It's finally that time of year again. The San Francisco 49ers are set to report to the SAP Performance Facility for the start of training camp on Tuesday and will host their first practice later this week. 49ers.com is breaking down each position group, who's in the mix and any looming questions heading into the five-week stretch before the team nails down its initial 53-man roster in September.
Overview: Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have remained steadfast that Garoppolo gives the 49ers the best chance to win in 2021. But now it's the veteran quarterback's job to keep. Health and progression will be key for the quarterback to retain his starting spot. Garoppolo was limited to just six games in 2020 while dealing with various ankle injuries, and a total of 23 games since joining the 49ers in 2017. As the starter, the 49ers boast a 22-8 record (24-9 including the postseason). Without Garoppolo in the lineup, San Francisco is a mere 7-26.
Shanahan said Garoppolo had his "best" spring as a member of the 49ers and will look to build upon his offseason performance with Lance waiting in the wings. So far through the offseason program, the 49ers have been pleased with Lance's development. The team can truly diagnose his grasp of Shanahan's offense once the rookie gets his shot at live reps this summer.
Looming Questions: The most discernable question lies within the fact that the 49ers have invested in two starting-caliber signal callers. As mentioned before, the timeline of Lance's undertaking relies on Garoppolo's health and performance as well as the rookie's understanding of the offense. Both Garoppolo and Lance are a sure bet. With Rosen and Sudfeld vying for backup snaps, how many quarterbacks will the 49ers retain on the final 53-man roster, and will one of the two separate themselves during camp?
Overview: San Francisco enters training camp with a sturdy stable of running backs that features two players returning from Injured Reserve in Mostert and Hasty. Mostert looks to regain his role as the 49ers primary back but will need a clean bill of health to do so. Mostert was limited to six games and 81 carries last season while dealing with a knee and ankle injury.
This offseason, the 49ers added Gallman II in free agency following his career-high 796-yard, six-touchdown outing with the New York Giants in relief of running back Saquon Barkley in 2020. The 49ers also traded two fourth-round picks to move up to select Sermon in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft and added Mitchell in the sixth.
It's worth remembering Wilson Jr. is likely to miss the first few weeks of the season after suffering a torn meniscus at the team facility back in May and will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP).
Looming Questions: After bidding farewell to Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon, the 49ers will enter camp with five healthy running backs on the roster. Over the past four seasons, four different running backs have led the team in rushing. Could a new face vie for that role? Given Mostert's injury history, will the 49ers follow the theme of four ball carriers on the roster heading into 2021, and if so, who is the odd man out?
In the Mix: Brandon Aiyuk, Travis Benjamin, River Cracraft, Bennie Fowler, Jalen Hurd, Richie James, Jauan Jennings, Andy Jones, Deebo Samuel, Mohamed Sanu Sr., Trent Sherfield, Austin Watkins Jr., Kevin White, Nsimba Webster
Overview: The 49ers have a deep group of wide receivers, but beyond a handful of players, the unit lacks proven experience. Sanu, who joined the team in free agency, is the elderstatesman of the group, followed by Benjamin, who hasn't appeared in a game since Oct. of 2019. For the first time in 18 years, the 49ers did not select a wideout in the draft, signaling San Francisco's brass comfortability with the pieces at hand.
The 49ers have young, yet unproven draft picks in Hurd and Jennings. Hurd has yet to appear in a regular season contest after being sidelined in consecutive seasons due to injury. Jennings, a former seventh-round pick, spent the 2020 season on the team's practice squad and aims to carve out a role for himself through his camp showings.
Looming Questions: With Samuel and Aiyuk an apparent lock and sitting atop of the depth chart, who separate themselves from the group to claim the 49ers WR3 vacancy following Kendrick Bourne's exit?
Overview: There's not much that needs to be said about this unit headlined by San Francisco's All-Pro tight end. Kittle is coming off of an injury-plagued fourth season where he appeared in just eight games and registered 634 yards and two scores. Crediting his offseason workout regime, the tight end's health has been a priority for him entering into Year 5.
San Francisco added two newcomers to the group this offseason following the retirement of Jordan Reed. Pederson, an undrafted rookie out of Louisiana-Monroe and son of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, and Pruitt, a six-year veteran who brings experience as a run-blocking tight end.
Looming Questions: Could a newcomer, or second-year tight end Woerner challenge Dwelley at TE2?
In the Mix: Alex Mack, Aaron Banks, Jake Brendel, Daniel Brunskill, Shon Coleman, Tom Compton, Alfredo Gutierrez, Corbin Kaufusi, Senio Kelemete, Mike McGlinchey, Colton McKivitz, Jaylon Moore, Dakoda Shepley, Laken Tomlinson, Isaiah Williams, Trent Williams
Overview: One of the biggest moves of the offseason was the 49ers ability to strike a long-term deal with Williams just hours before the start of the new league year. With their left tackle set for the future, the 49ers were given the flexibility of focusing on other positions in free agency and the draft. Additionally, the 49ers were able to land Mack, a Pro Bowl center in free agency to fill the void of Weston Richburg who retired earlier this offseason.
The 49ers also added 6-foot-5, 325-pound Banks in the second round of the NFL Draft, who allowed just two sacks and 19 total pressures over three seasons at Notre Dame.
Looming Questions: Williams and Mack add to a mainstay of talent along the offensive line in Tomlinson and McGlinchey. The only missing piece of the puzzle is who mans the vacant right guard spot? Can the 49ers finally shore up the revolving right guard position? Does the rookie, Banks, edge out the veteran, Brunskill, as the new pillar along the right flank?
In the Mix: Arik Armstead, Alex Barrett, Nick Bosa, Darrion Daniels, Samson Ebukam, Dee Ford, Kevin Givens, Maurice Hurst, D.J. Jones, Zach Kerr, Arden Key, Kentavius Street, Jordan Willis, Javon Kinlaw
Overview: The most anticipated news of the offseason are the potential returns of Bosa and Ford. Bosa has been spotted rehabbing from his season-ending ACL tear last September via his social media channels and the edge rusher was on hand as an onlooker during the final week of San Francisco's offseason workout program. The 49ers anticipate Bosa's availability at some point during training camp and hope they will have a similar outlook for Ford.
After dealing with a neck and back injury suffered in the season opener, Ford spent the bulk of the offseason rehabbing at the 49ers team facility before continuing his recovery offsite under the guidance of a specialist. The 49ers have been pleased with his progress and remain hopeful the Pro Bowl pass rusher can contribute in the near future, which will bode well for the added depth along the D-line.
Moreover, San Francisco managed to beef up their defensive line with the addition of Ebukam, who the 49ers hope will offer a similar skill set off the edge. The 49ers also added Key and Hurst this offseason following the departures of Kerry Hyder, Solomon Thomas and Ronald Blair in free agency.
Looming Questions: The most pressing question surrounding the 49ers defense is whether Bosa and Ford be available by Week 1 of the regular season? The 49ers are likely to be cautious with their approach to both of the pass rushers heading into camp while returning from injury. However, having either available at any point of the season will give San Francisco a significant advantage in 2021.
Overview: A week ahead of the start of training camp, the 49ers handled their next order of business by locking down their All-Pro linebacker to a long-term contract extension. Next to Warner, Greenlaw is pinned as the presumptive starter at WILL linebacker.
Looming Questions: This offseason, the 49ers announced the signing of veteran linebacker Burgess Jr., in addition to undrafted free agents Hillard and Sullivan. Will either of the aforementioned linebackers compete with Al-Shaair and Flannigan-Fowles for the third spot?
Overview: Heading into the new league year, nearly the entire cornerback unit was scheduled to hit free agency. The 49ers managed to re-sign Verrett, Moseley, Williams, Johnson and Webster to keep them in San Francisco at least throughout the 2021 season. Additionally, the 49ers added cornerbacks Thomas and Lenoir in the draft.
Looming Questions: Will Verrett and Moseley hang on to their starting jobs in 2021 or can one of the newcomers challenge the defensive backs for a leading role? And will the 49ers look to the remaining free agency pool to add veteran depth to the rather young unit?
Overview: Entering into the 2021 season, Ward appears as the incumbent starter at free safety. His counterpart, Tartt, re-signed with the team in free agency and has spent the offseason working his way back from a toe injury. The club also signed Wilson this offseason and added Hufanga out of USC in the fifth round of this year's draft.
The 49ers could be without Moore in 2021 after the defensive back suffered an Achilles tear during the final week of organized team activities. Moore's injury could open the door for Jefferson, a veteran safety who signed with the 49ers back in July, and said he is eager to prove he can still play after sitting out the 2020 season.
Looming Questions: Can the aforementioned Jefferson make a push for a starting spot in the secondary? Can Hufanga, who shared his goal of making the Pro Bowl on special teams in his first year, work his way to finding a starting job at safety as well?
Overview: Back in December of 2020, Gould and the 49ers agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension that would keep the 38-year-old kicker in the Bay Area through 2022. With Gould locked down, San Francisco's long snapper, punter and kicker trio are all returning in 2021.
Looming Questions: The true question lies in punt and kick return. San Francisco added several players this offseason, in addition to current 49ers, who are all vying for opportunities on special teams. Due to injuries and performance, the 49ers cycled through a number of return specialists last season. Heading into camp, will one of these playmakers separate themselves from the crowd as the 49ers go-to return specialist?
Players in the Return Specialist Mix:
- WR Brandon Aiyuk
- WR Richie James
- WR Travis Benjamin
- RB Elijah Mitchell
- CB Ambry Thomas
- WR River Cracraft