San Francisco 49ers' Rookie Training Camp Progress Reports
Training camp is in full swing, and the San Francisco 49ers have seen plenty of positives, along with a few major negatives.
On the good side, several young players have been stepping forward and catching the eye of the coaching staff. Pleasant surprises include Quinton Dial, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Jimmie Ward, Bruce Ellington, Brandon Lloyd and Joe Looney.
Injuries have already hit the 49ers quite hard, and they can ill-afford any additional setbacks. Key players such as Glenn Dorsey, the starting nose tackle in 2013, and second-string running back Kendall Hunter have both been lost for the season.
In addition, backup running back and return specialist LaMichael James is expected to be out until the end of training camp with a dislocated elbow.
Right guard Alex Boone is continuing his holdout, and there is no return in sight. Although the 49ers would like Boone back, they will not cave in to his demands, as he is under contract for two more seasons.
It appears as though head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are already preparing to move forward without Boone. The aforementioned Looney, along with Adam Snyder, is competing for the starting job, with Looney appearing to have the edge.
Even with these four players missing, the 49ers look very strong heading into their first preseason game on Thursday. Many of the youngsters will get their first taste of NFL action, and their progress will be very important to the success of the team.
Barring further catastrophic injuries, the 49ers will make another run for the NFC West crown and a shot at the Super Bowl.
Jimmie Ward, Nickel Cornerback
Jimmie Ward has impressed the 49ers with his play as the nickel cornerback.
Karl Buschek of BaySportsNet.com reports that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has liked what he has seen from Ward thus far. It appears Ward is the front-runner for this all-important spot in the 49ers' defensive secondary.
Obviously Jimmie’s made nice progress and progresses every day. He’s not a final product by any means yet. But, he learns well, doesn’t repeat mistakes and has shown good skill level there. So, we’re very hopeful there.
The initial concerns about Ward's foot injury seem forgotten, and he is poised to emulate safety Eric Reid's success from last year.
If Ward stays healthy and continues this positive trend, he will help solidify a perceived weakness on the 49ers defense.
Carlos Hyde, Running Back
The San Francisco 49ers selected Carlos Hyde in the second round of the 2014 draft. He was the 57th overall pick.
Once a position of strong depth, injuries have severely depleted the 49ers' running back corps.
Originally, Hyde was going to be used in short-yardage situations, but he has now ascended into the No. 2 position, backing up Frank Gore.
Hyde is not taking this opportunity lightly and is working closely with running backs coach Tom Rathman. According to Eric Branch on SFGate.com, Hyde has been like a sponge, asking questions of Rathman.
Injuries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James have necessitated the move. In addition, Marcus Lattimore is still battling some nagging leg issues and is on the active/non-football injury list.
The result of all the injury issues at running back is that Hyde will get plenty of opportunities to show what he can do this preseason.
Marcus Martin, Center
Marcus Martin was selected in the third round by the 49ers. He was the 70th overall pick and played both center and guard at USC.
With the departure of Jonathan Goodwin via free agency, Martin is competing with Daniel Kilgore for the starting center job.
Kilgore was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft. In his three previous seasons, he has yet to start a game.
The 49ers were likely not fully sold on Kilgore, which is why they invested such a high pick on Martin. This looks like a battle that will go down to the wire.
CBSSports.com currently lists Kilgore ahead of Martin on the depth chart, but that could change very quickly. Over the course of training camp and preseason games, both Martin and Kilgore will get an opportunity to play with the first-team offense. May the best man win.
Chris Borland, Linebacker
Chris Borland is one of those players who does not wow you with his speed or athleticism. He is just a very solid football player with good instincts and a high-energy motor.
Borland is competing with Michael Wilhoite for the opportunity to replace NaVorro Bowman at one of the inside linebacker spots. The winner of this competition would team with Patrick Willis.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes what he has seen of Borland, but the rookie still has a lot of growing to do: "He's got really good instincts but sometimes his instincts take him to a play and aborting his own assignment. He's gotten burned on that a few times."
Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News reports on Borland's progress.
Although Borland has generally played well, Wilhoite is the favorite to win this job. He filled in admirably when Patrick Willis was out in years past, and his experience will most likely earn him the starting nod.
Brandon Thomas, Offensive Tackle
Offensive tackle Brandon Thomas was selected by the 49ers in the third round of the draft, No. 100 overall. He tore his ACL prior to the draft, otherwise he likely would have been chosen a lot higher.
Thomas has been placed on the active/non-football injury list and will sit out the entire 2014 season as he rehabs his knee.
Bruce Ellington, Wide Receiver
Bruce Ellington is in a battle with Brandon Lloyd and Quinton Patton for the 49ers' fourth wide receiver job.
In addition, with LaMichael James out, Ellington will get an opportunity to return punts and kickoffs. It is in this role that he may have the biggest impact for the 49ers.
With Lloyd and Patton having more experience than Ellington, it will be tough for him to break into the offensive rotation as a wide receiver.
The 49ers know what they have in James as a return man. He was fairly good but not spectacular. If Ellington can take care of the football, he has an excellent chance to win this job.
Dontae Johnson, Cornerback
The San Francisco 49ers' defensive secondary is their biggest question mark. It starts at cornerback where Chris Culliver is battling Dontae Johnson for the starting job opposite Tramaine Brock.
Culliver is coming off an ACL injury and missed the entire 2013 season. He must prove his knee is sound and he has the same explosiveness, speed and durability that he had before the injury.
Johnson, on the other hand, must prove that he belongs on the field. He was drafted in the fourth round, the 129th overall selection. Johnson has looked good in camp and has narrowed the gap between him and Culliver.
The odds are that Culliver wins the job based on experience and his knowledge of the 49ers' defensive system. However, Johnson has pushed himself into the mix. The 49ers' depth in the secondary has improved as Johnson has been a pleasant surprise.
Aaron Lynch, Linebacker
Aaron Lynch has a great deal of talent and athleticism, but some off-field problems dropped him in the draft. He was the 150th overall selection, as the 49ers chose him in the fifth round.
Lynch is behind Aldon Smith and Dan Skuta at the right outside linebacker position. The real question is how many outside 'backers will the 49ers carry? Ahmad Brooks and Corey Lemonier are also on the team, so Lynch's roster spot is not guaranteed.
To further complicate matters, Lynch injured his hamstring and is likely out for the next few weeks.
Kenneth Acker, Cornerback
Kenneth Acker is fighting for a roster spot, but his most likely fit is on the 49ers practice squad.
Acker is the seventh cornerback on a team that will likely carry only six corners plus nickelback Jimmie Ward. Tramaine Brock, Chris Culliver, Chris Cook, Perrish Cox, Dontae Johnson and Darryl Morris are all ahead of Acker.
Barring injury or a major leap forward from Acker, the odds are stacked against him making the 53-man roster.
Keith Reaser, Kaleb Ramsey and Trey Millard
Keith Reaser, Kaleb Ramsey and Trey Millard will all miss the 2014 season due to injury. They will spend the year undergoing rehab and hope to make an impact in 2015.
Shayne Skov, Linebacker
The 49ers signed Shayne Skov as an undrafted free agent. A very poor showing at the scouting combine showed Skov's lack of speed and athleticism, causing all 32 teams to pass on him.
However, Skov has excellent football instincts and is making a strong bid to make the team.
Currently locked in a battle with Nick Moody and Blake Costanzo for one of the final roster spots, Skov's most likely contribution will come on special teams. Unfortunately for Skov, it is on special teams that both Moody and Costanzo excel.
With the expected return of NaVorro Bowman in the middle of the season, the 49ers are unlikely to carry six additional inside linebackers on their roster. With Bowman's imminent return, they may not even carry five.
With Patrick Willis, Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland ahead of Skov, it appears as though Skov must beat out Moody or Costanzo to make the team.
A spot on the practice squad is also a potential option.