49ers Who've Turned Heads in Offseason Workouts
The big news coming out of San Francisco is quarterback Colin Kaepernick's huge multiyear extension. With contract details pouring in, many have figured that this deal isn't what it seems. Though, it still has overshadowed a part of the offseason that few fans care for: OTAs.
Now, OTAs are considered watered-down versions of training camp. Some would argue that OTAs have always been watered-down. Then again, they're better than nothing.
If anything, OTAs offer a glimpse at what's to come in training camp. We could see a major injury or two (i.e. Michael Crabtree) or potential holdouts (i.e. Vernon Davis and Alex Boone), though the latter process has dropped dramatically in the last few years. Someone should inform Davis and Boone that holding out gets you nowhere, but I digress.
OTAs can also tell you about potential impact players. Though, this is more miss than hit.
For now, let's discuss five players who are turning heads in OTAs!
Josh Johnson, QB
After his release in 2012, I never thought the 49ers would extend another training camp invite to Josh Johnson. As a mobile quarterback, he technically fits what the 49ers want to do on offense, but I'm still unsure of his passing ability.
Yes, the 49ers have a developing passer in Colin Kaepernick, but the difference lies in their experience. Counting this year, Johnson will have been in the league for seven years. Kaepernick hasn't been in the league as long as Johnson, yet the former Nevada product is already the better passer.
However, we could see things play out differently in 2014.
The word coming out of Santa Clara is that Johnson is showing his full arsenal as both a quarterback and athlete. With the 49ers short on receivers in last Tuesday OTAs, Johnson was filling in at wide receiver. Of course, Johnson still believes himself to be a quarterback, per BaySportsNet's Karl Buscheck.
"They needed me," explained Johnson, who didn't want the receivers to do too much running. Then he clarified: "But that's not what I do. I'm a quarterback."
Even better, Johnson was flourishing as a passer as well. Not only was he catching touchdown passes, but he also threw a couple of touchdowns during red-zone drills. Johnson believes his experience could be the difference in his second stint with the 49ers, per Buscheck:
The comfort factor in this offense is a lot smoother right now. I'm an older player, more experienced. So, now I'm just really learning my guys and just taking advantage of every rep that's given.
While I still question if Johnson can make the final 53-man roster, he should at least have a fair shot at one of the two backup spots.
There is also another quarterback in OTAs quickly making a name for himself...
McLeod Bethel-Thompson, QB
The acquisition of Blaine Gabbert was supposed to solidify the backup quarterback position, but it seems another passer is stepping up to this role. Yes, McLeod Bethel-Thompson is outshining Gabbert in the early parts of OTAs, according to Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle:
"Not surprising, McLeod Bethel-Thompson looks better than Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. The strong-armed Bethel-Thompson, who is from Sacramento State, shifts easily from one receiver to the next and looked more accurate."
How does former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert look to Lynch? Well, let's just say the same issues plaguing Gabbert in Jacksonville are showing up in Santa Clara:
"Gabbert, a former top-10 pick, is still learning the offense. However, Gabbert had difficulty spotting the open player."
Now, Bethel-Thompson should have the mental edge over Gabbert. Remember, Bethel-Thompson was on the 49ers practice squad last season.
It should take some time for Gabbert to adjust and rework his mechanics, but if this continues, general manager Trent Baalke won't hesitate to release the former Missouri product. If this occurs, Bethel-Thompson would be a more than suitable backup to Kaepernick.
Brandon Lloyd, WR
The addition of Brandon Lloyd was a very shrewd move by Baalke. What can a 32-year-old receiver really bring to the table? Apparently, Jim Harbaugh believes Lloyd can bring a lot to the table, per the Chronicle's Kevin Lynch:
Seeing really good things," Coach Jim Harbaugh said of Lloyd. "Seeing surge off the line of scrimmage. He's got 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. It does not seem like a guy that's had a layoff from football for a year.
Now, Lloyd has always possessed great hands. I'm more shocked at Harbaugh's comments about Lloyd's burst. After a year away from football, I expected Lloyd to be somewhat rusty. I guess not.
With Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson in the lineup, Lloyd will have to settle as the fourth receiver in the rotation—not to mention that Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington are also in the running for this spot.
I expect Lloyd to make the roster but also wouldn't be surprised if the 49ers decide to use that roster spot elsewhere. I'm sure Patton and Ellington can fill the same role.
Kenneth Acker, CB
Everyone is excited about Dontae Johnson, the 49ers' fourth-round selection in the 2014 draft. Count me among the crowd, but Kenneth Acker, the 49ers' sixth-round pick in 2014, looks like the more developed prospect at this point.
According to the Chronicle's Kevin Lynch, Acker provided tight coverage against long and short routes in last week's OTAs. Even better, Lynch stated Acker looked like he belonged. These comments were also extended to Dontae Johnson.
Both Johnson and Acker are only receiving these snaps because of some injuries and absences in the secondary, but this should at least give them some confidence heading into training camp.
I could very well see Acker playing some pivotal snaps in the regular season. With Chris Culliver's legal issues putting his season possibly in doubt, Acker and/or Johnson might receive more playing time than anyone expected.
Chuck Jacobs, WR
Chuck Jacobs was one of my favorite players to watch in last year's training camp and preseason. Considering the 49ers' troubles at receiver last season, I was surprised the 49ers didn't employ much of Jacob's services.
Jacobs was a practice-squad player for most of 2013, but the second-year speedster is a name to watch. Now, I don't expect Jacobs to make the roster this year, but he could provide solid insurance in case of injuries.
In last Tuesday's OTAs, Jacobs took advantage of all the injuries and absences, catching "everything in sight," according to Kevin Lynch of the Chronicle.
It's a shame that Jacobs likely won't make the final cut, but in this league, your opportunity can come at any moment. Just ask fellow undrafted teammate Tramaine Brock.
If/when that opportunity arrives, I have no doubt in my mind Jacobs will be ready.