Five takeaways from 49ers OTAs and mini-camp

The San Francisco 49ers have canceled their final week of OTA practices, which means the next time the team convenes in Santa Clara will come in late July for the start of training camp. 

Here are the top five takeaways from the 49ers offseason workouts as they head into their summer vacation.

1. Health

San Francisco has dealt with injuries throughout Kyle Shanahan’s tenure. The best news for the 49ers heading into the summer is that they are healthy other than a few minor issues. 

Several players the 49ers will depend on heavily in 2022 did not participate in on-field activities this offseason. 

Mike McGlinchey and Javon Kinlaw are both on track to be ready for training camp after having last season cut short by injuries. Both were on hand for workouts but in a spectating capacity, as were George Kittle, Fred Warner, and others. 

2. Trey Lance was solid.

Despite his readiness to take over the starting quarterback position constantly being in question this offseason, Lance was solid and consistent throughout the offseason workouts. 

During the practice sessions open to the media, Lance completed 50 of 67 passes and had six touchdowns to only two interceptions. 

Lance showed off a shortened throwing motion, but this did nothing to limit his ability to hit throws at all levels of the field and hit several tight-window throws. 

Perhaps even more important than his play on the field, Lance appeared to feel comfortable taking on more of a leadership role. The quarterback was vocal with teammates on the field, and when he stepped to the podium to speak with the media, he was much more candid and looser than he was as a rookie. 

3. Competition at nickelback

After losing veteran K’Waun Williams to Denver during free agency, San Francisco has a hole to fill at nickelback. 

Darqueze Dennard appears to be the leader in the clubhouse at this point. The former first-round pick joined the 49ers late during the 2021 season and played the second half of their week 18 come-from-behind victory over Los Angeles. 

Dennard doesn’t have much experience in the slot, but the veteran looks comfortable in both man and zone coverage on the inside and has the size necessary to help in the run game. 

The primary competition for Dennard is coming from fifth-round draft pick Samuel Womack.

Womack played primarily on the outside at Toledo and during the early portion of offseason practices. During week two of OTA practices and last week during mini-camp Womack lined up almost exclusively inside. 

Womack displayed the ability to stick with receivers when lined up in man coverage, but he will need to develop a better feel for zone coverage when lined up inside. 

When watching Womack, the one concern is his ability to hold up in run defense. The nickelback is like a third linebacker against the run, an underappreciated aspect of K’Waun Williams’ game during his time with San Francisco. The 5-foot-9, 189-pound corner will need to show he can step up and make the tackles inside.

4. Interior offensive line  

The interior of San Francisco’s offensive line has been a question mark this offseason after losing left guard Laken Tomlinson to the New York Jets in free agency and veteran center Alex Mack announcing his retirement on June 3.

San Francisco chose not to address either position in free agency or the draft. They drafted Aaron Banks in the second round last year, and he looks ready to step in at left guard. Banks transformed his body this offseason, keeping his weight the same but converting mass to muscle. His strength and agility looked good during OTA practices and mini-camp.

At center, all signs point towards Jake Brendel moving into the starting lineup. 

While most 49ers fans are unfamiliar with Brendel, San Francisco’s offensive line coach Chris Foerster knows him quite well. Foerster was the offensive line coach in Miami when the Dolphins signed Brendel to their practice squad in 2016. 

According to Kyle Shanahan, Foerster lobbied for the 49ers to sign Brendel in 2020. 

Brendel looked solid throughout OTA and mini-camp practices. The former UCLA Bruin has good movement skills. During the 2016 NFL combine, Brendel posted numbers in the 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill, better than Jason Poe, who became a media darling due to his workout videos before this year’s draft. 

One interesting note from practices is while the rest of the offensive linemen working with the first team moved around to various positions, Banks and Brendel were the only two who took every snap in one spot. 

5. Deebo Samuel

The veteran wide receiver made his first appearance at 49ers practices this offseason.

Samuel did not participate in any drills with the team, instead doing light work on the side. 

During Wednesday’s practice, Samuel played catch with fellow receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings and was very vocal in supporting his teammates during 7-on-7 and team drills. 

Considering how invested Samuel was during practices, it is hard to see him not back with the team in 2022 despite still not having a new deal in place yet. Expect something to get done on the contract front around the start of training camp in late July.

This article has 13 Comments

  1. awesome article. lets all pray that Chris Foerster is right about Brendel and we have a steal there.

  2. Appreciate your analysis of the 9er players Jack
    *Other than NB, the D looks to be solid.

    QUESTIONS:
    * Do you agree KS offensive will employ a run first, inside zone running game, as the Inside zone allows Lance to run outside? And the 9er success in 2022 will depend on the IOL open running lanes for the 9er RB’s?
    * Will Lance will work from shotgun rather than under center? (Opens outside for Lance to run). If so, will that benefit RBs Trey Sermon and Tyrion Davis-Price (who used it in college), VS Elijah Mitchell, who was successful with JG working from under center and running an outside zone
    * IMO, the IOL success will be critical for the 9ers 2022 success. Looking forward to your continued observations.
    * Can the IOL protect Lance and give him enough time to find his receivers?

  3. They drafted Aaron Banks in the second round last year, and he looks ready to step in at left guard. Banks transformed his body this offseason, keeping his weight the same but converting mass to muscle. His strength and agility looked good during OTA practices and mini-camp.

    Ok. I’ll give Banks the benefit of the doubt based on your observation. But I’m still of the opinion that the performance of Banks, Brendel, Brunskill will totally define the success of the 49ers in 2022. If those guys don’t gel into an effective unit the 49ers could have a tough year. My expectations for 2022 range from 3rd in the NFC West and missing the playoffs to winning the NFC West and making the NFCCG all depending on the level of play from those 3 players.

    1. The performance of the QB will play a bigger role in defining the success of the 49ers 2022 season.

      1. Sounds like you might agree with my contention that Lance is Kyle’s workaround for a sub par OL. Only time will tell.

      2. Don’t you think the performance of the QB is based, to a great extent, on the performance of the O-line? You could put Tom Brady, Jonathon Taylor, Cooper Kupp, George Kittle, and Tyreek Hill on the 2021 Dolphins and I don’t think they would have had a top 5 offense because their O-line was so terrible.

        The part I find so puzzling with the 49ers is they spent all this draft capital on Trey Lance. Sounds like he’s doing everything right and his performance sounds great in OTAs. Then you’re putting him behind an O-line with a 2nd round pick at LG who couldn’t get on the field even though he was drafted with the expectation of being a Day 1 starter, a 30 year old journeyman backup at Center, and a RG who was not good last year. Seems like you’d want to set Trey Lance up for success by protecting him with a strong o-line. Instead, any objective observer would think Shanahan’s plan for Trey Lance is – Run for your life then chuck it & pray. I just don’t understand paying so little attention to the position group responsible for protecting your franchise QB.

          1. Cincinnati & Tennessee also dropped back to pass over 100 times more than Miami. Obviously coaches knew they couldn’t protect so they didn’t call as many pass plays. Miami was also ranked #31 in rush yards per attempt. Miami was 9-8 because Flores is a great defensive coach. He couldn’t get anyone competent to work with him on offense. Literally no quality offensive coach wanted to work for him. That’s why he had to pull Chan Gailey out of retirement. And they drafted poorly on offense. Spent a bunch of top end picks on o-line and they’ve all been terrible.

            My main point remains: I don’t understand why the 49ers did not upgrade their O-line this off-season.

            1. I share this concern. They really should have spent some additional draft capital on the O-line. Maybe no one interested them. They didn’t address much through free agency either.

              The main worry for me is, even if the O-line is sufficient, there doesn’t appear to be much depth back there at all.

              Injuries are inevitable with this team, especially on the O-line; except there isn’t an apparent approach there to address these concerns.

              As you insinuated, they will likely live or die by the O-line play. Every team has weaknesses and can’t be strong at every position, and the 49ers chose to shore up the secondary and relegate the O-line as their weakness.

              It will be interesting to see if the plan works. I will say one thing- we’re wasting Kittle’s enormous talent by asking him to stay in and block so much. It’s probably fair to say it would lead to additional injuries for him as well. I just don’t think it makes sense to pay him as high as they are if they’re having him block so much. There’s a lot of game breaking talent there they’re wasting asking him to cover for McGlinchey and Brunskill.

      3. Jack
        Hard for any QB to perform when under pressure, or flat on their back! Same with RB’s if the O-Line does not open running lanes for them.

        The # one question for the 9ers 2022 season is…Can the IOL protect the QB, or open running lanes? TBD!

  4. Much depends on Brendel. Are we seeing something others have not seen or valued? OL still is our vulnerability heading into training camp.

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