San Francisco 49ers: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
One thing we learned during the first week of the San Francisco 49ers’ training camp is the offensive line may struggle next season, especially early.
The line certainly struggled Week 1 of training camp. It gave up nine sacks during team drills just on Day 4.
The only returning starters from last season are Joe Staley and Alex Boone. The starting center, Daniel Kilgore, is rehabbing a broken ankle he suffered last season. He watches practice with a boot on his foot.
The offensive line will have big problems until he comes back and it develops continuity.
Here are five more things we learned about the Niners' Week 1 of training camp.
Quinton Patton Leading Competition to Be No. 3 Wide Receiver
This offseason when the 49ers signed veteran wide receiver Jerome Simpson, he seemed to be the favorite to win the No. 3 wide receiver competition. He’s a proven player who has started 36 games in the NFL.
His competitors—Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington—don’t have anywhere near as much experience.
But Simpson’s getting old—he’s 29—and he didn’t play last season. Nor did he play much Week 1 of training camp. He missed Day 3 and Day 4 for personal reasons. When he returned Day 5, he played with Blaine Gabbert and the second-team offense, and Quinton Patton was the first team’s No. 3 receiver.
Patton is entering his third season with the Niners. He and Anquan Boldin are the longest-tenured wide receivers on the team. Maybe the Niners feel it’s time he gets an opportunity to play.
Shareece Wright Leading Competition to Be No. 2 Cornerback
Wednesday afternoon, a reporter asked Shareece Wright what drives him.
“Not having the season I wanted to have last year coming into my contract year,” Wright said. “Obviously, I didn’t have the best season for myself personally, and I know there’s a lot more to me and my game. There are no excuses for my season last year. It wasn’t good enough.”
Wright had poor “ball production,” as football coaches say. He had zero interceptions, and he broke up just three passes. He also committed 13 penalties in 14 games—he missed two with a knee injury.
This offseason he missed OTAs and minicamp with an undisclosed injury, and during his absence, second-year cornerback Keith Reaser played well. At the time, Wright seemed like a prime candidate to lose his starting job.
Now he seems like a lock to keep it. He’s healthy and has been terrific during training camp practices. Through five days he’s intercepted one pass and given up only a couple of short catches. For the most part, quarterbacks haven’t tested him.
That seems to be a theme with Wright. According to Pro Football Focus, last season he was targeted only 71 times—tied for seventh-fewest among cornerbacks who played at least 60 percent of their team's snaps.
Maybe he didn’t play as poorly as he thinks he did.
TE Vance McDonald Improving Hands
Last season, Pro Football Focus gave Vance McDonald the highest run-blocking grade of any tight end in the NFL—a plus-8.2. He’s such a good blocker that he’s like a sixth offensive lineman.
Unfortunately, he also catches passes like an offensive lineman. Through two seasons in the NFL he has caught 10 passes and dropped four. Colin Kaepernick almost never throws him the ball, probably because Kaepernick doesn’t trust McDonald to hold on to it.
This all stems from training camp. Sometimes last year McDonald would drop as many as four passes during a single practice. He seemed hopeless.
But not anymore. During Week 1 of training camp this year, by my count McDonald dropped just one pass and caught nine. Maybe he’s fixed whatever his problem was.
ILB Nick Moody Intercepting Passes
After Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired, the Niners probably had accepted the idea of Michael Wilhoite starting next to NaVorro Bowman at inside linebacker next season.
Wilhoite started 16 games last season, and the Niners defense played well, although he did not. Pro Football Focus gave him a minus-5.6 grade.
Wilhoite missed the first week of training camp with a pulled hamstring, allowing third-year inside linebacker Nick Moody to take most of the reps next to NaVorro Bowman in the Niners’ first-team defense.
On Day 1, Moody intercepted a pass over the middle thrown by Blaine Gabbert. On Day 5, Moody intercepted a pass in the end zone thrown by Colin Kaepernick.
Moody seems like a playmaker and an upgrade over Wilhoite.
QB Colin Kaepernick Throwing Interceptions
On Wednesday, a reporter asked cornerback Shareece Wright how the 49ers offense has changed since last year. Wright was a member of the San Diego Chargers last season, and they faced the Niners Week 16.
“Kaepernick’s throwing the ball, and he has a lot more options,” Wright said. “Watching film on him (last year), it was, ‘We’re going to run the ball with (Frank) Gore and we’re going to throw the ball to one receiver.’ This year he’s opening it up a little bit. He’s not just attacking one side of the field or just throwing the ball to one person. Boldin was his guy last year who he threw the ball to, and we knew that. On third downs that’s who he wanted to get the ball to.”
This year, new offensive coordinator Geep Chryst is opening up the passing game and asking Kaepernick to read the whole field like a top-level pocket passer even though he’s not a top-level pocket passer.
Week 1 of training camp, Kaepernick threw an interception four days in a row.
Kaepernick rarely threw picks under head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh designed his offensive system to protect the football. Without Harbaugh to help him, how many interceptions with Kaepernick throw next season?
It could be a career high.
All quotations and practice observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.