The 49ers will hold seven days of voluntary practices over the next 10 days. During that time, we in the media will be filling your brains with the minutiae of practice, telling you every time Taylor Mays runs without tripping or Alex Smith tells a wide receiver “good job,” while you keep reminding yourself that it’s just June and perhaps none of this is as important and it’s sometimes made out to be.
For some young players, however, the OTAs will have real significance.
I’m not sure who exactly is expected to be on the field Monday. But if form holds, the defense will be missing stalwarts such as ILB Patrick Willis (rehabbing after knee surgery), OLB Manny Lawson (sort of holding out), NT Aubrayo Franklin (unhappy with franchise tag), and CBs Shawntae Spencer and Nate Clements (working out on their own this offseason).
While those absences might irritate management to some extent, they create opportunities for young players. Two days after the final voluntary practice, the 49ers will hold a three-day minicamp. Those practices are mandatory, and all of the aforementioned absentees are likely to be there if healthy. Then comes a long break before training camp.
In other words, the OTAs may be the final chance some inexperienced players get to prove themselves with the first- or second-team unit. The value is huge, because the repetitions will be much harder to come by when the full cast is in Santa Clara.
Here are the 49ers most likely to profit from the voluntary workouts:
CBs Philip Adams, LeRoy Vann, Patrick Stoudamire and Tramaine Brock: If Spencer and Clements are both gone, guys like Tarell Brown and Karl Paymah are likely to work with the first team, allowing others to move up the chart. DBs can really get lost in training camp unless they’re being attacked with passes, so this time is vital for a 7th-round pick such as Adams or a rookie free agent like the others. It could also be an important stretch for veteran Will James, a free-agent acquisition who must show he is healthy enough to get on the field.
LBs Scott McKillop, Navorro Bowman, Diyral Briggs, Martail Burnett, Brandon Long, Mike Balogun and Keaton Kristick: With an opening inside and another outside, there should be a few additional reps for all of these players. McKillop played mostly special teams a year ago, so he’s still proving himself at linebacker, and the others are open books right now. That includes Bowman, the third-round pick who has shined at OTAs so far, and Kristick, who hasn’t been able to practice yet because his class at Oregon State graduated late in the calendar.
DTs Ricky Jean Francois, Khalif Mitchell and Derek Walker: Franklin’s displeasure is another man’s opportunity. That’s especially true for Jean Francois, who got significant practice time at OTAs in May and could have a shot of breaking into the defensive-line rotation in 2010. Kentwan Balmer could use the work, too, but may not be healthy enough to participate.