49ers

These important competitions begin this week for 49ers during OTAs

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AP

These important competitions begin this week for 49ers during OTAs

Organized team activities are all about the passing games – offense and defense.

Those areas are where the most important competitions will take place on the practice field as the 49ers slowly start to prepare for their season opener on Sept. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Full pads are not allowed to be worn in practices during the offseason program, so the real competitions begin the third day of training camp, which opens in late-July. That's when practices change from two-hand-touch to real football.

This week marks the first time since the end of last season that offense vs. defense competition is allowed to take place on the 49ers’ practice field. Although 9-on-7 run drills are permitted, it’s the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills where reasonable opinions can start to be formed.

Here are the positions where players have a chance to take leads in their competitions heading into training camp:

Quarterback

The 49ers will take it slowly with Jimmy Garoppolo, who faces no challenge for the starting job. Garoppolo is not expected to see any 11-on-11 practice snaps until training camp.

The competition will be for the backup job.

Nick Mullens produced better statistics last season in his eight starts, during which the 49ers went 3-5 (winning 75 percent of their games for the season). But the 49ers have not given up on C.J. Beathard, a third-round draft pick in 2017.

Beathard’s skillset and toughness keep him in this competition. Mullens has his limitations, but he performed at an exceptionally high level when given his opportunity last year. Only Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck and Cam Newton threw for more yards in their first eight NFL starts.

But all that means is that Mullens, now, will be given a fair shot to win the backup job. He and Beathard start this offseason on equal footing.

Running back

Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman likely will be expected to share the load at running back with Matt Breida not far behind. Breida proved to be a reliable pass-catcher last season. He still needs work with his route running, and this is a great time for him to polish those skills.

Coleman has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. That's a huge advantage. There is no hurry to get McKinnon on the field after he missed all of last season with a torn ACL he sustained a week before the start of the regular season.

Wide receiver

There should be competition at every level of the team at this position. Dante Pettis is the closest thing to a “lock” to be a starter. He caught just 27 passes in 12 games as a rookie, but he averaged 17.3 yards and had five touchdowns.

Rookie Deebo Samuel, the 49ers’ second-round draft pick, will compete against the field, including Kendrick Bourne, for the duties on the other side. Bourne was the 49ers’ leading wide receiver last season with 42 receptions for 487 yards and four touchdowns.

Marquise Goodwin, Jordan Matthews and rookie Jalen Hurd will be angling for significant roles, while Trent Taylor and Richie James are the candidates for the primary slot job.

Cornerback

The offseason program is huge for Ahkello Witherspoon and Tarvarius Moore. There is no questioning the physical talent of both players. They were third-round draft picks in 2017 and ’18, respectively.

Witherspoon vs. Moore could be an elimination battle during the offseason program to see which of those players will go against Jason Verrett in training camp.

Verrett is coming back from a torn Achilles, which he sustained during the camp-opening conditioning test last summer with the Los Angeles Chargers. Verrett is not expected to cut it loose during the offseason program, so Witherspoon and Moore will have the advantage of a full offseason of preparation.

Safety

Jimmie Ward has bounced around from free safety to cornerback over the past few years. He is back at free safety after signing a one-year contract with the club in the offseason. Adrian Colbert entered last offseason as the starter at free safety, but now the onus is on him to beat out Ward.

The free safety position is more on display during non-padded practices than strong safety, because so much of being a box safety is coming up to finish tackles in the run game. Jaquiski Tartt and second-year player Marcell Harris will compete for that job. Pass coverage is important there, too, but that job will be won after the pads go on.

[RELATED: 49ers Insider Podcast . . . previewing organized team activities]

The rules during Phase Three allow for players to be at the facility for six hours a day for a maximum of three organized team activities during the first and second weeks. No pads are allowed, except for protective knee and elbow pads. Helmets are permitted.

49ers OTA workouts
This week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday
May 28-29, May 31
June 3-4, June 6

Mandatory minicamp
June 11-13

Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

One of the major competitions being waged on the 49ers’ practice field is for a spot the club hopes will never be asked to play a significant role this season.

The 49ers’ hopes for the season hinge in large part on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing at a high level for 16 games. Behind him, in a too-close-to-call competition are C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.

Once training camp opens in late-July, the competition for the backup role will heat up. Mullens outplayed Beathard last year, but all that did was create a level playing field for the competition that will ensue this summer.

This week marked the conclusion of the team’s official offseason program. Here are some questions submitted via Facebook:

What's the likelihood we trade one of our backup QBs to a team that loses a QB to injury? ( David Cummings)
The 49ers have three options:
1. Cut C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens.
2. Keep three QBs on their 53-man roster.
3. Trade Beathard or Mullens.

Of those three options, there is no question the 49ers would rather trade one of their reserve quarterbacks.

I’m of the opinion right now that they are fine with either Beathard or Mullens as the backup to Jimmy Garoppolo. If another team feels a need to add a backup, I believe the 49ers would be open to trading either one – whichever player the other team wants more and will attract the better compensation.

Will Robbie be the starting kicker come the start of the regular season? (Richard Burley)
Robbie Gould has not publicly stated his intention, other than he has demanded a trade. (The 49ers said, in essence, “No, thanks. We want you to be our kicker.”)

It is difficult to imagine that Gould would forfeit more than $290,000 per game. The 49ers expect him to be on the field in Week 1 of the regular season. Jonathan Brown was the only kicker to participate in the offseason program. Right now, he’s their insurance policy.

Is there a possibility after the cutdowns start the 49ers will possibly pick up a savvy veteran guard or center considering the uncertainty and shakiness of our interior offensive line? (John Mayfield)
Based on their approach this offseason, the 49ers do not agree with your description of “uncertainty” and “shakiness” as it pertains to the interior of their offensive line.

There’s always a possibility of picking up someone for depth, but the addition of Ben Garland, who can play both guard and center, likely took care of that.

From what you've seen Matt, which WR has impressed you and the coaching staff the most? (Paul Martinez)
The 49ers’ top-two receivers during the offseason program were Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor. If Taylor remains healthy, he should benefit greatly from the tutelage of new receivers coach Wes Welker.

Considering the size of the front seven on defense are there concerns about our potential to defend against the run with the new Wide 9 scheme? (R.L. Stephens)
That is precisely why the 49ers’ defense now has three smaller, quicker stack linebackers. The Wide 9 is designed for the defensive ends to set the edge quicker to force running backs to cut inside earlier.

It also puts far more pressure on the linebackers to step up and cover more ground to prevent big plays on those plays.

Who is a name that might be a surprise cut before the 53-man roster is made? (Michael Tavares)
If I write the name here, he won’t be a surprise cut, right?

I’ll give you three players to watch. At first, I thought Marquise Goodwin might have a difficult time making the team. But he looked really good during the offseason program, and he does give the 49ers they don’t have anywhere else with his speed.

Veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith will have to earn his way. Elijah Lee and Dre Greenlaw look good, and they have special-teams value, too. Tight end Garrett Celek will be trying to come back from back surgery. I think he faces some pretty big odds at this stage of his career to remain on the team.

[RELATED: Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers can overcome injuries this season]

Who are the starting safeties at the beginning of the season? (Nick Gillo)
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. (Insert the obligatory, “If healthy.”)

With Shanahan talking about having great depth, predict the biggest 2020 offseason needs. (Jeff Bratton)
I predict the biggest needs for next season will be determined by what happens this season.

49ers linebacker Fred Warner looks to improve after solid rookie year

49ers linebacker Fred Warner looks to improve after solid rookie year

SANTA CLARA — Linebacker Fred Warner had a lot put on his plate as a rookie. Going into his second season as a pro, he's leaning on a wild first year.

“I’m expecting [my game] to grow a lot,” Warner said. “Having that experience from Year 1, obviously playing a lot of snaps, I think all parts of my game can improve. 

“Specifically I’m looking forward to working on tracking the ball, making sure that I’m improving on tackling, just communication, having clean eyes, and being able to anticipate things a lot quicker.”  

Warner explained that while he had a lot of responsibilities, he never felt like it was too much for him to handle. He added that linebackers coach DeMeco Ryans increased his workload as his experience grew. 

“I think they knew that they could rely on me, they never gave me too much,” Warner said. “DeMeco was always checking in with me to make sure that I wasn’t too overwhelmed and whatever they told me to do, I did it.

“They gave me more and more as I got more confident throughout the season, so leading into that last game against the Rams, we had a lot of stuff going on, but that’s when I was the most confident, in the last game of the year.” 

Warner’s experience is helping him look at last season’s game film with a new set of eyes, figuratively. He already sees ways he could have improved his performance. 

“No doubt,” Warner said. “I’m watching film right now and I’m looking at different things and I’m like, ‘Dang I would have called that’ or ‘I wish I was out there so we could do this,’ but I feel our defense is doing a great job right now. 

“Guys who maybe have not gotten as many reps are stepping up during this OTAs doing an outstanding job and I’m looking forward to getting back out there with them.” 

The defense has gotten notably faster after several key additions during the offseason and Warner believes it gives the group “swagger.”

“I think every year that we get more of that chemistry together as a group, I feel like that’s where it comes out, our confidence,” Warner said. “The more we can play with that, the more we can instill fear into our opponents on game day. They should be able to turn on the film and be like 'Oh, man. We got the Niners this week.’

“I think that with coach Kocurek, they are being taught to come off the ball hard and fast so they are going to create a lot of penetration which should create a lot of edges and so it’s our job to make them right, as linebackers. We are behind the ball for a reason so we can see everything and play off of them.” 

[RELATED: Jason Verrett feeling confident about his return]

Warner, like many players sitting out of team drills during OTAs and minicamp, is itching to get back on the field. But he knows that being patient is what’s best for him in the long run. 

“A lot of that you don’t have much control over,” Warner said. “You just have to listen to what the trainers tell you, and that’s what I’ve been doing. They have a plan for me and I’m just going to follow that, but yeah, just taking one day at a time.”