San Francisco 49ers: Rookie Progress Report Through First 4 Games

Phil GCorrespondent ISeptember 30, 2012

San Francisco 49ers: Rookie Progress Report Through First 4 Games

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    In the first four weeks of the season, the San Francisco 49ers have accumulated a 3-1 overall record. 

    Raise your hand if you thought the Niners' first loss would come at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings, when opponents like the Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, and New York Jets showed up in the first four weeks? 

    It's been that kind of start for the 49ers and the rest of the NFL. A little recap? 

    The Arizona Cardinals are undefeated at 4-0. The Minnesota Vikings lead the NFC North with a 3-1 record and the New England Patriots are 2-2. 

    Peculiar? A bit, but the NFL is a ever-changing league. 

    Nevertheless, it has been all business for the 3-1 49ers, with the exception of their little hiccup in Minnesota. 

    However, unlike last season, the 49ers are relying more on their veteran talent rather than the young talent they have accumulated in the draft. 

    49ers rookies have made little to no impact thus far in the season and for good reason. 

    The Niners are simply stacked at almost every position, so it's hard to truly judge each rookie. From what we've seen thus far in the season, I should be able to predict future playing time for the Niners' young guns. 

Joe Looney (OG)

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    Looney, a fourth-round selection in the 2012 NFL draft, sits behind left guard Mike Iupati on the 49ers depth chart. 

    Of all the 49ers rookies, Looney has the best shot at consistent playing time. No, Looney won't leapfrog the talented Iupati at guard, but expect Looney to be incorporated in certain bunch formations. 

    Offensive coordinator Greg Roman loves to use peculiar personnel groupings and formations, especially in goal-line situations. 

    The 49ers drafted Looney to help out at right guard, but Alex Boone has made a smooth transition from tackle to guard, leaving no opening for Looney. 

    Expect Looney to be used in certain personnel groupings throughout the season, but major playing time will only occur with an injury or two. 

RB LaMichael James

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    The 49ers' second-round selection has made no impact thus far, but it is no fault of the rookie. He was drafted to start out as a specialist, but Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter have dominated the carries.

    With Jacobs still hurting, you would have thought James could be incorporated into the game plan but that has not happened to date. If and when Jacobs returns, expect James to drop to fourth on the depth chart.

    Many expected James to play a big role this season, but I suspected Harbaugh will keep him under wraps until a later date in the season. Harbaugh isn't going to show all his cards this early in the season.

    On a talent basis, James reminds many of Darren Sproles. However, we must temper our expectations. After all, he is still a rookie. 

S Trenton Robinson

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    Robinson is buried in the depth chart behind starter Donte Whitner and Darcel McBath at strong safety. 

    As a sixth-round selection, Robinson wasn't expected to make the 53-man roster, but his performance in training camp was impressive enough for the 49ers to make that commitment. 

    Again, Robinson will likely only play if injuries occur, but the talented safety could be effective in certain sub packages. 

TE Garrett Celek

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    The undrafted rookie tight end was a surprise selection for the 53-man roster and he has done nothing to prove doubters wrong. This is more because of depth rather than production. 

    The Niners are loaded at tight end, with Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker leading the charge. Both guys receive heavy playing time. 

    Garrett Celek, the brother of Philadelphia Eagles star tight end Brent Celek, is more of a blocker than his brother, who has shown to be a talented pass catcher. Unfortunately for the 49ers, they have the more raw of the two.

    This year may not be a good barometer to determine success, but if the 49ers fail to re-sign Delanie Walker after this season, Celek could help the 49ers in 2013. 

    The 49ers love to use two tight end formations and if Celek continues to improve, he may end up being a steal pickup for the Niners. 

WR A.J. Jenkins

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    The 49ers' first-round selection has not lived up to his lofty draft status, but when you're buried behind Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and possibly Ted Ginn, it's hard to make a difference. 

    Jenkins was solid during the preseason, but his talent level suggests he could be a big-time contributor in a few years. 

    He has the speed, elusiveness and smarts to dominate in the slot. Jenkins could also be effective in the slot and at flanker. 

    The most surprising thing about Jenkins is his lack of involvement in special teams as a possible kick/punt returner. 

    Ted Ginn made his season debut in the Niners 34-0 win against the New York Jets, but surprisingly Harbaugh went with Kyle Williams rather than Jenkins. 

    Nevertheless, don't expect Jenkins to see the field any time soon.