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The Competition Heats Up in Vegas; Five Takeaways from Joint Practice with the Raiders

The San Francisco 49ers cranked the intensity all the way up for their first joint practice against the Las Vegas Raiders on Thursday morning. This was the first time since the conclusion of the 2022 campaign the team has faced someone other than themselves, and the opposition was welcomed with open arms. As expected, quarterback Brock Purdy was suited up and leading the first-team offense against a Raiders defense headlined by Pro Bowl defensive end Maxx Crosby and four-time First-Team All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters.

"I enjoy seeing all our quarterbacks against other people because we just get sick of the same stuff, over and over again, the same style D-line, same coverages," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "It's always fun to go out and do new things. One-on-ones are a lot more fun. Not everyone is so used to each other and how they do it.

"It's a fine line because it sometimes gets more physical, and you never want to get guys hurt. I was really glad how both team's handled it. It was a smooth practice and helped both teams get better."

Here are the five takeaways from Thursday's workout:

The 49ers are in search of a return specialist to start the regular season.

Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud III, who also serves as the team's punt and kick returner, suffered a broken wrist last practice and is expected to be out for eight weeks.

According to Shanahan, there is now an open competition for the position. Rookie receiver Ronnie Bell has experience as a return specialist, returning 13 punts for 150 yards and two kicks for 53 yards during his time at Michigan, and is a contender for the starting job. "He's done a good job, he's a natural catcher," Shanahan said. "He's comfortable back there, so he'll have an opportunity now."

The rookie is also developing as a pass catcher and displayed some good timing and chemistry with quarterback Trey Lance. He caught back-to-back passes from the third-year QB in the final move-the-ball period of the day.

The injury list extended beyond McCloud III and kept several big names off the practice field on Thursday.

Tight end George Kittle (adductor), defensive lineman Drake Jackson (hamstring) and wide receiver Danny Gray (soreness) all did not participate in the first joint practice of the week. The veteran tight end is expected to be out this week. Additionally, linebacker Dre Greenlaw also suffered a hamstring injury and had his practice cut short.

There was no shortage of splash plays from the 49ers defense.

Things got started with a batted ball from defensive lineman Arik Armstead during the first set of 11-on-11 drills. Other big plays included some sticky coverage to force an incompletion from second-year corner Samuel Womack III on a long third down attempt from Brian Hoyer to Davante Adams down the sideline. Rookie linebacker Dee Winters got his hands on a ball during a move-the-ball period to force another Raiders incompletion.

San Francisco players reunite with a familiar face on the Raiders offense.

Watching the 49ers first-team defense line up opposite of Raiders starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wasn't totally unfamiliar. After spending six seasons together in The Bay, the matchup was nostalgic and, overall, a happy reunion for both sides. Veteran linebacker Fred Warner got a chance to exchange some words with his former QB and was not shy about amping up the competition.

"I had to check him out before practice started and ask him how things were, making sure they were treating him well over here," Warner said. "I was in Jimmy's ear before the play started. I asked him, 'Jimmy just give me one, all I want is one.' He didn't give me one today, we'll see how tomorrow goes.

"I love Jimmy. I love seeing him succeed. He had a great practice, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

Purdy also had the opportunity to catch up with Garoppolo post-practice. The two only spent a season together as 49ers but developed a good bond over the course of the 2022 campaign.

"I did see Jim," Purdy said. "He looks healthy and good. We talked about how everything is here, how he loves it and how we miss him. It's always good seeing Jimmy."

Despite a productive day from the Las Vegas secondary, the 49ers offense made its plays.

Lockdown play from several of the Raiders cornerbacks limited some of San Francisco's pass catchers early but the unit moved the ball well in late 11-on-11 drills. Purdy connected with Christian McCaffrey on the left side of the field, just shy of the end zone and the running back dove for the pylon to secure the score. Wide receiver Jauan Jennings made an impressive sliding catch on an intermediate throw from Purdy over the middle. Later in that same move-the-ball drill, Purdy connected with wide receiver Deebo Samuel for a chunk gain on the left side on the way to a goal line attempt.

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