Welcome to the San Francisco 49ers’ latest installment of offseason predicaments.
Well, make that for teams across the NFL.
Players won’t admit it, but training camps are one of the more difficult portions of the offseason. They’ve been away from the practice field for over one month and feel a troubling combination of hyper-motivation and physical inadequacy.
They want nothing more than to play football after four weeks of not doing what they love so dearly. But despite an extensive period of exercise and conditioning on their own time, they aren’t in optimal football shape.
Even upper-echelon, Super Bowl-contending squads like the 49ers experience these issues. The A.J. Jenkins debacle happened in 2012, as did the “raggedy” practice during Fan Fest last year. Overwrought sports cliche or not, it simply takes time for things to come together on the complex entity that is an NFL team.
Yet it’s especially trying for particular types of players—those without practice-squad eligibility and who play exclusively on one side of the ball.
Said hopefuls don’t have the luxury of the eight-man parachute and must make the active 53-man roster. And they must do so by displaying singular excellence on either offense, defense or special teams.
In other words, if you aren’t versatile, then you had better be great at the one thing you do well.
Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh will have the considerable task of evaluating many such players. One-dimensional vets and gridiron journeymen will fall under his discerning gaze, with many finding themselves in the NFL unemployment line before preseason action even begins.
Undrafted rookies and players without any extended regular-season experience generally qualify as fair targets as well. But at least they retain some measure of hope as it pertains to San Francisco’s practice squad.
The likes of offensive tackle Fou Fonoti and second-year linebacker Chase Thomas face substantial pressure. It’s just not quite the do or die kind.
In any case, here are the five 49ers facing make-or-break training camps in 2014.