Niners Live recently provided you, the Faithful, a post-game summary of the game and now we bring you inside the game through two weeks of training camp practices and the first preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs under their belt.
Niners Live begins taking a comprehensive look at where the 49ers’ training camp battles stand and providing ongoing player analysis with the guys who will be responsible for establishing the physical ground game needed for setting up the staple play-action passing attack of 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, the quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive line.
After the historically bad 2016 season came to an end, team owner Jed York retooled the front office and coaching staff. With the retooling came a 57 percent roster turnover. The new scheme and players have been battling it out for roster spots and roles. Some starting roles such as quarterback, wide receiver, and fullback were determined at the time the players signed on as free agents, others have been taking shape over the course of OTAs and Mini Camp. But even those starting roles that have been determined still have heated battles transpiring for second and third team spots. Let’s take a look at where those battles stand at the completion of the first pre-season game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brian Hoyer signed with the team to be the quarterback for the 2017 season. With his previous work and success in Shanahan’s scheme from their time in Cleveland during the 2014 season, Hoyer was basically handed the job on the first day of free agency. Through his time in a 49er uniform, he has shown why he was handpicked by Shanahan. Tough, gritty, and smart with the ball, as evidenced by him only throwing one interception through training camp, Hoyer has also shown he is a great leader. Left tackle Joe Staley has spoken highly of the leadership qualities Hoyer is bringing to the new offense. After a lackluster night in his two drives, Hoyer is still the leader in the clubhouse to be the starting quarterback for this upcoming season. The same can’t be said for his backup from 2016, Matt Barkley.
While Barkley was signed to be the first quarterback off the bench in case of Hoyer being sidelined, 2017 third round draft pick C. J. Beathard has forced his way into a full blown competition with Barkley for the backup quarterback job. And this is not a knock on Barkley (10-17, 168 yards, 0 touchdowns), but more of an endorsement of what Beathard has shown since joining the team. Like Hoyer, Beathard has shown not only toughness in the face of pressure, but also a strong enough Football I.Q. to grasp the concepts of Shanahan’s complex offense, often said to be one of the most complicated in all of the N.F.L. Those qualities of toughness and I.Q. were on full display during Beathard’s time in the game Friday night. This is especially true during the 46-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne. On the play, Kansas City showed pressure in Beathard’s face, causing him to step up and slide to his left before finding Bourne alone down the field after the wide out modified his assigned route and left the defender on his backside. To understand the level of difficulty in this play one only has to listen to Coach Shanahan describe the coach’s thought process as the play was taking place.
“We thought we could get by him. But we were very nervous if we could hold up that long. All I watched was C.J. I thought they got an edge in our protection. He did a good job of moving around to create just enough time to get it off.”
WEEK ONE PREDICTION:
Hoyer is locked into the starting role barring injury as was the plan since his signing. But thinking that Barkley will be number two and Beathard will be on the Practice Squad is all but out the door. Beathard’s play on Friday (7-11 passing, 101 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 2Pt Conversion) has all but kicked the hopes of him clearing waivers and being placed on the Practice Squad.
Quarterbacks are hard to find in this league and Beathard will be picked up if waived. So the pressure is now on Barkley to show enough to keep his roster spot, because Beathard has done enough to take a spot on the 53-man roster as recently discussed on Niners Live who wants it more?
Slimmed down and running with purpose is what 2016 starter Carlos Hyde needs to show in the last year of his rookie contract. And to the delight of the coaching staff and The Faithful everywhere, Hyde has delivered. While not doing much against Kansas City in his two carries (2 rushes 0 yards), Hyde has shown a grasp of the offense and running style that can keep him as the lead dog in the early going of the 2017 season. But the players behind him are fighting hard to make it a running back by committee approach and not allow Hyde to be a single feature back.
Tim Hightower, who played in this offense with Washington earlier in his career, has shown that he will be a reliable runner for this team in 2017. Hightower has also been mentoring the rest of the backs to help them get up to speed. An ankle injury kept Hightower out of the past few practices and the first preseason game, but expect to see him getting some snaps going forward.
The two rookies, third round pick Joe Williams and undrafted free agent Matt Brieda, have both given a strong push for playing time this season. Brieda has been making a name for himself through OTAs and into training camp, while Williams came into OTAs a little out of shape but has come into camp with a renewed focus and has been making a case for himself as camp has gone along. Both players played outstanding against the Chiefs. Brieda was the first one off the bench and showed the speed that’s been on display with 40 yards on 11 attempts. Not to be outdone, Williams showed up with 60 yards on 7 attempts. These two are not going out without a fight.
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The player who picked up the most yards on Friday, Raheem Mostert (89 yards 15 attempts), seems to be building a case for a spot on the Practice Squad.
WEEK ONE PREDICTION:
Hyde has a battle on his hands. Hightower, Williams, and Brieda are all looking for snaps this season, and the way they are playing, Shanahan is going to have to find a way to make that happen. Hyde and Hightower have veteran experience and provide a power running style. Williams and Brieda bring youth and speed. This is going to be a nice stable, albeit one that will cause Shanahan to lose a few hairs to split snaps based on what the players have earned.
The offense line began as chaos throughout the depth chart, with only one starting position secured, left tackle manned by the mainstay Joe Staley who has held the job since his rookie season. General Manager John Lynch made it a point this off-season to bring in competition for every position along the line. Most notably trading for Pro Bowl Center Jeremy Zuttah from the Baltimore Ravens for a sixth round draft pick. Also brought in was center Tim Barnes, guard Brandon Fusco from Minnesota, and tackle Gary Gilliam from Seattle.
Through the early portion of Training Camp what was once a chaotic depth chart of player fighter for starting and backup roles have been placed into an organized list of starters and backups. Without injuries the line has developed into (from left to right) a solid group of Staley (LT), Joshua Garnett (LG), Daniel Kilgore (C), Brandon Fusco (RG), and Trent Brown (RT). An injury to Garnett (4-6 weeks, knee) has opened the door for 2016 free agent pickup Zane Beatles to begin the season as the starting left guard.
During the second week of Training Camp Zuttah was released to allow him to have a chance to be picked up by another team. While most of the praise was given to Daniel Kilgore by Coach Shanahan, the true credit should be given to Barnes, Garnett, Fusco, and Beatles. The plan in trading for Zuttah was that he would push Kilgore and that the loser of the center battle would kick out to a guard spot and press for a role there. But the aforementioned players all showed well enough once camp started that there was no role left for Zuttah. An early leg injury to Zuttah kept him off the field and opened the door for those players to show Zuttah’s services were not needed.
WEEK ONE PREDICTION:
With the starting line set, the rest of camp will be used to build cohesion and chemistry amount the starters and find out who is worthy of Practice Squad consideration. At this point it’s too early to determine the leaders for the Practice Squad.
Barring injury, the starters are mostly in place. With that the rest of camp will be used to build cohesion and chemistry amongst the different position groups, and for those who are still in the mix for backup jobs, there are still jobs to be won.
Niners Live is going to keep you updated as battles are fought and training camp plays out. Keep it locked into Niners Live on the net and keep your eyes wide open.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving Staff Writer @NinersLive.net and Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims