The 10 Biggest Takeaways from the San Francisco 49ers Rookie Minicamp
On Friday, May 10, the San Francisco 49ers’ incoming draft class arrived for 2013 rookie minicamp. The players were on hand, working out and participating in classroom sessions for a three-day period until Sunday.
San Francisco’s 11 draft selections and undrafted group officially ignited the process of becoming NFL pros.
The players received their playbooks, met their position coaches, were fitted for equipment and even had time on the practice field. However, it was very much like the first day of school where everyone is getting acclimated.
There are plenty of observations to be made, but no true evaluations at this point.
For the biggest takeaways from San Francisco’s 2013 rookie minicamp, proceed through the following slides.
Quinton Patton Riding Hard Work
On his second try, Louisiana Tech draftee Quinton Patton arrived to the 49ers facility on time and with open arms.
Patton is going to come in, put his nose to grindstone and work toward results. He went from sans school to JUCO, then to NCAA Division I FBS football in four years and excelled; this is a player who understands firsthand the benefit of hard work.
“I might not be the first one [on the practice field] but I’m one of the first ones out here. And I might not be the last one—I’m just a hardworking guy just ready to get to work just every day,” Patton said.
Donning No. 11, Patton will add to the 49ers' already robust receiving unit, which features Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin locked in at Nos. 1 and 2. With that pair alone, there is a standard to live up to when competing at that group.
But it is also a corps with good depth, including Kyle Williams, Mario Manningham, Ricardo Lockette and 2012 first-rounder A.J. Jenkins. It is going to take some moxie on his part if he wants to get involved early.
But Patton has a way of doing things: “Just working, working, working because I came from nothing. And I just want to keep my hard work up-tempo; that’s the way I play, that’s the way I am, that’s the way I’m always going to be.”
According to reports, the first thing Patton will need to work on is his route running (via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area). However, this was an observation from a three-hour inaugural workout, essentially.
The more valid analyses will be publicized once the rookies are full-throttle in training camp. Being amongst the veterans will also help raise the game of the younger players and provide them with another layer of coaching.
In that light, the depth of this roster is a positive.
From what we can tell about the rookie so far, Patton’s zeal will make his time with players like Crabtree and Boldin all the more valuable. Tasking himself with the role of a sponge can do him a world of good as he looks to get noticed.
He will get a fair look, but Patton has to put the work in on the field, in the classroom and in the weight room, which by all indications he is prepared to do. As we go along here, the stick-to-itiveness should be a recurring theme with Patton.
WR Quinton Patton and CB Marcus Cooper had competitive battles during 1-on-1 period. Cooper also had a nice pass breakup during 7-on-7 work.— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) May 12, 2013
Eric Reid Wants to Earn It
Coming into a top-ranked defensive unit, Eric Reid is in awe of teammates he hasn’t even had a chance to meet yet.
Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Nnamdi Asomugha—these are just a few of the names that lace San Francisco’s roster.
Yet, amidst all this defensive talent, the 49ers’ first-round pick from LSU is projected to come in and potentially start at safety, while contributing on special teams. This is a pretty tall order, and one that Reid is not overlooking.
“I don’t by any means expect to start from day one. But that’s a goal of mine; to make the team and to make the team better,” Reid said at the first day of minicamp. The team is asking him to fill a sizable void left by an All-Pro, which has kept him humble.
He understands it will be an earned position but sees a likeness in himself to Dashon Goldson, which may help with the transition. They are similarly built, have like styles and share comparable strengths and weaknesses.
“I think we’re pretty similar. I think we have identical body types; it’s kind of weird. The same height, about the same weight,” Reid said about Goldson. “I haven’t proven myself. He is very proven. He’s a veteran, I’m a rookie, so just getting in here, working and hopefully it works out for me.”
The 49ers likely targeted Reid because how of well he fits from a systematic perspective.
When coming downhill, he is thunderous at the point of attack. Reid will thump ball-carriers and instantly be an asset in run support. San Francisco also plays a lot of two-deep, which the rookie became familiar with at LSU.
This is advantageous, but it does not guarantee anything.
“I don’t expect to start, I want to earn it. Like I keep saying, I just want to come out here and work and earn my keep,” said Reid, ramming the point home. With his mentality and the competitive environment Harbaugh has cultivated, Reid may thrive.
Harbaugh: "We have real high expectations of Eric Reid…When he got here, he went right to work and started looking at the playbook." #49ers— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) May 2, 2013
No Marcus Lattimore in 2013?
As a preliminary checkup prior to the arrival of the rookies, the 49ers ordered extensive medicals, which took place at Stanford on Thursday of last week.
One of the more notable cases was former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, who was reviewed for his first time as a member of the 49ers.
His status is a work in progress, as few are expecting him to see the field in 2013. Over the weekend, Lattimore watched practice in a gray team hoody, taking mental reps throughout the three-day period.
An obvious and perhaps unavoidable question was the one surrounding his official status for the upcoming season. Harbaugh and Lattimore were both questioned, and neither would make a ruling one way or the other.
When asked if the SC tailback could possibly miss the entire year, Harbaugh responded plainly (h/t 49ers.com):
“I don’t think it’s necessary to go through those hypotheticals yet. We’re very early in the process, as we said. We talked to the doctors, and got a gold standard of MRIs and evaluations from all of our players,” uttered the 49ers head coach.
As Harbaugh notes, it is indeed very early in the process.
Though, given the depth on the roster, it is plausible that the 49ers injure reserve him as a rookie. The opportunity cost is too high to force him into action considering he is only eight months removed from one of the most gruesome injuries ever witnessed in sports.
“It’s a lot I’ve been doing. With the doctors and training and everything, just really going to wait and see what happens. Going to continue to keep rehabbing, running and doing a lot of different things, but I’m feeling great,” said the first-year running back.
Lattimore’s upbeat attitude has been pivotal to his progress thus far, and it should continue to give him strength. He has a lot of confidence in the process, and that has made him comfortable putting the decisions in the hands of the doctors and coaches.
He trusts that with the knowledge Harbaugh is given, he will make the best decision for Lattimore and ultimately the team. And so far, the head coach is in no rush to get the All-American on the field.
“I really understand why he says that. He just wants to make sure I’m ready when I go back out on the field. And whatever is best for me and whatever is best for the team, I’m good for,” Lattimore said, responding to Harbaugh’s approach.
It appears as if Lattimore has his eyes open, imagining what is possible for the long term. This is a very good situation he is stepping into—probably the best—so he does not want to set himself back.
Ideally, the tear sustained back in late October 2012 will be the last severe injury in his playing career. After blowing out their knees in college, Frank Gore and Willis McGahee went on to have fairly injury-free pro careers.
That is a good sign, especially considering the advancement in medical technology to date. If he takes it slow and steady, it is possible that Lattimore goes on to have the NFL run he was always meant to have.
When given a hypothetical situation, Lattimore responded to the possibility of sitting out for the entirety of the 2013 season:
“I think that’d be fine. You know, whatever happens these next three months will probably determine that. I’m just going to continue to keep working hard, and if I’m called upon, I feel like hopefully I’ll be ready.”
Marcus Lattimore said he wouldn't be crushed if he sits out this season. Harbaugh, however, said that decision won't be made for a while.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) May 10, 2013
Lawrence Okoye Focusing on Defensive End
Even though he arrived as an undrafted free agent and has never played organized football in his life, Lawrence Okoye was one of the most talked-about and impressive-looking rookies on the pitch—I mean, the field.
The British-born Olympian and record holder is a man in transition.
Coming from the U.K. to the U.S.—from world-class discus to pro football—there is a steep learning curve. However, Okoye, an Oxford Law invitee, has the cerebral aptitude to learn the technical nuances of the sport.
As an individual who does his homework, Okoye fielded several offers from interested teams but chose the 49ers because of their coaching staff and winning prestige. He knew of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula and the work he’d done in Europe.
“I believe in this organization I have the best chance of fulfilling my potential,” Okoye said in Santa Clara.
Upon his arrival, he immediately got to work with Tomsula and his line group.
At 6’6”, 304 pounds, Okoye projects as one of the dominant hybrid 3-4 ends terrorizing the league today. He wants to mold his game around the likes of Justin Smith and J.J. Watt who play at a similar size.
“I think I’m a good mold for a defensive end; size, weight, speed, etcetera. I also think it’s, not the easiest, but one of the more easier positions to learn on the pitch—on the field. And hopefully I can have an impact in the long term at that position,” said the rookie.
Just by loitering on the practice field, he wowed many, including first-rounder Eric Reid, with his sheer size. But on top of the dimensions, Okoye has rare athletic ability, which includes his lateral quickness and straight-line speed.
“I think they saw that with the results of the two combines I went to. And from meeting with me, they see my ambition,” Okoye said, referring to the 4.78 he showcased at the super regional combine.
He also has the passion and drive to be successful in the NFL. By all accounts, Okoye has a laser focus and is ready to put the work in. He understands it is a process but feels he will get better each and every day.
“The best way I can do that at the moment is work hard with coach Jim Tomsula and all these talented youngsters here. And obviously when I get to work with the veterans, like guys like Justin Smith, I’ll go to the next level,” Okoye said.
In Friday’s rookie minicamp session, Okoye was “noticeably gassed” by the end of his first practice (h/t Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle).
As a big man participating in a full day of athletic trials, it is no surprise he became a little winded. The consensus was that the entire 2012 rookie class was out of shape on Day 1 of last year.
Though, as Okoye transitions from discus to football, he will need to work on his conditioning. One of the principal aspects of the game is endurance; he will have to be able to run hard for 60 minutes on game day.
As he trains for the NFL, this should come naturally. The hands-on work with the strength and conditioning coaches to get him where they want him will factor into his progress this offseason.
And on the field, Jim Tomsula will play the role of Michelangelo, chipping away at a block of marble to craft his David.
“Well, we have an expert in that regard, and that is Jim Tomsula who coached in NFL Europe. He has done this a number of times and I can’t think of another coach that’s coaching that’s better suited to take on that challenge,” Harbaugh would add.
Practice observation: Don't know if Lawrence Okoye can play football, but he can throw a medicine ball 1.23 miles. #49ers
— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) May 11, 2013
Jim Harbaugh: A Lot of Excitement, a Lot to Be Done
Over the weekend, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the presence of his 2013 draft class.
As per usual, Harbaugh was excited for the advancement of the football process as we begin to inch toward a new season.
Moreover, the coach is eager to incorporate his new players—ones he thinks can help a team on the cusp to win a Super Bowl.
Harbaugh remains proud of what they accomplished in the draft, bringing in players that appear NFL-ready. As he noted prior, the scope of their most recent draft was centralized on “big, strong” players.
“You first notice it when you shake their hands; Lawrence’s, Tank’s, Vance, Eric, Corey Lemonier—they engulf your hand when you shake it, and that’s a good thing,” Harbaugh said. “They look like NFL players, and they’re going to get even stronger and faster as they transition to the pro game.”
From Vernon Davis to Patrick Willis to Colin Kaepernick, this is a big, physical team in unbelievable shape. The 49ers have some of the best pure athletes in the league, and it sounds as if they only added to that.
Trent Baalke drafted men, hoping that once the coordinators and strength coaches put their touch on them, they will evolve into supermen. The 49ers drafted five players who are 6’3”-plus—and that does not include two 6’1” defensive backs and a 5’11” running back.
“As it looks, we’ve got a good looking team right now, already, and I think these youngsters really add to that,” Harbaugh concluded.
Jim Harbaugh at start of Niners rookie camp: "A journey of a thousand steps starts with the first step."— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) May 10, 2013
Tank Carradine Waiting for the Green Light
One of the 49ers’ big steals from the 2013 draft was Florida State’s Tank Carradine in Round 2 (No. 40 overall).
This was a surefire first-round talent, and a top-5 guy overall if you ask Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller.
The reason for Carradine’s fall was due to a late-season ACL injury and minimal playing time (25 games). A lot of teams were concerned that he might not be ready for Week 1 and were worried about how he would look when he eventually did return.
Having a filled-out roster put the 49ers in an advantageous position, affording them the luxury of drafting a risk-reward player like Carradine. And with pre- and post-draft reviews, San Francisco has been pleased with his medicals thus far.
“Everything looks good structurally with all of the guys we drafted,” Harbaugh said, referring to the recent medical evaluations from Stanford. This includes Carradine, who is admittedly ahead of Lattimore in the recovery stages.
Though Lattimore incurred injury a month prior to Carradine, the former Seminole had a clean tear, while the SC tailback’s was significantly worse.
“Tank is further along, but we’re doing the same process. Got the same gold-standard treatment as all of our players did, and a little extra, too. Gold-plus-plus…Everything is good structurally, and now we set a plan in place,” Harbaugh commented.
Fortunately, Tank Carradine is actually on track to play in 2013, but he will have to be eased back into action. At this point, it has been all mental reps for the rookie as he awaits approval from the medical staff.
There is plenty of work in the classroom to keep him busy until he receives official clearance. He will have an opportunity to learn the schemes, calls and terminology, which should allow him to hit the ground running.
“Whenever the doctors tell me to be ready, that’s when I’ll be ready…I feel great,” Carradine said.
While he is exhibiting patience, Carradine did admit that he was “anxious” waiting for an opportunity to show what he can do. He is an extremely talented player who did not receive the first-round hype due to the injury keeping him under the radar.
However, he has loads of potential—that if realized—can make him a star in this league. And judging by his comments, Carradine is happy to be in San Francisco and feels comfortable with the no-nonsense approach by the team.
“Great program, everybody is about business. Everybody comes out here and works hard and gets things done. Great group of guys to be around, everybody, can bond, a lot of team chemistry. And just guys knowing each other and feeling comfortable around each other,” Carradine said.
FWIW, #49ers listing Tank Carradine as "DT". Same position that Justin Smith is listed at.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 7, 2013
Will Vance McDonald Be an Impact Player as a Rookie?
It is difficult to make any sort of realistic projections for rookies, mainly because they have never played a pro snap in their life.
However, rookie Vance McDonald (Rice) is a player who is looking to come in and have an immediate impact.
At a position of need, the 49ers made him their third draft selection in 2013, taking him in Round 2.
McDonald is the obvious successor to Delanie Walker, apparently handpicked by head coach Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers coach gushed about his new tight end, repeatedly comparing his game to a Hall of Famer.
“He reminds me of what I saw of Mike Ditka when he played the game. I was curious to see if Mike Ditka will see the same similarities,” Harbaugh said. “That was an exciting thing to get Vance on the team, then I wanted to get him in No. 89 and it worked out, he looks good.”
In a healthy TE class, the 49ers had their pick of the litter and went with the pass-catcher from Rice. Only Tyler Eifert (Cincinnati) was selected on Day 1, and had the 49ers hung tight at No. 34, they could have had any one of the remaining players.
Knowing Stanford's Zach Ertz was the more popular commodity, San Francisco traded back, acquiring more picks while still getting their choice TE.
McDonald (6’4”, 267 lbs.) is a big target with upside Walker never had.
During his time in the NCAA, he lined up all over the place, including the backfield. McDonald brings a ton of versatility and natural ability to the game, which makes him an ideal player for San Francisco to mold in its unique system.
There were several sources that cited McDonald as the best looking player on the practice field this past weekend (h/t Santa Rosa Press Democrat). He was spirited and certainly looked the part already.
According to 49ers.com, the rookie TE made several catches and even won in competitive situations against first-rounder Eric Reid.
Eric Reid faced Vance McDonald 3 times in 1-on-1s - Reid had PBU on 1st pass, but McDonald caught the next two, including deep corner route.— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) May 12, 2013
Upgrading the 49ers Special Teams Unit
There are few weak links on this team, but the decline on special teams has been a hard one to ignore.
The kick coverage, the return game and field-goal kicking were all substandard in 2012. The loss of Blake Costanzo, and off years by David Akers and Ted Ginn Jr. were a few of the heavily contributing factors.
According to Football Outsiders, the 49ers special teams unit dropped to No. 20 in 2012 after being the second-ranked unit a year before.
To begin renovations, San Francisco replaced one All-Pro for another, swapping out Akers for kicker Phil Dawson. Linebackers Tavares Gooden and Larry Grant were also not retained, opening competition for depth on the roster.
This offseason then saw an influx of potential special teams aces, including rookies Nick Moody (Florida State) and Marcus Cooper (Rutgers).
Both players were drafted in the late rounds and are expected to compete for roster spots. There is the understanding that making the final 53-man roster will be contingent on their ability to compete on the S/T unit.
“I knew special teams was going to be one of my strong suits,” Moody told Digital Media Manager Scott Kegley of TV49.
Moody understands what he needs to focus on; so he, like many others, will have tunnel vision when it comes to special teams. This type of attention and competition will be good for a unit in need of a rebirth.
There will be several players in training camp trying to earn a role with efficient special teams play. Lawrence Okoye, with his rugby background, will be another potential contributor who might end up making a difference.
For a player as raw as him looking to acclimate, Brad Seely’s special teams unit provides a great opportunity to get on the field. He would be able to use his speed and physicality, which could be tone-setting if he learns to harness it.
Overall, the Tony Montana Squad is a group in transition. The positive thing is that the front office and coaching staff gave it the attention it deserved this offseason. In 2011, this group had attitude and was unbelievably consistent.
The kind of results they produced fueled both the offense and the defense, which was a weekly advantage in terms of momentum. The 49ers would like to re-infuse that back into their game-day persona.
“That’s the kind of attitude I like on kickoff. It’s going to be fun, that’s all I can say. I’m looking forward to it,” Moody said.
Harbaugh praised Moody's ability on special teams. He's "one of the best we've seen at that in college football." #draft49
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) April 28, 2013
B.J. Daniels and MarQueis Gray Are Utility Players
The departure of Delanie Walker did not just affect the tight end position, but it has Jim Harbaugh looking for a new “Swiss Army Knife” altogether.
Aside from being the No. 2 TE, Walker fulfilled a prominent role on special teams and was a top sidecar blocker featured in San Francisco’s pistol plays.
This all-encompassing skill set has Harbaugh looking at B.J. Daniels (South Florida) and MarQueis Gray (Minnesota). Between the two of them, the 49ers have added competition to kick return, punt return, quarterback, receiver, tailback, tight end and kick coverage.
Unlike Gray, Daniels was officially drafted by the 49ers, coming in as a seventh-rounder.
Although he currently lists as a quarterback, he is going to be moving around quite a bit. According to Taylor Price of 49ers.com, Daniels did “just about everything” at the 2013 rookie minicamp.
“Anything I can do to help out, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Daniels said.
Both he and Gray have been brought in for the same reason, therefore, they are in direct competition with each other. And even though Daniels was the one who was drafted, Gray might be able to do even more.
At 6’4”, 250 pounds, the former Gopher is three inches taller and roughly 35 pounds heavier than Daniels. For this reason, Gray is able to compete with the tight ends, which is a dimension Daniels does not have.
“I told the coaching the staff the first time I talked to them that I was willing to do whatever, and I’m just going to continue to do that,” Gray said (h/t 49ers.com).
Nate Montana (#6) and B.J. Daniels (#5) are only QBs taking part in #49ers rookie camp; both stayed after a.m. practice to talk to Harbaugh— Cam Inman (@CamInman) May 10, 2013
At first glance, the 2013 class seems like a humble, hard working group of guys.
There are no egos—just a big, talented class looking to prove themselves to the established veterans. This draft was meant to be very complementary to what San Francisco already has in place while providing building blocks for the future.
The 49ers have that in players like Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore and Corey Lemonier. All three are starting caliber but might not rightfully earn it for two to four years, depending on the player.
Then there are wild cards with upside; Lawrence Okoye has been attracting a lot of attention, but Marcus Cooper and Nick Moody are guys who may wind up making some noise come training camp.
The attention was distributed all over the roster, and you have to credit the way San Francisco focused on special teams. It is an entire phase of the team that needs to be rejuvenated, and this class is inspiring in that regard.
Although he is probably going to become a starter, Eric Reid is another individual who can contribute to the special teams unit. On the defensive side of the ball, he’s a downhill safety, similar to the way Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner played.
As a similarly built safety, this makes him a fit for the defense and a low risk when it comes to transitioning. However, the 49ers don’t really need him to play in the box because of their current personnel up front.
With players like Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman patrolling the middle, San Francisco needs the LSU rookie to play the deep part of the field.
Heading into camp, Reid’s primary focus will be his ability to communicate and not get lost on the back end. Understanding the terminology and playbook will be his first milestone to reach when learning NFL coverages.
Then there is Corey Lemonier, a former defensive end from Auburn now making the conversion to outside linebacker.
During his time with the Tigers (39 games played), he totaled 100 tackles, 17.0 sacks, 24 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles. The 6’3", 255-pound defensive standout from the SEC made a habit of getting in the opponent’s backfield.
“Standing up, I don’t think it’s going to be too hard of a transition,” Lemonier said. “I’m just excited about this whole new change,” via 49ers.com.
If he can step up and compete at a high level, the 49ers may once again have a situational pass-rusher at outside linebacker. By drafting into strength in the early to mid rounds, San Francisco may have put itself in a very advantageous position come September.
And finally, there was the arrival of undrafted free-agent quarterback Nate Montana.
Montana chose the 49ers over the Bengals, taking the No. 6 jersey at the rookie minicamp. It sounded like an OK start for the Notre Dame alum who made a few nice throws over the weekend.
Montana hit a perfectly thrown deep-corner route to tight end Vance McDonald, beating first-round safety Eric Reid in the process (h/t 49ers.com).
He did throw an interception to linebacker Nate Stupar during seven-on-seven drills, but it reportedly bounced off the receiver’s hands. He is not a prospect who is remarkably impressive at any one thing, but could turn into an interesting story in camp.
After all, he is the offspring of Hall of Famer Joe Montana, playing the same position and working with the most proven quarterback guru in the league. Hopefully that is enough to make him a legitimate threat to Scott Tolzien and B.J. Daniels.
QB Nate Montana had other offers to participate in rookie minicamps, says his agent, but he's confirmed to participate in 49ers' gathering.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) May 9, 2013
Dylan DeSimone is the San Francisco 49ers' lead columnist for Bleacher Report. A former NFL journalist and fantasy football writer for SB Nation, Niners Nation and SB Nation Bay Area, Dylan now writes for B/R.
To talk football with Dylan, follow him on Twitter @DeSimone80.