San Francisco 49ers: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
The 49ers have also played their first preseason game, a lopsided 23-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens looked like the more polished team and beat the 49ers in every phase of the game.
The 49ers will next play the Denver Broncos this coming Sunday. It will be another chance for players to establish themselves and make a positive impression. For those players who continue to struggle, roster cuts are looming on the horizon.
Let's take a closer look at five key things we learned in Week 1.
No. 5: The 49ers Need to Do Something About Alex Boone and the Right Guard Spot
The San Francisco 49ers’ offensive line was one of their strengths in 2013. However, the departure of Jonathan Goodwin, the holdout of Alex Boone and the injury to Anthony Davis has disrupted the continuity of the line.
The case of Boone, the 49ers starting right guard, is particularly troubling as he is under contract for two more seasons. His holdout goes against the team-first mantra that Jim Harbaugh preaches.
In the 49ers’ first preseason game against the Ravens, the right guard position was shaky at best. Joe Looney, who will get the first crack at the job, had some problems.
Veteran Adam Snyder can fill in, but he is ideally suited as a utility player who can play multiple positions on the line in the event of short-term injuries.
At this point, it appears the 49ers and Boone are far apart in any negotiations. As reported in an article by Marc Sessler for NFL.com, several teams are interested in Boone and it is quite possible that he will be traded.
Unless Boone returns, which is becoming more unlikely as the preseason continues, the 49ers must find a suitable replacement. Based on his play against the Ravens, Looney must improve if he is to become the starter and add cohesion to the line.
No. 4: The Backup Quarterback Job Is Up for Grabs
Entering camp, Blaine Gabbert was the player to beat out if another quarterback wanted to ascend to the No. 2 quarterback position.
However, Gabbert's poor play has given veterans Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson some hope.
Against the Ravens, Gabbert completed just three of 11 passes for 20 yards. He also threw one interception.
Bethel-Thompson did not fare much better. He completed three of his seven attempts for 26 yards. Like Gabbert, Bethel-Thompson threw an interception.
Josh Johnson, who is well known to head coach Jim Harbaugh, played the best of the three backups. He completed six of his eight attempts for 63 yards. Johnson also had a 15-yard run on a nice scramble.
Johnson played his college football at the University of San Diego. Harbaugh was his head coach and mentor. His tutelage is what gave Johnson the skills to be an NFL quarterback.
David Fucillo of NinersNation.com reports on the performance of the three quarterbacks against Baltimore.
Gabbert is still the likely favorite to win the backup quarterback job, but the competition just got a lot closer. Johnson benefited the most and has closed the gap between himself and Gabbert.
The bottom line, however, is that the 49ers are in big trouble if Colin Kaepernick gets hurt.
No. 3: Quinton Dial Has Looked Very Good in Training Camp
The 49ers lost starting nose tackle Glenn Dorsey to a torn bicep. He played well in 2013, but he is likely out for a significant number of games, if not the entire year.
With Ian Williams still building strength in the ankle he injured early in the 2013 season, the starting nose tackle spot is up for grabs. It remains to be seen whether Williams is able to return to the form that won him the starting job to open the 2013 season.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of training camp has been the play of defensive tackle Quinton Dial. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft but rarely played. He looked fat, slow and out of shape.
At a minimum, Dial will be a contributing member of the 49ers defense in 2014. That was not the case last year.
Tony Jerod-Eddie is competing with Dial for the starting nose tackle job. Jerod-Eddie is a solid, young veteran and can also play at an end position.
The nose tackle in the San Francisco defense only plays in the base- and short-yardage defenses. This means he is only in on 40-50 percent of the defensive snaps. Even if Williams is unable to return, the 49ers appear to be in good shape with Dial and Jerod-Eddie at the nose.
No. 2: Carlos Hyde Has Strengthened His Hold on the Backup Running Back Job
Heading into training camp, one area of solid depth was at the running back position. However, injuries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James has thinned out the competition.
Hunter tore his ACL and will be lost for the season. James dislocated his elbow and is due back towards the end of the preseason. In addition, Marcus Lattimore, who sat out all of last season, has not yet returned to full participation as leg injuries have kept him on the sidelines.
The injuries have given Carlos Hyde a prime opportunity to seize the primary backup role behind Frank Gore. Hyde was selected in the second round by the 49ers and originally, this looked like a luxury pick as the 49ers had plenty of depth at running back.
However, now Hyde looks like he will be an integral part of the 49ers offense and if anything were to happen to Gore, he will likely be the starter.
In his first preseason game, Hyde was one of the few bright spots for the 49ers. He rushed for 39 yards on five carries. Hyde showed good quickness, power and vision. His performance allayed some concerns about the San Francisco running game if Gore were to miss any time.
No. 1: The 49ers Defensive Secondary Is Still a Major Concern
The defensive secondary was the 49ers’ biggest concern as training camp began. Unfortunately, after the first week of camp and the 49ers’ first exhibition game, the secondary remains a major question mark.
The 49ers’ top cornerback,Tramaine Brock, sat out the first game due to injury. His healthy return is a key to the defense.
Rookie nickel back Jimmie Ward did a decent job and cornerback Chris Cook grabbed an interception, but there were too many lapses with the entire group.
The Ravens completed 17 of 26 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown. The defensive backs were frequently out of position or just beaten in coverage.
As defensive coordinator Vic Fangio searches for consistency from this group, nobody really stood out as a player that will step forward and seize a job. If the 49ers have any hopes of winning the division and making a serious run at the Super Bowl, this group must improve substantially.
Rookies Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker had trouble against the Ravens’ second and third units. They do not look ready to be anything more than special-teams contributors at this stage.
General manager Trent Baalke did not go after a proven veteran cornerback in the offseason. He selected Ward, a safety, in the first round. Ward may turn out to be a solid nickel back and likely will take over at one of the safety positions in a couple years. However, this still leaves a very thin crop of cornerbacks.
The fact that Baalke waited until the 129th overall pick to draft a true cornerback may ultimately lead to the demise of the 49ers’ hopes to win their sixth Super Bowl.