San Francisco 49ers Training Camp: 5 Early Storylines to Watch

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistJuly 20, 2015

San Francisco 49ers Training Camp: 5 Early Storylines to Watch

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    One storyline to watch during the San Francisco 49ers’ training camp is the development of starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

    Kaepernick’s passer rating has declined each of the three seasons he has been the 49ers’ starting quarterback. To reverse that trend, this offseason he went to EXOS training facility in Phoenix to clean up his mechanics.

    He shortened his throwing motion, widened his base when he passes and worked on throwing with touch. Can Kaepernick carry over these changes to training camp, or will he revert to his old mechanics when live action starts?

    Here are five more storylines to monitor during the 49ers’ training camp.

The Chemistry Between QB Colin Kaepernick and WR Torrey Smith

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Colin Kaepernick already has chemistry with wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis.

    During OTAs and minicamp, Kaepernick connected with Davis practically at will. Davis would blow past the Niners' last line of the defense, and Kaepernick would hit him with a perfect deep pass in stride.

    Boldin didn’t participate in OTAs, but, since he joined the team in 2013, Kaepernick’s passer rating when targeting Boldin has been 108.1. Those two are a perfect match: Kaepernick throws hard and Boldin has great hands.

    During minicamp, Kaepernick worked on building chemistry with his newest receiver—Torrey Smith.

    On Day 2, Kaepernick threw an interception trying to force a deep pass to Smith, who was double covered. But the next day, they connected for a 40-yard gain on 3rd-and-9.

    Those two must continue their progress during training camp. Better to develop chemistry before the season than during the season.

The Final Season in San Francisco for LB Aldon Smith?

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    George Nikitin/Associated Press

    Twenty-five-year-old outside linebacker Aldon Smith will be a free agent in 2016. Will the 49ers re-sign him?

    That depends on how he plays in 2015. If he plays the way he played in 2014, when Pro Football Focus gave him a mere plus-0.5 pass-rush grade in seven games, the Niners probably won’t be interested in bringing him back for 2016 and beyond.

    The Niners don’t need to pay big money for an average pass-rusher. They already have two talented ones—Aaron Lynch and Eli Harold—on cheap, rookie contracts for the next few seasons.

    If Smith plays like he played in 2012—19.5 sacks—the Niners will be happy to pay him whatever he wants.

The Development of DL Arik Armstead

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Maybe Arik Armstead, the talented 21-year old, will outplay the rest of the 49ers’ defensive lineman during training camp and preseason and win a starting job. The Niners certainly would be thrilled if that happened.

    But they probably aren’t expecting it. Armstead still has to learn the Niners defense—he missed rookie minicamp, OTAs and the mandatory veteran minicamp. NFL rules didn't allow him to participate until his school, the University of Oregon, finished its school year.

    So, mentally Armstead has to catch up to the rest of the defensive linemen. He also has to catch up with them physically because they've spent much more time in weight rooms. Armstead wasn’t a full-time football player until 2014. He played basketball at Oregon as well.

    Next season, Armstead would be a senior at Oregon if he hadn't declared early for the draft. The Niners probably look at 2015 as a developmental year for Armstead—one he gets to spend with a professional team as opposed to an amateur one.

The Return of LB NaVorro Bowman

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Before inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman tore his ACL and MCL in the 2014 NFC Championship game, he was arguably the best defensive player in the NFL.

    Luke Kuechly won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2013, but Bowman might have been better. Bowman made more solo tackles (120 to Kuechly’s 107), recorded more sacks (five to three) and recorded more turnovers (four to two). Both players were All Pros.

    Bowman missed the 2014 season, as he rehabbed his surgically repaired knee. This offseason he was a full participant during OTAs and minicamp, although he wore a bulky knee brace during team drills.

    The brace inhibited his ability to run and change directions, especially in man coverage. He used to be arguably the best linebacker at covering running backs out of the backfield. During minicamp, he got beaten by Kendall Hunter, who also spent 2014 rehabbing a surgically repaired knee.

    Maybe the brace was a precaution for the offseason, and maybe he won’t need it during the regular season. The Niners better hope that's the case.

The Rise of CB Keith Reaser

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Second-year cornerback Keith Reaser spent his rookie season on the Injured Reserve list after tearing his ACL his senior season at Florida Atlantic University.

    Despite the injured knee, the Niners drafted Reaser in Round 5. If he had been healthy, maybe he would have been a third- or a fourth-round pick.

    The Niners seem to have gotten a late-round steal. During the six practices in front of the media this offseason, Reaser intercepted two passes, broke up two passes and gave up only one catch for a short gain.

    Other than Davis, Reaser was probably the 49ers’ best player during OTAs and minicamp. Was his performance a fluke, or will he continue to dominate during training camp?

    All quotations and practice observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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