7 Things We Learned from the San Francisco 49ers OTAs
There are preventative measures mandated by the league that limit what organizations can do during OTAs. But a team like the San Francisco 49ers that stays ahead of the curve found ways to still be productive.
The 49ers managed to sign a majority of the rookie class, which included Marcus Lattimore (RB), Tank Carradine (DT), Vance McDonald (TE), Quinton Patton (WR) and, according to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk, a number of undrafted free agent as well.
The front office was also able to make initial assessments of several position groups, add to their robust coaching staff and progress through evaluations of players returning from injury. In the big picture, it was a productive period that signified the team getting back into the flow of the season.
However, it was not without its setbacks.
With that in mind, head through the following slides for the biggest takeaways from San Francisco's 2013 offseason training activities.
49ers HC Jim Harbaugh on Michael Crabtree's torn Achilles: "We do not anticipate that it’ll be season ending for Michael.”— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 23, 2013
OTAs Can Be Hazardous
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Early in the offseason, OTA sessions are regularly overlooked, largely because of enforced league restrictions regarding contact. There is also the notion that there is little to learn from half-speed practices in basketball shorts.
Nevertheless, the training activities denote NFL teams being back in a football setting, which brings inherent risks. Whether it is making cuts on the field or lifting in the weight room, players endure strain on their bodies.
On May 22, USA Today’s Mike Garafolo reported that star receiver Michael Crabtree had undergone surgery on a torn Achilles that he suffered during OTAs. It was a seemingly unavoidable tear that occurred spontaneously.
According to ESPN, head coach Jim Harbaugh claimed that the 49ers’ No. 1 wideout went in motion, planted his foot to turn up field and that’s when it “felt like somebody kicked him in the Achilles.”
This was a considerable blow to the roster, which has come to rely upon the 25-year-old pass-catcher to generate the majority of their offense through the air. This past season, he became the first 1,000-yard receiver to wear red and gold since Terrell Owens in 2003.
Following the insertion of Colin Kaepernick into the lineup, Crabtree became the team's most targeted receiver. He was depended upon for first downs, yards after the catch, perimeter blocking in the run game and slot production.
While OTAs are taken lightly by the outside world, the possibility of physical injury is very real, and even a team’s best players are at risk. Each day that the players are out there putting work in and emerge unscathed is a good day.
Yes, the 49ers lost the No. 1 wide receiver of a Super Bowl team. But they still have the No. 1 wide receiver on the other Super Bowl team.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) May 23, 2013
Anquan Boldin Is Still Hot
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The next best thing to a talented player is one riding a genuine hot streak—the 49ers might have a mixture of both in a former rival. During the OTA period, several of the local Bay Area beat writers had glowing remarks regarding new acquisition Anquan Boldin.
Boldin, the 32-year-old wide receiver, is fresh off his best campaign in four years, having racked up 65 grabs for 921 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games for the Baltimore Ravens in 2012.
His four-game stretch in the postseason was even more noteworthy, as Boldin finished with a 22-380-4 stat line (vs. IND, at DEN, at NE and vs. SF). It was an outright dominant run for the veteran pass-catcher who simply could not be stopped.
The 49ers have a first-hand account of this, as the team's corners were hanging from the limbs of No. 81 during OTAs. He consistently powered through tight coverage to snatch the ball as if it were his last career target.
Only four months removed from his playoff clinic, Boldin shined in OTAs in Santa Clara. The media consensus on Twitter is that the receiver is still hot after catching fire toward the end of 2012.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reported a strong practice for Boldin, even going as far as to say he looks like a surefire No. 1 option. As a worker and productive asset on the field, he has led by example already, which is invaluable.
In the wake of Michael Crabtree’s injury, it pays to have Boldin setting the bar for the younger players at the position. His weekly approach to practices, in games and off the field is all the more valuable to this team now.
At the moment, Boldin is in line to start and lead an up-and-coming corps of talented yet unproven pass-catchers. There is also the understanding that he will be able to account for the numerical void created by Crabtree’s injury, which sidelined San Francisco’s lone reining 1,000-yard receiver.
“Very impressed,” Harbaugh said about Boldin’s work in OTAs. “We got a good look at what he’s been doing. Really picked up the system fast and making plays, big catches in tight areas.”
From 2011-2012, Boldin had two of his best three seasons in terms of yards per reception, which speaks volumes about his determination and willingness to sharpen his game. In a lot of ways, he has gotten better with age.
He has been in a serious groove, which could indicate that San Francisco is getting Boldin at the pinnacle of his career.
Entering his eleventh season, it is a formidable time where experience meets talent and the game slows down for veterans. By all accounts, Boldin is at the beginning of his second career wind.
Most impressive 49er player today by far was Anquan Boldin--multiple tough catches with coverage on top of him. QBs kept going to him.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 28, 2013
Marcus Lattimore Will Be Doing a Lot of Walking Around
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
It was a big deal when the San Francisco 49ers selected South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in Round 4 of the 2013 draft. After a prolific college career, he was already one of the most recognizable faces at OTAs.
However, his situation is a delicate one, given an injury that saw him simultaneously tear four of five ligaments (ACL, PCL, MCL and LCL) in his right knee. Lattimore is scheduled for a gradual return, but there is no guarantee that he will play this season.
Even though he could not fully participate in individual or team drills, Lattimore has already been a presence, taking a ton of mental reps and asking a lot of questions. The reports on site are that Lattimore is intent on learning from Frank Gore.
According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, the rookie has been shadowing Gore, and believes they’re “already building a good relationship." This is going to be vital to his development and will allow Lattimore to hit the ground running—literally and figuratively—once he is medically cleared.
During the OTA period in Santa Clara, the 21-year-old tailback was seen walking around, looking to absorb information from the veterans and coaches, which is a role that may carry over into training camp.
For Lattimore, this year will be like an internship before he takes the big job, which is a formula that has worked for San Francisco. Current starters Alex Boone, Ray McDonald, Ahmad Brooks, Navarro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Tarell Brown are a handful of players who had to learn to walk before they could run.
“I want to have a long, healthy NFL career,” said Lattimore, via Pete Iacobelli of the Associated Press.
Nnamdi Asomugha May Be a Pleasant Surprise
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
More good news from OTAs surround the new addition of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who, according to Taylor Price of the team's website, is reportedly comfortable in San Francisco’s defensive system
“There’s a really good mix of zones and mans. The playbook is that diverse that you can switch back and forth, so it’s not really one way or another. It’s the best mix of man and zone I’ve ever been around,” the four-time All-Pro said.
In his two years in Philadelphia, Asomugha struggled in zone-heavy concepts, and set career-lows across the board. Four weeks into his first season with the Eagles in 2011, the perennial Pro Bowler allowed 21.9 yards per reception.
That steep of a decline indicates the system playing a factor.
Asomugha is returning to a secondary unit that is akin to the one he thrived in during the height of his career in Oakland. Vic Fangio employs a lot of two-man coverage on the back end, which puts the corner in an optimal position.
“These are more simplified zones that we’ve played all our life,” Asomugha said, commenting on the defensive scheme. More often than not, he will be able to play bump-and-run and when there are zone elements, it will not be too much for him to handle.
His adjustment is a great sign for San Francisco, which is in a position to possibly gain another All-Pro caliber player for their defense. If Asomugha can win a featured role this season, the 49ers may have their best defense yet under the Harbaugh regime.
Not long ago, Asomugha was considered one of the league’s elite lockdown corners, alongside Darrelle Revis.
“This is a really solid defense all the way around,” Asomugha said. “Since everybody knows the defense, it’s really easy to communicate. Anything I don’t get I can ask anybody on the defense and they pretty much have it down.”
New #49ers CB Nnamdi Asomugha: "I’ve had a chip on my shoulder every year that I’ve played, I think it’s bigger this year."— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) April 3, 2013
Kyle Williams Is on the Field
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
In Week 11 last season at New Orleans, wide receiver Kyle Williams suffered an ACL tear, which sidelined him for the remainder of the season. For the second year in a row, injuries would leave the 49ers shorthanded at WR in the playoffs.
Reports from OTAs on Williams have been positive—all indicative of progress and a return in the near future. Taylor Price of the team's official website reports that he has been “running full speed” on the field, but was limited to individual drills.
When things broke off into team periods, Williams could not participate, which only fueled his competitive fire. He has been eager to get back to work and assist a receiving corps that needs all hands on deck.
“At this point, I feel good, I feel great,” Williams responded when asked about his timetable for a return. “Making progress every single day, but just want to keep on that same path and be ready for Week 1.”
At the moment, Williams (5’10”, 186 lbs.) is on track for a full return once NFL training camps open two months from now, according to Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News. He is another player in line for a bounce-back season in 2013.
The quick-footed 24-year-old from Arizona State has recently embraced a leadership role for this wide receiver group. Considering his years spent within the system, Williams is now the most experienced veteran on the roster.
It is on him to impart his knowledge and help others catch up to speed.
“For me, I’m happy to do that kind of stuff because I want to see these guys progress and move along and become better players,” Williams said while discussing the his role in the absence of Michael Crabtree.
With a dynamic set of physical tools and new veteran standing, Williams is a legitimate candidate for the No. 2 job opposite Anquan Boldin. He may also provide a fresh element from the slot, where production is expected to take a hit this season.
Prayers out to my big brother @kingcrab15 now watch how he come back
— Kyle Williams (@KyleWilliams_10) May 22, 2013
In the meantime we gotta hold it down!!!!— Kyle Williams (@KyleWilliams_10) May 22, 2013
Is Glenn Dorsey Next in Line to Rehab His Career in San Francisco?
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
In professional sports, a systematic fit is everything. Truth be told, a less talented athlete can be more effective in the right system, say, over an All-Pro caliber player that is forced to get away from his strengths.
For example, when he was with the New York Giants, now-retired WR Steve Smith flourished, but he cooled off significantly after leaving the team. The same can be said for current 49er CB Nnamdi Asomugha, who struggled in the switch from Oakland to Philadelphia.
In short, the combination of system and coaching can make or break a career.
With that said, a player to watch in San Francisco this year is defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. As the No. 5 overall pick in 2008 (Kansas City), he possesses the physical tools and ceiling to be an asset for the 49ers.
Dorsey, 27, is expected to take over as the starting nose guard in the team’s 3-4 base defense, assuming the duties left by Isaac Sopoaga, who is now in Philadelphia. After five seasons, the 6’1”, 297-pounder has an opportunity to rehab his career in a big way.
“It is good to have a fresh start and be able to start over,” Dorsey told Digital Media Manager Scott Kegley of 49ers.com.
As the most decorated DL in the history of LSU—a big-time defensive school—many have been patiently awaiting the rise of Dorsey at the pro level. Coming out of the college ranks, he simply destroyed blockers, which made him a generally disruptive force in the trenches.
In his transition from the NCAA, Dorsey evolved from a pass-rushing defensive tackle to a run-stuffing end with Kansas City. In his last two stops with the Tigers and Chiefs, there have been signs of his ability to do both, which gives him immense value.
However, he has yet to field the total package all at once, which is what San Francisco is working towards this offseason. As an investment, Dorsey’s talent combined with this coaching staff and defensive personnel has the potential for a high return.
The six-year pro is learning like a rookie all over again, except he’s benefited from having built a callous at the NFL level. Thus, his time with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula will be all the more valuable.
This is a relationship that may finally help Dorsey push his game to the next level.
“Very beneficial,” Dorsey said of Tomsula. “He gives you different ways to look at things, and different ways to use your body and your hands, and using what God gave you. He’s doing a tremendous job. I’m learning a lot. I’m learning a lot of new techniques and it’s all making sense for me.”
Dorsey was optimistic about the defensive scheme, saying he is “going to play everywhere,” which includes lining up on the inside and the outside. In that regard, it sounds as if the 49ers will try to get him going as a run-stuffer and pass-rusher.
If he is seeing time in both the base and the nickel, it shows they view him as an every-down defensive lineman. If he can blackout sections of the protection, he can be similarly effective as All-Pro DE Justin Smith.
As wide-bodied linemen, together Dorsey and Smith both have the ability to take up a great deal of space. This will ultimately allow the linebackers behind them to roam and attack freely.
While Tomsula will be his primary instructor, Dorsey will spend time learning from starters Ray McDonald and Justin Smith as well. As soon as OTAs were underway, the hands-on tutelage began.
Following in the paths of Justin Smith (Cincinnati), Carlos Rogers (Washington) and Donte Whitner (Buffalo), Dorsey may the be next defensive player to come to San Francisco as a free agent and experience a career turnaround.
The Stand-in for Michael Crabtree Is on the Roster
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
As stated in the prior slide, Michael Crabtree is out for a good portion of the 2013 league year with a torn Achilles.
So far, it has not sent the 49ers into any sort of frenzy as they scour through their Rolodex for prospective free-agent wide receivers. Instead, the team plans to make it an open competition between the current players on the roster.
“We’ve lumped the younger receivers, A.J. [Jenkins] and [Quinton] Patton and [Ricardo] Lockette in one spot and letting them concentrate on that. And we’ll see who emerges from that group of players. On the other side, there’s Anquan [Boldin],” said Harbaugh.
The idea is for Boldin to be locked in at No. 1, while the Niners seek out the most complementary receiver opposite him. As Harbaugh noted, this group includes up-and-comers A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette.
Let’s not forget, as they return from respective knee injuries, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams also present options. With the talent currently on board, combined with this Darwinist approach, the 49ers are bound to see results.
A.J. Jenkins (6’1”, 192 lbs.):
The 23-year-old first-rounder from 2012 is one of the favorites to the win position. In his second NFL season, the coaching staff is awaiting the rise of Jenkins in a “next man up” situation. This offseason, he spent time training with Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta and even added significant weight, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.
Given the investment by the team, along with the fact that he has put the work in this offseason, the 49ers would like to be able to reward Jenkins by slotting him in as a featured player in the offense.
#49ers expect big things from '12 1st rounder AJ Jenkins this year. He spent 8 offseason weeks throwing with Kaepernick. Built that rapport.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 22, 2013
Quinton Patton (6’0”, 204 lbs.):
There is a lot of buzz surrounding the rookie fourth-rounder from Louisiana Tech, who was not expecting to compete for a starting job in 2013. In the NCAA, Patton was an all-around productive pass-catcher that was the centerpiece of the Bulldogs’ Air Raid attack.
Whenever his team needed to lean on him, the All-WAC receiver delivered in the most competitive situations, which is an enticing tidbit of information considering the setting he’s been thrust into in San Francisco.
Crabtree's injury puts Quinton Patton in an even better position to make an impact early with 49ers— Jim Wyatt (@jwyattsports) May 22, 2013
Ricardo Lockette (6’2”, 211 lbs.):
Out of the group of competing receivers, Lockette is the one true height/weight/speed specimen. Not only is he the largest WR listed on the 49ers’ roster, but he also runs in the low 4.3s, per NFL Draft Scout.
Moreover, according to Kevin Lynch of SFGate, he has built a strong off-the-field rapport with star quarterback Colin Kaepernick. If these two can begin to gel on the gridiron as well, Lockette will have a real shot to solidify his place on this team.
49ers next OHN: Ricardo Lockette - His big play ability thatcomes from size and speed is made perfect for a QB like Kaep.— Jayson Braddock (@JaysonBraddock) May 27, 2013
Mario Manningham (6’0, 185 lbs.):
In his sixth season, Manningham is the most experienced and decorated receiver on the roster. The hitch is that the receiver is coming off a late season-ending injury that saw him tear both his ACL and PCL.
The timetable for his return is unknown, but the expectation is that Manningham will be a late arrival. He will give San Francisco a boost once he is 100 percent, however, the team needs another player step up beforehand.
If Michael Crabtree is out with torn Achilles, time is NOW for AJ Jenkins and Quinton Patton to come alive. Need Mario Manningham back soon— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) May 22, 2013
Kyle Williams (5’10”, 186 lbs.):
Of the young receivers expected to compete in training camp, Williams will stand out as the veteran. In all likelihood, this will give him an edge, since his familiarity with the system and route running are more polished at this point.
Moreover, the downfield explosiveness Williams displayed in college will finally be relevant with Colin Kaepernick behind center. He has an opportunity to blossom into a Victor Cruz or Randall Cobb type receiver in this West Coast attack.
This is telling: The 49ers voted Kyle Williams as their Ed Block Courage Award winner. Shows how well-liked/respected he is in the locker rm— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) March 18, 2013
Other Notes from OTAs
- According to Taylor Price of the team's website, Phil Dawson trekked up to Candlestick Park to acclimate to the conditions, which mainly include the heavy winds that sweep in from the Bay.
- LaMichael James, A.J. Jenkins and Alex Boone have added significant weight this offseason.
- Former head coach Eric Mangini was added to the staff as a Senior Offensive Consultant with potential for a more expanded role down the line, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
- Of the returning players, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Kendall Hunter, Kyle Williams, Aldon Smith, Mario Manningham and Justin Smith are all coming off injuries which included surgery.
- Rookies Eric Reid (No. 35) and Marcus Lattimore (No. 38) may both change their jersey numbers eventually.
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.