Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla
After an off day, the 49ers got back to work on Friday, in their eighth practice of training camp. It might be an overstatement to say the defense dominated, but they looked extremely crisp, creating consistent pressure largely because of tight coverage on the back end.
It looked like there may have been an increased focus from the defense on run fits; if there wasn’t, there was certainly improved execution. There were a few runs which found space — including a Raheem Mostert cutback which *extremely high school football coach voice* found paydirt and could be argued as a touchdown run — but for every chunk gain, it seemed like there were two stops or contact at or around the line of scrimmage.
Much of that can be owed to the space-eating, gap splitters up front in D.J Jones, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens and Maurice Hurst; and that was without Zach Kerr, Arik Armstead (who Shanahan said are day-to-day with groin issues), Kentavius Street and Samson Ebukam.
But the winners of the day were those in the secondary. Emmanuel Moseley came of the Reserve/COVID-19 list for his first practice of camp, and while he was eased back with limited reps, he opened with an excellent pass breakup on Jimmy Garoppolo on the first pass of the day in 11-on-11s against Deebo Samuel.
The coverage on the backend created at least two coverage sacks – one on Garoppolo and one on Trey Lance — and plenty more pressures.
One of the clear standouts on the day was rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga, who looks, as expected, like a menace when he’s placed inside the box. His timing on some of the 49ers’ inside zone and inside gap scheme runs was uncanny for a rookie. He met fellow rookie Elijah Mitchell at the line of scrimmage a couple of times, closed down Trey Lance on an outside zone read and played crucially tight coverage on the coverage sack Lance (theoretically) took.
Kyle Shanahan said after practice that Hufanga has been what the 49ers expected and that he’s flashed similarities to fellow Samoan and now Hall of Famer, Troy Polamalu, who Hufanga worked with over the summer.
“He’s been what we’ve thought,” Shanahan said Friday. “He loves to run around, loves to act like Troy Polamalu out there, still got a ways to go before he’s a Hall of Famer, but he’s done a good job. We enjoys his presence out there. He has fun. You can tell he enjoys playing football, he fits in well. I know he’s a guy that you can tell it goes up when he gets the pads on; he’s a lot more excited for the pads and you feel a little bit different energy out there.”
Hufanga helped make it a difficult day for Lance, which is funny to say given he went 8-of-13. That’s part of why just providing completions to assess quarterback performance in camp can be misleading. Garoppolo was 6-of-11, but looked more under control on Friday.
Lance had two fumbled exchanges with Wayne Gallman; it’s at least the third time those two have had a fumbled exchange together and the fourth or fifth time it’s happened this camp with Lance and a running back. You can expect that to improve, but if those issues persist, it could be a point of concern. The defense also looked like it identified his zone reads much better, stopping at least three of them around the line of scrimmage.
The other point of concern with Lance is his timing with George Kittle. He underthrew him twice on two deep balls on Wednesday and on Friday, threw a slant well behind Kittle, who was wide open; Kittle reached behind himself to make an impressive catch, but the timing and comfortability between him and Lance clearly has a ways to go.
Lance finished the day running a “move the ball” drill after Garoppolo had looked solid on his set.
Garoppolo opened with a slant completion to Kyle Juszczyk before Raheem Mostert broke a huge chunk to the left. Then Garoppolo found Brandon Aiyuk over the middle. Trey Sermon ran the ball on back-to-back plays, both of which were shut down early by Jordan Willis and then Jason Verrett on a nice gap fill. Garoppolo finished connecting with Kittle to the left, who was promptly hit by Verrett.
It wasn’t a stunning performance, but the ball moved.
For a variety of reasons, the ball did not move much in Lance’s portion. Maurice Hurst opened it with a run stuff of Mitchell. Then two players — Darrion Daniels and James Burgess Jr. — got through on a missed blitz pickup through the A gaps and Daniels swatted Lance’s attempt at throwing to his checkdown. It’s unclear if that’s on Lance or backup center Jake Brendel, who looked out of his depth and didn’t pick up anyone.
Then Lance slightly overthrew Trent Sherfield high against decent coverage from Ambry Thomas, but not enough to close the throwing window. He got pressured again on the following play and threw the ball away intelligently. JaMycal Hasty broke off a chunk run to the right before Lance closed with a ball thrown high, out of reach from Richie James Jr.
It was not a concerning practice, but made clear that handoff exchanges, blitz pickups and timing with his receivers, especially Kittle, are things which need work.
On the more encouraging side, there were, a couple pitches to Deebo Samuel on triple options for the first time, both of which were eye popping; one pitch was timed perfectly, and Samuel broke it off for at least a 20-yard gain.
Also of note on Friday was the fact that Jalen Hurd made his first catch of 11-on-11s on a nice in route, with Nate Sudfeld hitting him over the middle. Jauan Jennings also joined Moseley in returning from the Reserve/COVID-19 list; he made a nice catch over Jimmie Ward, which was thrown well by Garoppolo on a seam route in one-on-ones. Jennings really has an opportunity to make the team given that Shanahan still feels like there hasn’t been much separation in the back end of the receiver room.
Other interesting points from Friday were Garoppolo pulling the ball and running it twice when the opportunity presented itself. Both were smart, successful runs into acres of space. There is a world, at least theoretically, in which Lance having some set packages – as Shanahan said would be the case in games – opens up room for Garoppolo to run the ball every once in a blue moon, assuming Garoppolo retains the starting job.
Lastly, there’s this.
🥱 Tired: Trey Lance, dual-threat QB
🤓 Wired: DJ Jones, dual-threat QB pic.twitter.com/EIJIV6fJdc
— Sam Hustis (@SamHustis) August 6, 2021
D.J. Jones plays quarterback in the defensive line’s drills and looks pretty impressive for a 6-foot, 304-pound man (you can’t tell me he didn’t give Nick Bosa a nice little shimmy there).
I asked him Wednesday if he thought he could play quarterback in a pinch. He said no, that there’s “too much competition” there, but I’m not totally sold that you couldn’t give Jones a direct snap or a little Tim Tebow-esque jump pass and pull it off.