6 Biggest Takeaways from the San Francisco 49ers' OTAs
Or are they?
On one hand, San Francisco's incumbent roster is loaded with plenty of elite talent, again proving to us that the 49ers should have no problem entering the 2014 season as one of the favorites to compete for Super Bowl XLIX.
It is fairly easy to predict just how the 49ers' depth chart will fall into place after OTAs and entering the preseason, especially with the starters. We can accurately gauge the majority of first-team players who should take the field come Week 1 of the regular season.
Yet OTAs provide more than just the means to get the 90-man roster into shape heading towards training camp and the preseason.
While there are relatively few questions surrounding the starting roster, the added depth that helps compose the remainder of the team is yet to be determined. Additionally, OTAs provide the opportunity for rookies, role players and other teammates on the fringe of making the final roster to show their skill and development.
Injuries—to which the 49ers are no strangers—also open the door for players who would otherwise be buried on the depth chart.
To quote David Fucillo of Niners Nation:
OTAs provide a chance for players to show where they stand with the coaches, but as fans, I think the most useful information we can glean relates to the depth chart. Even that is not completely on the mark, but we can at least start to infer a few things. And that is the case to some extent with the 49ers. The team is missing players due to injuries, but the players bumped up because of that are interesting to consider.
Additionally, we can catch a glimpse at how some of the many stars on this roster are shaping up as they prepare for the team's 2014 campaign.
In this slideshow, let us take a look at the six most significant things we have noticed at the 49ers' OTAs thus far. There have been some risers and fallers—performances of which shall have a direct effect on how the team shapes up in the weeks and months that follow.
Colin Kaepernick's Six-Year Extension
Okay, so Colin Kaepernick's new six-year deal worth up to $126 million is probably not worthy of discussion when it comes to evaluating the team's OTAs.
Yet given the context of the situation and Kaepernick's expectations moving forward, the deal is almost impossible to overlook.
News of the extension was first noted by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (h/t Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com) and the extension puts to bed any concerns whether or not Kaepernick would be in a 49ers uniform following the 2014 season.
For #49ers QB Colin Kaepernick: It’s a 6-year extension worth up to $126M with $60M guaranteed, source says. Under contract through 2020— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 4, 2014
With that sort of money now heading Kaepernick's way, the preemptive question is whether or not he can play up to that lofty contract.
Time will eventually be the deciding factor whether or not the money was worthwhile. In the meantime, Kaepernick will continue to be a focal point of the 49ers' OTAs this season—especially following the wake of the extension.
Thus far, Kaepernick has gone through a few up-and-down moments.
"I really expect a real breakout year for Colin," coach Jim Harbaugh said via Kawakami. "He's very gifted, he always has been; he has the look and feel of a guy who's really going to break out, even more so than he already has."
This boost in confidence could very well be the direct result of a much more reinforced receiving corps—an element Kaepernick and the offense did not have the luxury of a year ago.
Yet with the added talent within this unit, the job still falls on Kaepernick to be effective and deliver the ball both decisively and accurately. There have been some troubles with this.
Per Grant Cohn of The Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Kaepernick has had some struggles with accuracy—most notably during the June 3 session per Cohn.
This is undeniably something Kaepernick will continue to work on over the course of OTAs and into the preseason. As we know, the young quarterback is still developing. There remain aspects to his game that need improvement.
With the quarterback's contract extension being the focus of many 49er fans this offseason, Kaepernick now will be under special scrutiny, given that he's been locked up long-term. At the same time, whether he'll be re-signed and when should no longer be a distraction.
Hopefully the new deal does not affect Kaepernick's motivation to impress.
The Absence of Vernon Davis and Alex Boone
Remaining on the topic of contract extensions during the OTA period, two substantial pieces of 49ers' success are absent from this portion of San Francisco's preseason—tight end Vernon Davis and guard Alex Boone.
Both star players are skipping the voluntary period of camp and could be potential holdouts per Bill Williamson of ESPN.
TE Vernon Davis and RG Alex Boone have not been taking part in 49ers OTAs. Coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for either.— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoCSN) May 28, 2014
The primary reason behind both players' respective absences is dissatisfaction with their current contracts per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
While this portion of these workouts is voluntary, the indication of both Boone and Davis being absent is not a good sign moving forward.
Davis—signed through 2016 at $36.75 million—has made it clear why he is sitting out this portion of OTAs, per Jay Mohr on WDFN.com:
Every decision I make is in the best interest of my brand. We sometimes have to make a business decision, and my decision is to workout on my own because I’m focused on building my brand and balancing everything out.
There are obviously deeper reasons that Davis' initial statements, but it is hard to fathom the 30-year-old tight end getting anything more than a modest extension at this point, especially when one factors in his age.
Vernon Davis has lost his marbles if he thinks he's getting Jimmy Graham money with a speed-based game at his age.— Dylan DeSimone (@DeSimone_80) June 4, 2014
Perhaps the aforementioned suggestion of a more modest extension is applied here. The bigger question is whether or not he holds out when mandatory events begin on June 17.
The same can be said of Boone. Yet Boone is a bit trickier when it comes to evaluating the 49ers' approach.
Like Davis, Boone is signed through 2016 but at a deal worth $6.54 million. At 27 years old, however, an investment in Boone is much more justifiable given his age. It is safe to say that Boone is underpaid given his value to San Francisco's vaunted offensive line. With this in mind, the 49ers would be more inclined to give Boone an extension before considering the options regarding Davis.
Williamson elaborates on this further:
Davis is simply a tougher sell for a new deal, although he is a vital part of the team. He is already the NFL's third highest-paid tight end. It would be difficult for the 49ers to tear up his deal and give him a big-dollar contract with other pressing needs.
Of course the true implications of all of this will most likely not be felt until mandatory minicamp in a couple of weeks.
The Reemergence of Brandon Lloyd
Before the 2014 NFL draft, veteran wide receiver Brandon Lloyd must have felt he had a pretty good shot at making San Francisco's final 53-man roster for 2014.
Lloyd—an offseason acquisition who missed all of the 2013 season—was picked up by San Francisco with the hopes of assisting to a 49ers passing game that ranked 30th in passing yards last year (2,979).
Then came the draft.
The 49ers traded for wideout Stevie Johnson and picked up South Carolina speedster Bruce Ellington in the fourth round.
With incumbents like Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Quinton Patton also on the roster, the prospects of Lloyd actually making the team looked grim at best.
But Lloyd has done almost everything in his power thus far to warrant serious consideration for a legitimate role.
Much of this is in part because a number of San Francisco's receivers have been absent from the majority of OTAs, per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee who writes, "With so many receivers absent, veteran Brandon Lloyd was by far the most popular target. He's looked good—very good—in both sessions that have been open to the media."
Lloyd is unquestionably taking full advantage of his fellow receivers' absence. In this stead, the 32-year-old is looking to help San Francisco improve its red-zone offense.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area described this approach further by writing:
[Colin] Kaepernick and Lloyd, who signed this offseason as a free agent, were seen discussing the various aspects of the plays. A short time later during an 11-on-11 session in the red zone, Kaepernick hooked up with Lloyd for a touchdown. Kaepernick appears to have built good chemistry with Lloyd in a short period of time.
I don’t know how he comes off his start as fast as he does. And then during the lifting part, the early phase of these OTAs, this guy was bounding. I swear, I would have thought he was bending his knees and jumping. His bounds were almost as high as most people can bend their knees and jump. He’s very athletic. It doesn’t look like he has missed a year of football at all. I’m glad to have him on my team and I know he’s going to make some plays for us.
#49ers Patrick Willis speaks highly of WR Brandon Lloyd. Amazed by his route running and coming in/out of breaks.— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) June 3, 2014
True, the 49ers' depth chart at wide receiver is very crowded entering the 2014 season. While there is little doubting the impact of players like Crabtree and Boldin, Lloyd could still compete against players like Johnson or Patton.
Who knows exactly how this competition eventually plays out, but Lloyd—who has averaged over 1,100 receiving yards in the last three seasons he's played—is at least raising eyebrows.
The Battle at Running Back
San Francisco's backfield is another crowded position heading into the 2014 season.
Behind 31-year-old Frank Gore, the 49ers employ a plethora of backs all vying for touches: Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde are all figuring into the equation at some level or another.
But the primary focus of this particular slide is what to make of the competition between Lattimore, the South Carolina phenom who essentially redshirted his rookie season while recovering from injury, and Hyde, San Francisco's 2014 second-round draft acquisition.
A year ago, it was safe to assume that Lattimore was the heir apparent to Gore when the veteran back's days in San Francisco concluded. The addition of Hyde changes all of that. OTAs give the first glimpses into which player is emerging on top. As tweeted by Pro Football Focus' Vincent Frank:
Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde are at 49ers rookie minicamp. Just let that talent sink in for a second.— Vincent Frank (@VincentFrankNFL) May 23, 2014
Barring anything extraordinary, Gore shall remain the bell cow of San Francisco's running game entering the season. Yet spelling him should fall upon the shoulders of either Hyde or Lattimore. So who has had the more impressive OTAs thus far?
Both backs had an impressive performance on June 3, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. Maiocco noted that Hyde was very elusive during an open-field angle drill, and that Lattimore demonstrated his receiving skills with at least four catches out of the backfield.
Early during OTAs, Lattimore was seeing plenty of reps, as Hyde participated in the NFLPA's Rookie Premier event in Los Angeles. Lattimore is looking more and more comfortable physically.
#49ers OTA ends with a Marcus Lattimore run. He looks good, albeit in a no-full pads, no- hitting context.— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) May 28, 2014
With Lattimore, the 49ers still have to be concerned that his knee has healed completely. Perhaps because of this—and also a credit to his talent—Hyde has been receiving a lot of the first-team reps in OTAs, though what this reveals about the intentions of head coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff is hard to conclude at this juncture.
With Gore receiving plenty of rest, eyes are shifting towards Hyde and Lattimore. Determining the eventual roles of backs like Hunter and James will be ongoing, but it seems as if Hyde presently holds a slight edge over Lattimore as the eventual feature back on the 49ers offense.
Risers and Fallers in the 49ers' Secondary
Much like the wide receiver position, the 49ers entered the offseason with plans to restock and upgrade the secondary.
Gone are veterans like Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner. Meanwhile, new additions Antoine Bethea, Chris Cook, Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker join returning veterans Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver.
So who has been the most impressive thus far?
Offseason acquisition Cook stepped in for Culliver—progressing slowly after missing all of 2013 due to injury—on the first-team unit on June 3 per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee.
At 6'2" and 200 pounds, Cook is a long-limbed specimen who has the physical traits to potentially be a vital asset to the 49ers. Yet a disappointing start to his career with the Minnesota Vikings will be tough to overcome.
Still, he has had a good showing at OTAs as further described. SFGate.com's Kevin Lynch also described the maturation and development of rookie corners Acker and Johnson:
Both got extensive repetitions in practice with the absence of Chris Culliver (undisclosed) and first-round rookie Jimmie Ward (foot). Both looked like they belonged; each had generally tight coverage on receivers on short and long routes. Acker stuck with speedster Chuck Jacobs on a long route down the sideline.
Johnson has had some struggles of late, but these are to be expected from a rookie defensive back adjusting to the speed and intensity of his first NFL practices.
Josh beat rookie corner Dontae Johnson for a touchdown from McLeod Bethel-Thompson during a red zone drill.— Chris Biderman (@ChrisBiderman) June 4, 2014
Ward, who has missed OTAs thus far recovering from a foot injury, is expected to compete for the 49ers' slot cornerback position as well as spending some time at safety. His absence has open up the door for other members of the secondary to showcase their skills.
While the 49ers are obviously hoping rookies like Acker and Johnson develop quickly, questions still surround the other cornerback candidates: Cook, Perrish Cox and Eric Wright. All three may likely battle for a single spot on the final 53-man roster.
Cox knows the 49ers defense better than the rest but he will be challenged to make the team per Lynch. But San Francisco will also want to see Wright can do with his first full shot after being signed by the 49ers last August. Wright missed all but seven games last season due to injury.
Darryl Morris is also in the competition, but his contributions on special teams all but guarantee him a roster spot.
Assuming Culliver and Ward both return healthy—and Johnson meets the challenge—the competition for the remaining corner position should be heated in coming weeks.
At this point, it is anyone's guess as to who receives the final nod.
Depth, Depth and More Depth
If there is one thing we can take away from San Francisco's OTAs thus far, it is this—the 49ers' roster is stacked and it is also deep.
Few teams enjoy the luxury of having depth like the 49ers do entering the 2014 season. Just look around the roster and try to find a position where the drop-off is substantial. This author could think of only a handful.''
Let's look at a few specific examples that we have not yet covered.
Last year, the wide receiver and cornerback positions were thin. This season, there is an abundance of talent at both spots. As far as the defensive line is concerned, the 49ers will unquestionably benefit from the insertion of Tank Carradine into the defensive front. After missing the entirety of his rookie season in 2013, Carradine's presence will help alleviate the strain placed upon the multitude of snaps once expected from veterans Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.
Carradine has taken a number of snaps at left end—McDonald's position—per Grant Cohn of The Press Democrat.
Glenn Dorsey, Ian Williams, Quinton Dial and Mike Purcell are all vying for time at nose tackle.
Moving to the linebacker position, the 49ers will have to overcome the absence of All-Pro NaVorro Bowman he will likely miss at least half the season as he recovers from a knee injury. Michael Wilhoite is the favorite to do this per Eric Branch of SFGate.com, but rookie Chris Borland could potentially force some competition.
Then there is the pending suspension of outside linebacker Aldon Smith. If and when this happens, the 49ers are poised to insert players like Corey Lemonier, Dan Skuta, rookie Aaron Lynch or a combination of all three to fill the void.
The offensive line appears ready to handle any situation, though Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis are both returning from injuries. Offseason acquisition Jonathan Martin provides needed depth at both tackles, while Adam Snyder can play either guard position.
The competition between Daniel Kilgore and Marcus Martin at center is also worth paying attention to.
The depth behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick is also worth keeping an eye on. As reported by Cohn, McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Josh Johnson both have been impressive, but the point is moot, unless Kaepernick suffers some sort of injury in the near future—knock on wood this doesn't happen.
Taken all together, this 49ers team has more talent and depth than it knows what to do with. Considering the lofty expectations placed upon the franchise, this is a good problem to have.
Ongoing evaluation of players and the development of competition at certain spots will continue to give us further insight into just how this roster will shape up as Week 1 draws near.
All we have to do is wait and see how it pans out.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers' coverage.
Follow @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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