The San Francisco 49ers’ minicamp started on Tuesday, and runs through Thursday. This is the last time the team will be in one place until training camp starts on July 23. It’s the last chance for players to impress in front of their coaches before things get serious.
Keeping all that in mind, here are four of the biggest storylines unfolding themselves during this minicamp.
It’s not quite the entire team being in one place, however. Alex Boone and Vernon Davis, both unhappy with their current contracts, have opted not to show up for the mandatory minicamp. Unlike the OTAs, which were technically voluntary, the 49ers can actually start fining Boone and Davis for their absences at this point.
Boone has been relatively quiet about his precise motivations for the holdout, but Davis has not. He wrote a guest column for MMQB, describing the reasons he’s holding out:
In 2010 I signed a five-year, $37 million contract extension with $23 million guaranteed. It was the biggest contract for a tight end in league history. Four years later, and I’m playing at a higher level than I was then, which brings me to why I’m holding out. It’s all about getting paid what you deserve. It’s not that complicated. I want the 49ers to win the Super Bowl, and I want to be on the field this summer working toward that goal, but I have to worry about my future first.
There is certainly an argument for players being paid what they deserve, but the argument doesn’t quite seem to follow in Davis’ case. The veteran tight end is 30 years old, about to enter to decline phase of his career. He is second only to Jason Witten in terms of average salary as a tight end. He’s still under contract as one of the top-paid players at his position through 2015. If anything, he might be making more money than he’d get as a free agent right now, thanks to his age.
Boone, on the other hand, certainly has a bone to pick. He’s developed into a very solid starter at guard, but under his current he’s only 40th on the list of guard salaries. Davis signed a deal as a top tight end; Boone’s deal was signed before he was an established NFL starter. If we’re talking about people getting paid what they deserve, Boone would seem to be ahead of Davis in line.
The 49ers don’t want to deal with holdouts, but they don’t have gobs of salary-cap room to work with. How they handle Davis and Boone’s contract situation is the biggest story the 49ers have to deal with at the moment.
On the field, the 49ers are continuing to go through their changes in the secondary. During Super Bowl 47, the 49ers started Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. With the departure of Rogers and Brown this offseason, the 49ers have managed to replace their starting corners in only two years.
Tramaine Brock has one starting spot locked down, with the other presumably going to Chris Culliver. Culliver is trying to come back from a torn ACL he suffered during training camp last season, and he has legal issues to clear up after being involved in a hit-and-run incident this offseason.
If Culliver is unable to go, or the recovery from his injury takes longer than expected, the 49ers could be forced to scramble a bit at the position. Rookie Jimmie Ward is expected to lock down the nickel corner spot, but he won’t be participating in the minicamp because of a broken foot. Chris Cook, a free agent formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, has been getting reps at Culliver’s position, so he’s another name to watch.
Replacing NaVorro Bowman
With Bowman out until midseason recovering from his torn ACL, the 49ers have a huge hole in the center of their defense. It’s perhaps not as pressing a concern as cornerback thanks to the quality of the other linebackers, but it’s still a hot competition.
Michael Wilhoite is the favorite to win the position; he was the one who got the starting nod last season when Patrick Willis went down with an injury early in 2013, and he filled in in the NFC Championship when Bowman went out. He’s the de facto starter at the moment.
He’ll have plenty of competition for the spot, however. Third-round pick Chris Borland has been doing very well with the second team and should at least get a long look with the starters at some point before the regular season. You also have Nick Moody and an intriguing undrafted free agent in Shayne Skov battling for snaps at the position, but it’s probably coming down to a choice between the known quantity of Wilhoite and the potential of Borland.
Return of the Redshirts
The 49ers spent two draft picks in 2013 on players who didn’t end up contributing last season, taking defensive end Tank Carradine and running back Marcus Lattimore and allowing them to learn for a season and recuperate from injuries.
Lattimore has been slowly working his way into OTAs, and he’s been impressive in limited work. It’s a crowded backfield, with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Carlos Hyde all in line for significant carries in 2014, but a fully healthy Lattimore is as good as any of those players at this point. The question is whether or not Lattimore is fully recovered from the devastating knee injury in 2012 that ended his college career.
You’ll want to pay attention to how much work Lattimore is getting—minicamp is still mostly noncontact, so Lattimore is trying to prove that he knows the playbook, can accelerate and cut and can catch passes out of the backfield. During OTAs, it’s been so far, so good, and that progress needs to continue.
We won’t learn more about how Carradine is doing until contact begins during training camp. It’s very difficult to judge linemen, because they can’t show off their physicality during noncontact drills. Expect to see more about his status when training camp begins at the end of July.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on twitter.