Just when you think you have figured something out . . .
At 10:30 Monday morning, I was writing about how surprising it was that the NFL has been able to keep COVID-19 cases under control. Although there was a spike of nearly 100 players when training camps started, once those players were quarantined and cleared, the virus seemed to be staying down in professional football.
The NFL even put out a press release saying between Aug. 10 and Aug. 20, 58,397 tests were administered and only six positives turned up — none of them players. So apparently the regular season is on. Get ready for the 49ers’ opener in three Sundays.
And that was when I checked my emails and saw a press release from the 49ers saying that linebacker Fred Warner has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He’s either tested positive or been in close contact with someone who has. You have to hope he isn’t infected because he was running all over the practice field a few days ago.
It is just a reminder that this virus — and what to do about it — is tricky.
Two points about the NFL: First, teams are testing like crazy — 58,000+ tests in ten days. And they must be getting the results back quickly. When I was tested, it took a week to get results, making the test nearly pointless. Players need to know within 24 hours at the very least.
If that’s what they are doing, it seems to be working. We will have to wait and see about Warner. Hopefully he’s not sick and isn’t a “super-spreader,” who could infect lots of people.
But if the positives are limited to Warner, and if they can get him back after a short quarantine, the effect will be minimal, and we can go ahead with the season.
If it turns into an outbreak, all bets are off.
But let’s assume there’s a season looming and evaluate positions at the end of formal camp.
QUARTERBACK: Only two teams have a quarterback from last year’s Super Bowl in uniform and the 49ers are one of them. Garopollo doubters can form a crabby cluster in the corner, but there’s no doubt, Jimmy Garopollo is the guy. The team traded for him, bet on him, paid him and went to the Super Bowl with him.
Backups will surely be Nick Mullens (undersized, but impressive enough to be featured in trade talk) and C.J. Beathard. Beathard has reportedly buffed his body up, which we’d have been watching for if there were pre-season games, but there are not. Also remember, sadly, that Beathard’s brother, Clayton, died last December after being stabbed outside a bar.
OFFENSIVE LINE: At this point we offer a piece of advice for the 49ers — tone it down on Trent Williams. He hasn’t taken a snap yet, and we’ve penciled him into the Pro Bowl. That said, there’s a reason for the raves and some very smart football people think Williams is a star.
The other tackle, Mike McGlinchey, embarked on a fitness routine that has him looking so svelte that Richard Sherman has nicknamed him the “Big Slim.” Guard Laken Tomlinson is now referred to in terms of a solid pro.
What they don’t have is a center. Which is one of those things you don’t even notice — until you do.
TIGHT ENDS: Watching goofy George Kittle blossom into an elite NFL player is a little like realizing your nerdy neighbor has just founded a billion-dollar startup. Yet he is now routinely called “the best tight end in football,” and just signed a blockbuster contract. Stay healthy George.
And to help with that, the team has signed Jordan Reed. A former Pro Bowler at Washington, Reed is another new addition who is getting rave reviews. But there is also the wince factor. He’s had seven official concussions in six years. He’s clearly at risk for more. In fact, Reed sat out all last year after suffering a concussion in pre-season. If you have a moment, send some good wishes and good fortune to Jordan Reed.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Usually, the 49ers’ receivers story goes like this: We hear about a whole bunch of new guys who show promise, and then it all comes down to Kendrick Bourne. OK, that’s an oversimplification. But with the loss of veteran Emmanuel Sanders, they are once again trying to find a productive newcomer.
One for sure is second-year guy Deebo Samuel, except that he broke his foot before camp. There’s talk Samuel may be ready for the opener, but that seems optimistic. Meanwhile, we never even got a chance to over-react to the potential of big Jalen Hurd before he was lost for the season with a knee injury. Skittery Trent Taylor is back and hoping to stay healthy. And draft choices Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings are getting good marks. (Check out Jennings on YouTube if you like to see WRs run over folks.)
RUNNING BACKS: We finally get to see Jerick McKinnon, who has spent two years rehabbing injuries amid tales of how, when healthy, “Jet” was defense-stretcher. Well, he’s healthy now, so check him out. Raheem Mostert had a breakout season last year. Rookie JaMycal Hasty is said to have breathtaking change-of-direction.
DEFENSIVE LINE: This will be interesting. Everybody always said that defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was under-rated. So the 49ers traded him to Indy for a first-round draft choice. So now let’s see if that makes a difference at the team’s signature unit. With Nick Bosa and Dee Ford on the edges, getting after the quarterback is a big part of team identity.
The team used the first-round pick from the trade to chose Buckner’s presumed replacement, Javon Kinlaw, who has so far mostly made news for how big he is. Former #3 pick Solomon Thomas has to pick it up in his contract year. Watch for Kentavius Street, a weight room legend who is finally healthy.
LINEBACKERS: If Warner didn’t make it clear he was intending to make a splash this year, his hits on teammates in training camp reinforced the point. He’s clearly someone with eyes on the next level — if his COVID experience isn’t serious. Dre Greenlaw represents the NFL LB trend: speed not bulk.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: You have to like the safeties. Jaquiski Tartt is a thumper who can play pass coverage. And Kyle Shanahan likes Jimmie Ward so much he says he’d wear his jersey. Cute. Unfortunately, both Tartt and Ward often end up injured, reminding us that the greatest ability is availability. Richard Sherman was targeted a bit in the postseason, but you can be the one to tell him he’s over-the-hill.