Let the competition begin.
Creating a competitive environment has been among the core beliefs instilled in the 49ers since John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan arrived in Santa Clara. While speaking at the NFL scouting combine Lynch noted that “competition is a great thing. It brings out the best in everybody.”
The 49ers will begin the OTA phase of their offseason program on Monday, and so will the competition for spots throughout the roster.
Here are five to keep an eye on.
Kyle Shanahan was asked during the owners meeting in April if Trey Lance and Sam Darnold would be competing this offseason. The 49ers head coach pointed to OTA’s as the time for this to get started.
“I expect them both to get first-team reps,” said Shanahan. “But I like to see them in Phase 1. Then we’ll get them on the field in Phase II. In OTA’s, I expect them both to get reps with the first team, but we’ll see how that goes.”
Recovered from the broken ankle which sidelined him for all but five quarters in 2022, Lance has been working hard on reworking his throwing motion. The early reports have been positive, with Shanahan recently noting Lance looks as good as he’s been since joining the 49ers.
For Darnold, coming to San Francisco offers the best situation he’s been around since being selected third overall by the New York Jets.
“Sam has as good of a skillset as there is — that’s why he went as the third pick in the draft,” said Shanahan. “When you study his play, you can see it. He hasn’t always been in the best situations, which is tough for a quarterback. He has done some really good things in this league.”
Tuesday will provide reporters with the first look at the two in action.
Right side of the offensive line
Colton McKivitz is expected to get the first crack at right tackle after the 49ers lost Mike McGlinchey to Denver in free agency.
Taken in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, McKivitz has made a pair of starts in place of Trent Williams at left tackle over the last two seasons.
The primary competition for McKivitz is expected to come from veteran Matt Pryor and 2021 draft pick Jaylon Moore.
Pryor has just under 1,800 snaps over the last three seasons compared to 439 for McKivitz and 330 for Moore.
Another name to keep an eye on at right tackle might be Spencer Burford.
Although Burford started 19 games for the 49ers at right guard as a rookie last season, the second-year offensive lineman played tackle in college.
Burford will face competition even if he isn’t asked to slide outside.
The 49ers were able to pick up veteran Jon Feliciano in free agency. Following his signing, Feliciano stated he is looking for a starting role. John Lynch also told reporters prior to the draft there was a path for Feliciano to start at right guard.
Christian McCaffrey is the unquestioned starter. How it will shake out from there is anyone’s guess. Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason and Ty Davis-Price will battle for a role behind McCaffrey.
Mitchell has shown himself to be explosive, but unable to stay healthy in his first two seasons. With Mitchell injured, Mason took over the “closer” role. The undrafted free agent showed he can be trusted late in games to help run out the clock.
For Davis-Price, the biggest challenge may be staying on the roster. In his rookie season, the third-round draft pick carried the ball just 34 times and averaged under three yards per carry. He may be pushed by undrafted free agent rookies Ronald Awatt and Khalan Laborn for a roster spot.
The 49ers have one of the best and deepest linebacker groups in the NFL.
Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Oren Burks are locks to make the final roster. Behind those three, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Curtis Robinson, Marcelino McCrary-Ball, along with rookies Dee Winters and Jalen Graham will battle for the final two or three roster spots.
The 49ers lost 11.5 sacks this offseason with the departures of Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu and Jordan Willis.
Drake Jackson is expected to be the first man up. The second-year defensive end finished his rookie season with three sacks but was not active during the 49ers postseason run. According to John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, Jackson “hit the rookie wall.” Jackson has been working on getting stronger and adding size this offseason.
New 49ers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was asked about Jackson while speaking with the media prior to the beginning of rookie minicamp.
“Drake has been here all spring working out, doing the things that he needs to do to improve his game,” said Wilks. “He’s gained a lot of weight, he’s in there with Kris Kocurek and I’m just excited to see exactly what he’s going to do and how he’s going to progress in his second year.”
San Francisco added Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant through free agency and drafted Robert Beal Jr. in the fifth round.
The fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Ferrell has struggled to live up to expectations. In four seasons with the Raiders, Ferrell had just ten sacks, 32 quarterback hits and 15 tackles for loss. His ability to play inside and outside could allow him to take over the role manned by Omenihu the last two seasons.
Bryant was taken in the fourth round of the 2019 draft by Detroit. Despite showing flashes, Bryant has struggled to stay healthy and made just six starts in 33 games. In his career Bryant has recorded 65 total tackles including seven for loss, 4.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits.
Veterans Hyder Jr. and Alex Barrett will also be back to compete for spots in the defensive line rotation.