49ers Notebook: Mixing up the QB reps, and Nick Bosa’s return to 11-on-11s

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There were no direct answers to the 49ers’ quarterback conundrum on Wednesday, and Kyle Shanahan certainly did his best to muddy the waters. Both he and Jimmy Garoppolo declined to comment on who the team’s starting quarterback will be, but also did so with grins, and Shanahan pointed to his statements which have said that Garoppolo was coming in as the starter and that not much has changed.

Lots of mixed reps, and Taysom Hill talk

There was a very clear tone coming from Shanahan and Garoppolo on Wednesday. Shanahan leaned on his early-camp comments that Garoppolo was coming in as the starter and Lance as the number two, but also pointed to his comments that Lance would play in certain packages.

Then, Shanahan went on to give Garoppolo second-team reps for the first time in camp.

In the second half of 11-on-11s, Lance followed up Garoppolo with three-straight first team reps, then two with the second team. Then Garoppolo took four with second team. Then Lance had one with the first team, followed by one for Garoppolo (after a false start). Lance got one more first team rep, then Garoppolo took another second team rep, before Lance finished practice with the second team.

Lance made some poor throws on Wednesday, including an interception to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in which he badly overthrew MyCole Pruitt over the middle. He missed a deep ball to Brandon Aiyuk, too — though it looked like he expected Aiyuk to get better separation — and finished with a few incompletions. He did, however, flash that ability to escape the pocket under pressure, when he found Trent Sherfield for first-down yardage on the move.

Garoppolo had a crisper practice, to be sure, looking more comfortable and in rhythm. He nearly connected with Aiyuk on a deep ball down the left sideline against tight coverage, but Aiyuk, who extended excellently for it, was ruled out of bounds.

This looked much more like a practice with the end goal of getting the offense used to quick switches. Veteran players were yelling for other players to get off the field with a quicker-than-usual urgency during the end of plays.

It’s possible that part of this was to have a little fun with reporters constantly asking him about Garoppolo and Lance immediately after pointing to Garoppolo being the likely starter. The other part, though, is much more practical.

Shanahan said, essentially, that he wants to use Lance like the New Orleans Saints have used Taysom Hill. Wednesday could have been a more game-like attempt at recreating what that will be like.

He said there are certainly challenges in those quick shifts, and is trying to incorporate that more frequently.

“We do it a little bit in practice. I think I’m doing a little bit more of it here these next two weeks, just for me to get used to it and stuff, so the guys get used to it,” Shanahan said. “Watching New Orleans doing it with Drew Brees and Taysom has been pretty cool over the last three years. I’m sure that took them some time to kind of get the flow of that.”

Garoppolo rendezvoused with Brees in Costa Mesa, after the 49ers’ second joint practice with the Los Angeles Chargers. He said he had a productive conversation about that dynamic with Brees, the former Charger.

“We talked about the situation for a little bit and how him and Taysom did it,” Garoppolo said. “And it’s a thing that I wasn’t really used to, I guess you could say. Just the in and out part of it. So, I was trying to pick his brain, how he handled that. He’d come out for a play or two and then go back in, how that all works.”

One thing to remember in all of this is that the last time it seemed Shanahan was hinting clearly at something was when the media (including this reporter) got convinced that Shanahan was going to draft Mac Jones. He still defends Jones (who has had a stunning training camp thus far) when given the chance, and admitted he was in contention. So, there’s always an angle with Shanahan, and his comments should be taken with a grain of salt, but Wednesday certainly seemed like preparation for the incumbent to retain his starting job, while getting him and the team used to Lance being used, too.

Maybe that’s exactly what Shanahan is planning and he feels that’s the safest route to work Lance into the offense. He knows Lance needs reps, but there’s still work to do in terms of timing, reading the field and getting a feel for NFL speed. Maybe sprinkling him into the offense is a way to get him those reps without putting the pressure of the franchise immediately on Lance’s shoulders, while simultaneously keeping Garoppolo semi-happy.

But if that is the plan, it could just as easily backfire. It clearly took Lance time to get comfortable in the second preseason game, and maybe putting him in limited reps goes terribly, and drains his confidence by preventing him from truly getting a feel for the offense. This is all weeks away from being decided, but if that is the way the 49ers’ offense is headed, it’s not necessarily a slam dunk.

Nick Bosa’s (and Javon Kinlaw’s) return to 11-on-11s 

For the first time this year, Nick Bosa participated in 11-on-11s, and just like his brother, Joey did in Costa Mesa, he got a little too close for comfort with Jimmy Garoppolo. On the second play of the day, Bosa sacked Garoppolo on a play in which just about everyone — most of all Garoppolo — looked confused. Bosa was lined up against Trent Williams and as the play took a while to develop, Bosa found his way free and got in on Garoppolo.

It didn’t look like Bosa took more than 10 reps, but he got enough to get his feet wet again. He also repped in 1-on-1s, finally, beating Mike McGlinchey at least once pretty badly. It’ll be intriguing to watch more of Bosa against Trent Williams on Thursday, the final practice open to reporters.

Williams had a couple of stellar moments in those one-on-ones, pancaking Samson Ebukam and stuffing Jordan Willis. Ebukam ended drills by getting the last laugh, pulling out a clever counter spin move on Jaylon Moore to the delight of every single defensive lineman on hand.

This was the first real look at the 49ers’ full strength defensive line, with all of Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw and Ebukam getting run in 11-on-11s. It was that tandem of Bosa and Kinlaw which was particularly eye-catching.

When he’s on the field, Kinlaw is an absolute game-wrecker. Seriously. Both he and Bosa combined to stuff Raheem Mostert behind the line of scrimmage on one run, and Kinlaw later got a pressure on Garoppolo on a pass which slipped out of his hand. He even made a one-armed, unreal run stop of Mostert with a single arm. If — if — he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a problem.

As for the rest of that defensive line group, it was an important and impressive day for Kevin Givens, who could potentially find himself on the chopping block as a numbers casualty.  He stuffed one Elijah Mitchell run and sent Jake Brendel to his rear, and later stuffed a JaMycal Hasty run against the first team offensive line. Oh, and Zach Kerr, whose veteran status might make him an appealing cut-and-re-sign option, was impressive, too, with a few run stops of his own. The defensive line is ruthless.

A couple other points of note were the return of Jalen Hurd, who made one catch, and, uh, ran the ball once, a la his Tennessee running back days. When he’s on the field, which is exceedingly rare, he’s clearly one of the top six most talented receivers the 49ers have.

He occasionally found himself lined up in the slot against… Deommodore Lenoir, who has previously repped exclusively as an outside corner. But with the release of B.W. Webb, who was the nickel backup for K’Waun Williams, a spot has opened up, and Lenoir appears like the most logical fit there.

Other notes: Injuries, and the Joe Show 2.0?

  • Practice returnees: Elijah Mitchell (adductor strain), Jalen Hurd (knee tendinitis), Emmanuel Moseley (hamstring), Jaquiski Tartt (turf toe), Javon Kinlaw (shoulder), Shon Coleman (knee), Azeez Al-Shaair (elbow, wore blue jersey typically used to indicate non-contact, but participated in 11-on-11s)
  • Practice absences: Dre Greenlaw, Jason Verrett, Kai Nacua, Davontae Harris, Jauan Jennings (heel), Aaron Banks (shoulder), Maurice Hurst (ankle)
  • Joe Staley returns: Joe Staley was present at the 49ers’ practices in Costa Mesa, near where he lives, as Kyle Shanahan said he was considering whether he wants to be a coach. Staley returned to the 49ers’ practice facility on Wednesday, where, as Cam Inman reports, he’s expected to take a role with NBC Sports Bay Area doing pre- and postgame work

Could this be the return of the Joe Show? Perhaps. We got a glimpse of Staley back on the mic in Costa Mesa, next to a mic’d up Laken Tomlinson:


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