San Francisco 49ers: 5 Players Whose Stock Is on the Rise After OTAs
Getting a read on the San Francisco 49ers during OTAs is a difficult task. The 49ers like to play their cards close to the vest, and most of their practices are closed to the media. Subsequently, we’re left attempting to read the few tea leaves coach Jim Harbaugh drops or reading too much into the usual preseason positivity that surrounds a team looking ahead to their upcoming season.
That doesn’t mean we don’t know anything, however. While no one’s going to significantly move up the depth chart during OTAs, it is the first chance for players to make an impression on the coaching staff this season. Seeing who’s getting penciled in for first-team reps, who is excelling in drills and who coaches are raving about can give us hints as to who is getting in the team’s good graces as we wind our way slowly toward the first preseason games.
What that means for every individual player is different. Some players are already penciled in as starters, so their stock rising simply indicates a higher level of confidence or expectations, based on solid performances. Other players are just fighting to earn a roster spot, so their stock rising could move them from cut to the 53-man roster.
It’s all relative.
Here are five players who saw their stock rise during the first three days of OTAs last week.
RB Marcus Lattimore
Lattimore, coming off of a knee injury that’s cost him a year and a half of football time, is one of the most important players to keep an eye on in OTAs. This is the first offseason he’s had in the NFL where he’s been close to fully healthy, meaning we can see how quickly his explosiveness returns.
After being banged up some for the rookie minicamp, Lattimore took to the practice field without a knee brace. He was a full participant in the session, taking handoffs and looking recovered from the hamstring pull he was suffering from.
Jim Harbaugh praised Lattimore’s recovery, saying of the running back: “Each day [he's] trying to get a little bit better. And you see the improvement with him. Every day looks a little bit better than the day before.
“You talk to him, the knee feels good, and he’s getting back—getting the hamstring back.”
Lattimore is battling with LaMichael James, Kendall Hunter and Jewel Hampton for, in all likelihood, two roster spots. Lattimore’s knee looking sharp is a positive sign for fans who have been hoping to see what the highly touted back can do since he was drafted last year.
WR Brandon Lloyd
After sitting out a year, Lloyd is attempting to restart his NFL career. The 10-year veteran brings 385 receptions and 5,695 yards with him to San Francisco—some accumulated as a 49er between 2003 and 2005.
Because of his age and missing out a season, Lloyd seemed like something of a long shot to make the final roster.
“Well, I think that’s something that we know we’ve struggled with here, the red zone,” Kaepernick said. “And that’s something we’re constantly trying to improve. He’s had success down there, so if there’s something we can pick up from him, how he runs routes, how he sets things up, that’s something we want to take and try to make ours.”
Lloyd got the attention of Jim Harbaugh as well. When asked if Lloyd looked like a guy who had missed a year, Harbaugh had this to say:
Seeing really good things. Seeing surge off the line of scrimmage. He’s got the ability to burst at the top of his routes. Runs excellent routes. Acrobatic type of catches that he’s able to make. Really good hands. So far really good. No, it does not seem like a guy that’s had a layoff from football for a year.
Lloyd has a tough group of players to beat out if he wants to make the final roster, including Quinton Patton, Jon Baldwin, Kassim Osgood and Chuck Jacobs, but he’s starting his second tenure in San Francisco about as well as he could have hoped.
DL Lawrence Okoye
There might not be a better all-around athlete on the San Francisco 49ers than Okoye, the Olympic discus thrower from Great Britain.
Okoye’s issue is with a lack of experience, as he’s never played football in either college or in high school.
The 49ers got a reminder of Okoye’s potential during OTAs, however. Okoye, working with the kick coverage units, ran down Darryl Morris.
Okoye is 6’5” and 315 pounds; Morris is 5’10” and 188 pounds and ran a 4.33 40-yard dash. Someone as large as Okoye keeping up with Morris is absolutely insane.
“Yeah. The fella, they liked that,” Harbaugh said when asked about the play.
“That was one of the high points of practice, watching Lawrence run down on the kickoff. And he’s been doing that for us. He’s a big guy and he can run. And that’s like a lot of guys [who are] trying to find their spot, trying to find their role. And that’s a place that he’s working in right now and [it was] fun to watch, wasn’t it? A big, 300-and-however-many-pound guy running down on the kickoffs. I’d love to see it.”
Okoye is a long shot to make the active roster due to his lack of experience, but a 300-plus-pound gunner on kickoff returns would be an amazing sight to see.
ILB Michael Wilhoite
There’s a battle to be won at inside linebacker while NaVorro Bowman recovers from the knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship game. As of right now, Wilhoite seems to be the leader in the clubhouse.
In initial OTAs, Wilhoite has been working with the starting unit. While that could just reflect his status as one of the more experienced players on the roster, it’s a better sign than if he was rotating with Nick Moody, Chris Borland or Shayne Skov.
Wilhoite only has 178 defensive snaps to his credit, but that makes him a grizzled veteran compared to two rookies and second-year Moody’s 10 snaps. That should give him the leg up during the initial part of training camp, but it’s not going to keep him there if one of the other three plays well.
Consider no news good news for Wilhoite here—the longer he stays working with the starters, the more likely it is he’ll get the call come the regular season.
CB Chris Cook
Cook, signed as a free agent from Minnesota, has begun to feel a little bit like an afterthought in the 49ers’ secondary. With a first-round pick used on Jimmie Ward and another high pick used on Dontae Johnson, Cook’s roster spot became more and more precarious.
However, Cook had an opportunity during OTAs. Ward is out with a foot injury until training camp proper and Chris Culliver and Keith Reaser were resting their knees. Eric Wright tweaked an ankle in practice and had to sit out, as well.
That left plenty of snaps for Cook, lining up across from Tramaine Brock. It indicates Cook’s ahead of Darryl Morris, Perrish Cox and Kenneth Acker at the moment. That’s a good sign, as in my 53-man roster predictions, I had Cox on the team ahead of Cook.
Perhaps they just wanted to see more of Cox at the nickel corner position, to complete with Jimmie Ward, but the more playing time Cook gets, the better his chances of ending up on the final 53-man roster.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on twitter.