The second day of the 49ers’ three-day blocks of practice tend to be the most significant, and that remained the case on Saturday.
As usual, the defense presented some challenges for the offensive line and Trey Lance to deal with. There first two-thirds or so for Lance’s offense was uneven, with an interception, a near interception, a coverage sack and a bad drop.
Lance caps practice with a last-second touchdown
But it’s that final third, when Lance got to run a situational drill, that impressed. The most realistic situational drill thus far was also the most encouraging.
The 49ers set up the scoreboard with the situation. Down 24-20, 1:15 left, a couple of timeouts, starting with 1st and 10 at your own 35-yard line. It’s as real as it’s going to get until they face another team.
Here’s how that went down:
- Completion to George Kittle, who rattles off a handful of yards after the catch before getting out of bounds after securing the first down.
- Incompletion to JaMycal Hasty, who dropped the ball and had plenty of room to run. Hasty is too short and too inconsistent as a pass-catcher to be a consistent receiving target. It doesn’t seem like he’s going to make the team.
- Lance escapes pressure and runs for a gain of about 6 yards.
- (3rd and 4) Lance finds Deebo Samuel right at the sticks for a first down over the middle of the field.
- Lance escapes again, under pressure from Kevin Givens. This might have been a sack and was at least a pressure, but for the sake of the drill, they kept things going and Lance ran for a nice gain. He was either considered out of bounds or they burned a timeout here.
- (2nd and 3) Lance finds George Kittle for a short completion to his right for the first. Kittle gets out
- Lance comes right back to Kittle in a similar spot and Kittle gets out again.
- With six seconds left, from the 15-yard line, and the defense playing a version of prevent in the end zone, Lance avoided pressure, slid up in the pocket and found Ray-Ray McCloud, who created a surprising amount of space and caught a buzzer-beating touchdown pass against Darqueze Dennard.
To recap, Lance went 5-of-6 in this period along with a couple rushes for about 15 yards. That’s about 50 passing yards and a touchdown, too.
He went 11-for-18 on the day with that touchdown, but also had an interception, a near interception and took a coverage sack.
Lance’s worst play of the day was a pick-six from Jimmie Ward. Drake Jackson brought pressure off the edge and Lance had to deliver quickly. He tried to hit Elijah Mitchell in the flat, but Ward tracked it the whole way and snagged it en route to the end zone.
Lance said the defense brought Cover 0 pressure and that he has to deliver the ball faster.
He and Ward are locker mates, and while he acknowledged he might hear some talk from Ward, it wouldn’t be too long lived.
“I’m sure he will [let me hear about it],” Lance said. “But he’s gonna have to hear from me again tomorrow. He’s not gonna say too much about it, but he made a great play. He’s always helping me out with little things.”
The other clear iffy throw was a near interception on a crosser aimed for George Kittle. Dre Greenlaw undercut it from the weak side, nearly picking it off. There was also a pass breakup from Emmanuel Moseley that looked like Brandon Aiyuk stopped running, or at least Lance expected him to end in a different spot.
He was also let down by a clear drop from Jauan Jennings on what should’ve been a layup completion on a wide open shallow crosser. That’s two clear drops, including Hasty’s.
Despite the questionable start to practice, the way Lance finished and managed the clock was of the most import. Things will start to ratchet up with next week’s joint practices. It’s unclear how Shanahan will employ him in the preseason.
Everything else (otherwise known as: Jason Poe is fun)
(As a point of order, you have to choose to watch 1-on-1s for either O-line vs. D-line or pass-catchers and defenders. Given that trench warfare is much more fun, and the pass-catching 1-on-1s are split up on both fields, you won’t usually get reports on them here.)
For the first time since Wednesday, 1-on-1s returned to the trenches. Nick Bosa was not involved in practice, which meant Samson Ebukam was forced to face Trent Williams and was, as you’d expect, stonewalled.
Javon Kinlaw also participated for the first time in training camp, and while it was just one rep against Aaron Banks, he looked explosive. He used the same sort of jump cross chop move that Aaron Donald has patented, and won the rep.
Banks had an inverse day to Spencer Burford. He had a couple false starts in 1-on-1s and got pushed into the pocket on his reps, while Burford stoned just about everyone he saw in 1-on-1s, but was caught out a couple of times in 11-on-11s.
Both of them, though, have been solid so far.
Perhaps the most intriguing question on the offensive line is what do the 49ers do if Jake Brendel is the starting center? Brendel has certainly looked better than Daniel Brunskill there and remained with the first team for the second-straight day.
Do the 49ers push Burford to the bench and start Brunskill at right guard if Brendel wins the starting center job? Or do they make use of the fact that Brunskill is positionally flexible and basically make him the 6th man?
Joint practices and preseason reps will tell us quite a bit more, but it would be somewhat disappointing to push Burford to the bench in favor of Brunskill if it comes to that. Given how he looks at this stage, as a rookie, it would be a reasonable bet that he’s only going to improve throughout the year, whereas Brunskill’s ceiling is discernibly limited.
As far as the offensive line depth pieces are concerned, new veteran addition Jordan Mills stuffed every player he faced in 1-on-1s. He wasn’t involved in 11-on-11s, but if Jaylon Moore is out for any extended period with his lower leg strain, Mills might have a chance to make the roster.
Then there’s Colton McKivitz, who looks miles ahead of Justin Skule. Skule’s getting absolutely cooked on almost every pass rush rep and doesn’t appear confident, frequently throwing his hands too early.
McKivitz, meanwhile, looks much more flexible. Sometimes he’ll wait to see a pass rusher’s approach, and against others, he’ll be proactive, getting hands into their chest early. He’s already a solid run blocker.
If you were making your 53-man roster predictions, the first seven spots seem filled. Let’s say the starting line looks like this:
Behind them, it’s clearly Brunskill, then McKivitz. You’d expect that Moore would be the eighth man in the group, but if his injury lingers, maybe that gives the 49ers pause. That’s premature, though, and he’s still likely to make the team.
If there was a ninth guy? You’d have to say it’s Jason Poe. He’s just an absolute joy to watch.
With his low center of gravity, coupled with a surprising level of power and athleticism in his squatty, 6-foot frame, he consistently anchors well against the likes of Robert Nkemdiche and Kevin Givens. He seems destined for the practice squad, but if he makes it there, he might get some NFL game time this season for the 49ers.
Nkemdiche’s a maniac who did not have a superb day, especially in 1-on-1s, and talks quite a bit. McKivitz made a “keep talking” hand gesture towards him after a successful run.
Givens looks like he could start, or is at the very least the clear third interior defensive lineman in the rotation. That group is not nearly as deep as the edge rushers, but the likes of Charles Omenihu, Kerry Hyder Jr. and the likely practice squad destined Alex Barrett have done well when slotting inside.
If there’s anything to add, it’s that Ty Davis-Price continues to look like he’ll punish second-level defenders. He’s not exceedingly agile, but he has an ability to cut aggressively, and finishes his runs with fury.
Jordan Mason probably won’t make the team because of numbers and the draft capital investment in the likes of Davis-Price and Trey Sermon, but he’s been awesome to watch, too. He takes hits well and continues to keep his feet moving in just about every situation.