49ers Notebook: Pads come on, bringing moments of brilliance on both sides

Photo credit: 49ers

For the first time since the 49ers lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, players practiced against each other with pads on. It represented the first practice in earnest, though contact, as is the standard in Santa Clara, is limited to half-tackles and not finishing players to the ground. Still, it was real practice for the first time in more than six months.

Practice nuances

First, a disclaimer about what the media is able to see during this year’s practices. Full visibility of 11-on-11s will only be available every other day. Media are (understandably) penned into an area behind one of the 49ers’ practice fields via a red line which stretches from the 40-yard line to the fence behind the end zone. Because the team has two practice fields and alternates between them for 11-on-11s each day, reporters cannot see the trenches during 11-on-11s and defensive back matchups are difficult to identify during these low-visibility days.

Here is an extraordinarily crude rendering of what that looks like (not to scale, in case that wasn’t immediately apparent):

What is visible are the start and end of plays. You can see glimpses of the backfield and the conclusion of the play, depending on your angle, leaving receptions toward the sideline nearest reporters as pretty clear.

If the 49ers maintain this pattern, then there will effectively be five practices with pads before the regular season “starts” on August 29 which reporters have an angle to actually see what’s happening without an impeded view.

Assuming that routine holds, those days will be Tuesday, August 18, Friday, August 21, Sunday, August 23, Wednesday, August 26 and Friday, August 28. The regular season technically begins after that, at least in terms of practice schedules. However, new rosters aren’t due until September 5, leaving a full week between the technical end of training camp and when rosters are due. That may prove to function, effectively, as an additional week of camp with the expanded 80-man rosters still intact.

The 49ers don’t have their first game until Sunday, September 13, at home against the Arizona Cardinals.

To be clear, none of this a complaint. The 49ers have taken and continue to take the proper, mandated precautions, as they should. They have provided reporters with the ability to continue to see practices in person.

This is just a statement of transparency with you, the reader, that visibility will not be clear each day, and to be wary of reports which make sweeping summations of player performances on these low-visibility days. Tuesday will be the first day in which padded 11-on-11s are clearly visible to reporters.

Some players stood out on Monday, a low-visibility day, to be sure. Performance assessments on these days will mostly favor receivers because they’re the few players clearly visible. There’s no telling if a would-be sack occurred, if those receivers were open due to a blown coverage, etc. That stated, below is a recap at some of those visible moments.

Monday’s practice highlights

Jimmy Garoppolo took the lion’s share of snaps on Monday, throwing the ball 13 times for 10 completions without a touchdown (he was 2-for-3 in his goal line session, with a pair of short passes to George Kittle and Raheem Mostert and an incompletion after searching for an open receiver to no avail).

His highlight of the day concluded a drive starting from his own 20. On one of those patented play-action dropbacks, Garoppolo launched from around the 45-yard line towards Kendrick Bourne. It was a verifiably accurate deep ball which Bourne caught in stride for at least a 35-yard gain.

His other highlight was a dime and inch-perfect, toe-tapping catch from Trent Taylor on the right sideline. It was a near-identical result to a throw and catch the pair executed in the first day of practice on Saturday.

Other than that, Garoppolo was mostly limited to those typical short passes, many of which came to Raheem Mostert, who looks much like the Mostert of last season.

C.J. Beathard went 4-for-8 with a touchdown while rolling out to Bourne in the red zone. He followed that with a difficult throw to Jauan Jennings. The pass was broken up by Jamar Taylor, the de facto backup nickel for K’Waun Williams and snatched off the deflection by linebacker Dre Greenlaw (below).

Nick Mullens was 5-for-7 with a pair of touchdowns on back-to-back plays, but also had the worst quarterbacking play of the day. In his red zone session, he connected with the lanky Shawn Poindexter (at 6’5″ and an outside threat, his catch radius and end zone reach gives him a reasonable chance to make the team) and then a crossing Kendrick Bourne for two-straight TDs.

His mistake ended practice as the often-explosive Marcell Harris picked him off over the middle of the field, to the great satisfaction of the defense.

Bourne and Trent Taylor were the most impressive receiving threats, while Tarvarius Moore had a clean pass breakup on defense. Reports on the battles in the trenches and more adequate assessments of receiver-DB matchups will come tomorrow.

Injuries and subsequent moves

  • With head coach Kyle Shanahan confirming Jalen Hurd likely out for the year, Jauan Jennings will have an improved chance to make the roster and take on some of the same duties as Hurd. The team also worked out Jaron Brown and will likely sign him once he’s passed three-straight COVID-19 tests using the open roster spot created by the recently-retired Spencer Long.
  • Arik Armstead remained out, as expected, with back stiffness, but was on-hand in pads and uniform doing some light conditioning work on the sidelines. Shanahan said to expect him active in the 49ers’ next block (broken up into four-straight days followed by an off day) of practices.
  • K’Waun Williams (calf tightness) was out for the second straight day. Shanahan described it as minor and as the result of a cautious approach, saying he and Armstead could “go if he wanted to or we really needed him to.”
  • Jordan Reed is also in that situation where the 49ers are going to treat him with an abundance of caution. It’s unclear when or if they’ll get him involved in contact drills before the season starts given his tragic history of concussions.

Brunskill vs. Compton is a darn friendly competition

Daniel Brunskill, 26, and Tom Compton, 31, are in a battle for the starting right guard spot. But Brunskill, a very cordial individual — unless he’s trying to drive through you — was his usual self when asked about the relationship between the pair on Tuesday.

Brunskill made it clear the pair have been around each other just about constantly since camp has started, and they’re sharing knowledge; Brunksill of the Shanahan offense, and Compton of the nuanced, technical sort that comes with a near century’s worth of NFL appearances (99, to be exact, with 34 starts).

“It’s great,” Brunskill said. “Tom’s a great dude, and he’s been helping me and I’ve been trying to learn from him. a lot of things since he’s been in the league, he knows what’s to do. And he’s just been a great guy to go against and me and him are with each other in practice all the time, and trying to learn and teach each other things that that we can do better. I’m trying to help him with learning the offense and then he helps me with the tricks that he knows and he’s just a great guy to learn from and I’m really glad to have him on the team.”

There also isn’t a need for concern on Brunskill’s part if he doesn’t win the starting job. As a player who came from the AAF and had to spend two years on practice squads, his hunger is there, but he’s demonstrated his versatility. Backup center Ben Garland said Tuesday it’s obvious Brunskill can play all five positions on the offensive line, and Brunskill confirmed he’s preparing like he may well play all five positions this season.

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