San Francisco 49ers' Training Camp: Week 2 Stock Report
We’re less than three days away from the San Francisco 49ers’ first preseason game, and the haze of training camp reports are about to give way to actual performance on the field.
There’s really no substitute for competitive games to really tell who’s doing the best job of ensuring a larger role for themselves in 2014. That doesn’t mean players’ stock doesn’t rise and fall during practice, however.
How quickly or slowly players adapt to new coaching philosophies and offensive and defensive schemes, as well as new teammates can definitely alter their positions on the depth chart, and even affect their odds of making the team. Do you think Jon Baldwin would have been cut before the first preseason game had he looked good in training camp?
With that in mind, and with ten training camp practices in the books, let’s look around the 49ers to see whose stock is rising and whose is falling as the team prepares to open its preseason slate against the Baltimore Ravens on Aug. 7.
RISING: RB Carlos Hyde
The one bright spot to the injuries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James this training camp has been the increased number of opportunities given to Carlos Hyde. From all indications, Hyde has taken his opportunities and been a good fit so far in San Francisco’s system.
In one of his training camp press conferences, per CSNBayArea.com head coach Jim Harbaugh explicitly compared Hyde to incumbent RB Frank Gore: “Carlos gets football, understands football. It’s natural for him to understand the game, similar to Frank Gore. And we're seeing those things, and both are very good signs and bode well for us.”
That was seconded by offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who said Hyde’s been picking things up very quickly:
I guess, you know, somebody that’s 7 years old playing the piano and you kind of show them, they hear it, and then they start playing the piano. It’s one of those things that if you can explain it to him, once it clicks with him – and that’s happened repeatedly on a lot of different things – he just makes that adjustment, and we keep moving.
It’s official, too—with Frank Gore resting his legs, the running back getting carries with the first-team offense has been Hyde, according to Matt Barrows. That implies we’ll see a hefty dose of him against Baltimore.
The key thing to watch is his ability in pass protection. While Roman has said that it’s coming “naturally” to Hyde, that’s the big issue that could keep him from seeing regular-season snaps. If he picks up a pass-rusher or two against Baltimore in the preseason opener, it’s time to get really excited about Hyde’s future.
FALLING: RB Marcus Lattimore
When the 49ers drafted Lattimore in 2013, they knew the recovery from his horrific knee injury in November 2012 would write him off for at least a year. There was hope, however, that by this time, he’d be a regular participant in practice.
So far, however, those hopes have been misplaced. Lattimore is still on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list recovering from the injury, and there are no signs he’ll be available anytime soon.
In a press conference, Harbaugh said that Lattimore “is going to be part of this team in some form or fashion.” That’s a bit of a revealing comment, given that there's no timeline for his return. Harbaugh's remark seems to suggest that questions about the health of Lattimore's knee will persist until the beginning of the regular season.
General manager Trent Baalke has suggested that Lattimore might need more time to have full confidence in his repaired knee:
He’s coming off, as we all know, a horrific injury. We want to make sure — as does he — that he’s 100 percent mentally and physically ready to go to help this football team. And to give him the best chance to compete at a very high level, which, obviously, you have to do in the NFL.
With Lattimore yet to practice, his odds of being a high-level contributor, at least early in the season, seem to be vanishing. It’s hard to see him getting more than a handful of carries in 2014, unless something positive happens with his knee soon.
RISING: OG Joe Looney
With Alex Boone’s holdout continuing, the last, best hope of the 2012 draft class has had an opportunity to shine. Taylor Price reports that Joe Looney not only has been starting at right guard during training camp; he's also been providing some “wow” moments.
Looney joins the ranks of 49ers being praised by their head coach, with Harbaugh specifically praising Looney during his press conference on Sunday.
“One in particular, I was like, ‘Wow.’ He pulled, he was on a track, he was square, he delivered a blow,” Harbaugh said. “Good things.”
That analysis is being backed up by the team's beat writers, with Chris Biderman stating that Looney is looking “more and more like a starting guard." He did look good in his one extended stretch of regular-season action last year against the St. Louis Rams, so perhaps Looney is ready for prime time.
FALLING: C Marcus Martin
It was supposed to be an open battle to replace Jonathan Goodwin at center. Rookie Marcus Martin out of USC was supposed to challenge veteran Daniel Kilgore for starting reps.
So far, however, the battle has yet to be joined. The team activated Martin from the NFI list on the July 27, but it wasn’t until Aug. 3 that he made his practice debut. The team appears intent on bringing Martin along slowly.
So far, he’s well behind in the competition for the starting center spot; he needs all the repetitions he can get to provide a serious challenge to Kilgore. So far, however, he’s been unable to do anything.
It’ll be interesting, considering how little practice time he’s had, to see how much Martin plays against Baltimore on Thursday. Finally getting into pads was a good first step, but the time missed with an injury has almost certainly squashed any real chances he has of seeing significant playing time as a rookie.
RISING: CB Perrish Cox
Cox was sort of an odd man out in the cornerback race, what with Chris Culliver returning and the team taking Jimmie Ward in the first round. However, it’s possible no cornerback has gotten more praise this past week than Cox has.
Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee says that Cox has looked “very good” in training camp so far, making interceptions while covering Anquan Boldin and deflecting balls intended for Chuck Jacobs and Bruce Ellington. Taylor Price seconds that assessment, pointing out that Cox was “disrupting the offense’s rhythm."
Cox is battling for one of the backup outside corner roles with Chris Cook. During OTAs and minicamps, all we heard was how good Cook looked, as he worked with the first-team defense. Since training camp proper has started, however, Cox has been the one flashing highlights.
Could Cox even take the nickel cornerback role? It seems a little unlikely, considering he’s been getting most of his training camp reps at the boundary positions. It’ll be interesting to see if his hot training camp results in him moving back inside to be a starter or if he'll end up first off the bench.
FALLING: OT Jonathan Martin
If Jonathan Martin makes the 2014 team, he’ll cost San Francisco a seventh-round pick in next year’s draft. At the moment, however, there’s no guarantee that will happen.
Perhaps he’s not back at 100 percent after missing time this offseason with mononucleosis, but Martin’s failed to impress in his limited practice time so far.
The reports that have come out of training camp have not been too kind to Martin so far.
On Sunday, CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco reports that Tony Jerod-Eddie repeatedly beat Martin in pass-rush drills. Martin had similar problems with Tank Carradine and Lawrence Okoye, according to Maiocco. It’s beginning to become a bit of who hasn’t beaten Martin.
The 49ers boast a terrific pass rush, even from among the reserves, so perhaps Martin’s play will improve against another team's backups or when he makes a full recovery from his illness. In any case, he needs to step up his game somewhat, if he hopes to make the final 53-man roster.
RISING: CB Dontae Johnson
When I ranked the 12 San Francisco draft picks back in May, I rated the fourth-rounder Johnson as the team's fourth-best pick, considering his draft position and potential. The 6’2”, 200-pound cornerback was raw, but I thought there was some interesting potential.
So far, Johnson’s made good strides towards realizing that potential. Grant Cohn of The Press Democrat reports that Johnson has been targeted 16 times in coverage, and that he’s broken up five of those passes and intercepted another. According to Cohn, Johnson’s actually outplayed first-round pick Jimmie Ward, which is either great news for Johnson or horrible news for Ward, depending on if you’re a pessimist or an optimist.
Johnson hasn’t been perfect so far, but he’s shown enough to impress Jim Harbaugh, (per Ninersnation.com):
[Johnson’s] coming along, just telling him, ‘Keep it going, keep it going, keep striving,' and he's doing that. I think both the young corners, all three of them, you know, I'd put DB Daryl Morris in that category as well, showing some very good things as well as CB Kenneth Acker. Very pleased with the seriousness about which they go about their job.
Johnson’s been doing good work against Colin Kaepernick, too. On day four of practice, Johnson broke up Kaepernick passes intended for Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson and Anquan Boldin, according to CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco.
He may not be ready for prime time quite yet, but Johnson’s holding his own against the best the 49ers have to offer.
FALLING: DT Ian Williams
With Glenn Dorsey likely out for the year after tearing his biceps, the opening is right there for Ian Williams to regain his starting role.
However, Williams is on the shelf himself, still recovering from the broken ankle he suffered in Week 2 last season. He’s still yet to come off of the PUP list or see any practice time this training camp, leaving the door wide open for other players to take his spot on the defensive line.
Quinton Dial might be the next man up at the slot, and the team also could consider sliding Tony Jerod-Eddie over full time, leaving more snaps for Tank Carradine and DeMarcus Dobbs on the outside. It’s even conceivable, though unlikely, that the 49ers could handle both Dorsey and NaVorro Bowman’s injuries by running more 4-3, placing two extra players on the defensive line to replace Dorsey.
The 49ers have a very deep well of talent on the defensive line, and Williams' injury might see him get passed on the depth chart by multiple people before it is all said and done.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on twitter.