49ers: First Impressions from Training Camp
Football is finally back, folks!
Well, it's the start of training camp, but football is football at this point. Preseason action is up next and then finally the start of the regular season.
For a contending team like the 49ers, small issues become big issues. Of course, big issues then become huge issues. Luckily, the start of training camp has been somewhat calm for Jim Harbaugh and Co.
That's not to say things have been boring, but you get my point.
The 49ers have visions of holding the Lombardi Trophy and it all starts in training camp. Let's get into some first impressions of the start of camp.
Kendall Hunter Injury
After coming up injured in Friday's practice, reports came out that 49ers officials were worried about Kendall Hunter's injury. It seems the worst has occurred, as the MRI came back with a torn ACL for the fourth-year running back.
To make matters worse, LaMichael James was carted off the 49ers practice field Sunday, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. According to a later update by Rapoport, James suffered an apparent dislocated elbow, but it's not all bleak. Rapoport believes James will likely miss a month, so it's still plausible James could be ready for the start of the regular season.
Now, how does this affect the 49ers backfield? We all know Frank Gore will receive his usual carries, but the injury to Hunter makes the backfield a lot more manageable in terms of roles.
With a healthy James, he could easily become the 49ers' third-down back. With the 49ers looking to possibly open up the passing offense, having James in the backfield on third downs should give Colin Kaepernick another weapon. Carlos Hyde was destined for a goal-line role on offense, but the injury to Hunter should give him the opportunity spell Gore in the regular season.
I'm not sure what Marcus Lattimore's role will be, but before the 49ers figure that out, he has to stay healthy enough to see the field. Despite a loaded backfield, Lattimore's biggest obstacle since entering the league is his health.
The 49ers lost a very underrated player in Hunter, but with his injury, this should make the backfield a little less muddled going forward.
Jimmie Ward Impresses
After missing minicamp and OTAs, it was refreshing to see first-round pick Jimmie Ward out on the field instead of the medical room. Ward couldn't physically suit up until to the start of training camp due to foot surgery in March.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has already taken a liking to the rookie and his style of play after the 49ers' first set of practices this week, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle:
I like him mentally. I think he's confident without being cocky or arrogant. I think he knows he's got a daunting task ahead of him, that he's been put behind the eight ball with no offseason work
It wasn't just Fangio. Ward looked great according to a few players, especially fellow newcomer Antoine Bethea: "Like a lot of guys said on the sideline, he's always around the ball. That's one thing you see in film of him in college, making plays. And yesterday making a good interception."
Ward put on quite a display in practice. He made a diving interception on a tipped Colin Kaepernick pass and showcased his hard-hitting reputation with his aggressive coverage.
If Ward can continue to show progress in training camp, the slot corner role will be his to lose.
No. 85 Returns, Boone Holds out
Well, I want to be the first to say I was wrong. I predicted Alex Boone would show up to training camp, while Vernon Davis continued to hold out. The opposite occurred.
With the return of Davis, this shifts Vance McDonald back to second on the depth chart. As I stated before, between the two holdouts, Davis was the player the 49ers would miss the most.
Boone has been fantastic since taking over at right guard, but the 49ers have depth along the offensive line to support his absence. However, with Davis missing, the 49ers would have to rely on the still-raw McDonald.
For Davis, the decision seemed easy, per Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle: "Anytime that I'm away from these guys, I'm hurting. I'm hurting. And it really hurt me to be away from this group because we have such a special group."
At least Davis seems contrite. While Davis deserves his money, staking a holdout is usually the wrong way to go when it comes to contract negotiations. Now, the 49ers will have to wait for Boone to come to the same realization.
Secondary Clearing Up?
The 49ers secondary has always been a position to watch this offseason. With several new starters in the fold, this will be a completely new group in the back end of this defense.
The only sure thing seemed to be Tramaine Brock. However, it seems fourth-year cornerback Chris Culliver could be separating himself from the rest of the pack, according to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio:
I was really pleased with the way he looked physically. Kudos to our medical staff and everyone that's worked with him. Kudos to him for the work he's put into his rehab. He looked fine to me. I didn't see any indication that this was a guy that just came off a yearlong rehab.
If true, this serves as great news for this 49ers defense. Prior to his injury, Culliver was an up-and-coming talent for the 49ers.
Yes, Culliver was inconsistent, but he showed flashes of dominance at times. As a nickel corner, Culliver was sorely missed in the 49ers secondary in 2013.
With a healthy Culliver, the 49ers may have found their starter opposite Brock.
Aldon Smith and Roger Goodell
The Aldon Smith saga continues.
I expected judgment day for Smith to arrive sometime around late July or August. If the 49ers star pass-rusher is indeed meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell in the "near future," a verdict should appear rather soon.
We all expect Smith to miss some time, but exactly how much will be the question. If Smith comes out with a two- or three-game suspension, I say he gets off lucky. The 49ers could survive without Smith for a few games, especially with super subs like Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta waiting in the wings.
In all honesty, as long as Smith can eventually return sometime in the 2014-15 season, the 49ers pass defense should be just fine.