumulative grade of 15.1 at season's end, second highest in his rookie class (New York Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams graded 29.7). Armstead had 38 total pressures and a pass-rushing productivity grade of 12.3, the highest of any 3-4 defensive end who played at least 155 pass-rushing snaps in 2015. "He flashed enough on 384 snaps as a rookie that everyone should be excited about what he could become," wrote PFF. Color me excited for what's to come in Year 2.

@TaylorPrice: Jimmie Ward

As much as I wanted to pick Armstead or even his college teammate DeForest Buckner, it was impossible for me to overlook the offseason Ward put together. The team's slot cornerback and reserve safety for the past two seasons looked sharp throughout the spring as a base-down cornerback. Ward has the competitive drive and atheltic ability to thrive in this new role opposite of returning starter Tramaine Brock. Ward recorded career-best numbers last season (54 tackles and a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown). In 2016, he's highly likely to build on those numbers with even more playing time in Jim O'Neil's defensive system.

3rd Down: What is your favorite training camp/preseason moment? @Joe_Fann: The joint practices

Last August we were treated to two competitive practices in Denver against the Broncos. This year, we'll get to enjoy two more sessions from the UCHealth Training Center plus one more practice against the Houston Texans that the 49ers will host ahead of the preseason opener. Every player will be eager to line up across from someone in another color jersey after two straight weeks of competing against each other. Those days serve as a barometer for where the team is at, and provide ample opportunity for camaraderie within the locker room. @TaylorPrice: Preseason Game No. 3

The joint practices are excellent. No disagreement there. But perhaps the most telling competitive scenario of the camp/preseason experince is the all-important regular season dress rehearsal. This year's third game features a home matchup against the Aaron Rodgers-led Green Bay Packers. The Aug. 26 contest (tickets available) will serve as a great examination of O'Neil's defense against an elite passing attack. Further, the starters play longer in the third preseason contest, which means we'll have a better sense of how San Francisco's quarterback competition is playing out.

4th Down:The training camp storyline you're looking forward to most is... @Joe_Fann: The quarterback competition

Taylor gave me first dibs on this one, so naturally I took the obvious response. There's nothing more exciting in training camp than a competition at the most valuable position in sports. Both Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick have shown they're capable of having success in the NFL. Use whatever mantra you want – "iron sharpens iron" and "competition brings out the best in athletes" are two of the most popular. The 49ers should be confident that whomever they ultimately roll with in Week 1 will be coming off of an impressive showing in August.

@TaylorPrice: The 'Chip Kelly Effect'The 49ers hired a new coach this offseason with the hopes that the offense would receive a boost in production. So far, Kelly's fast-paced practices pushed the players on both sides of the ball to get in excellent shape. Typically the teams in the best shape coming out of camp tend to win games in the opening weeks of the regular season. Beyond this, Kelly's system should get the ball into the hands of multiple playmakers. Players like Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Pierre Garçon, Garrett Celek and Garrett Celek among others should be licking their chops at the opportunities that will surely come their way. 

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