The San Francisco 49ers are five days into their 2016 training camp, with the first padded practice being held two days ago. After a rest day yesterday, the team is back at it today. Niner Noise takes a look at some of the winners and losers on (and off) the field so far.
Winner: Arik Armstead
Armstead has been the best player on defense throughout training camp so far. He has been the most disruptive on the pass rush and even forced a Carlos Hyde fumble on one play, per Chris Biderman of Niners Wire:
"Armstead, 21, appeared to be playing freely in Monday’s practice, when he was the best defender on the field for most of the day. He regularly found himself in the backfield while going against San Francisco’s first-team offensive line.He mostly played on the right side of the defense, lining up against the 49ers’ most experienced blockers in Joe Staley and Zane Beadles. But they didn’t prevent him from getting to running back Carlos Hyde for big losses.Armstead forced a fumble on the first rep of full-team drills, jarring the ball loose from Hyde even though he’s not allowed to hit the running back during training camp."
And from Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:
The expected tandem of Armstead and DeForest Buckner at the defensive end spots seems like a go, as both are practicing with the first-team unit.
Loser: Corey Lemonier
Lemonier is going into his fourth NFL season, and he hasn’t exactly excelled in his career so far – 27 total tackles and one sack speak to this.
With his lack of production he is very much a bubble candidate on the roster. And with the suspension to Aaron Lynch, there was an opportunity for Lemonier to seize an outside linebacker/pass rush role.
But so far in training camp, he has failed to do so, per CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco:
"Lemonier must pick up his game – and his sense of urgency – if he wants to win a roster spot for a fourth season with the team."
The comment of “sense of urgency” is very disappointing for a player who is on the verge of being cut. If he thinks his roster spot is safe because of the suspension to Lynch, then he is being ignorant. Players such as rookie Ronald Blair and Tank Carradine are doing more so far in camp, and all he is doing is pushing himself into a bubble so deep that he won’t be able to get out of it.
Winner: Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick has had a strong start to camp. After missing all of the previous OTAs and minicamp recovering from his three offseason surgeries, Kaepernick has shown he has picked up head coach Chip Kelly’s offense seamlessly.
By my rough calculation, in team drills Kaepernick has completed 39-of-54 passes (72 percent completion rate), which is well above his completion rate in the 2015 regular season which was 59 percent. But, of course, we are talking about three practices which one of them was in pads.
Kaepernick continues to split first-team reps with Blaine Gabbert, which is part of an on-going process.
“It’s just, let’s get some quality reps for both Blaine and Kap, and I think they’ve done a good job taking advantage of that,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said on Tuesday via Maiocco. “It’ll be an ongoing process.”
Kaepernick has even ran the read-option a handful of times in camp, and seems at this point to be more willing to break out and run, per Barrows:
"Through three practices, Kaepernick has been more apt to break out of the pocket and pick up yards with his feet, something Kelly largely didn’t have in three seasons with Philadelphia."
This competition will remain as even-split (in terms of first-team reps) and it won’t be until the preseason games start where a winner is likely to be decided.
Loser: Rashard Robinson
The 49ers fourth-round draft pick out of LSU was expected to add size (6-foot-1) and much-needed speed to the secondary. During the earlier part of the offseason program he had reportedly put on around 10 pounds of muscle on his previous 171 pound frame.
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However, on two of the three training camp practices so far, he has performed below-par and has been beaten by third-string receivers by giving away too much space in coverage. He might be gambling on his recovery speed, but this is concerning at this point of the offseason.
On Day 1, Ryan Sakamoto of ninersfans.com had this to say:
"During yesterday’s practice Robinson struggled against third-string WR DiAndre Campbell. Whether giving up too much cushion on comeback routes or mistiming his jam off the line of scrimmage, Robinson clearly struggled on Day 1. A setback? Not quite. Let’s not get to ahead of ourselves, as I still believe he is naturally gifted to thrive under DC Jim O’Neil’s scheme. However, it was disappointing to see him struggle, especially against third-string talent."
And on Day 3, Grant Cohn of the Press Democrat had this to say:
"1. CB Rashard Robinson. Gave receivers too much cushion most of practice. Got beat once by Eric Rogers who was running a deep hook route, once Aaron Burbridge who was running a slant and once by DeAndrew White who also was running a slant. At one point during practice defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley walked over to Robinson to say something to him. Robinson seemed to blow him off and walk away."
The 49ers are unlikely to give up on a fourth-round pick before the start of the season. However, Robinson has got to pick up his play. The secondary group is deep and fellow rookie Will Redmond (who is still recovering from his knee injury) is clearly out-playing him at this point.
The 49ers don’t need their fourth-rounder to be a game inactive every week. Robinson needs to take a good look in the mirror and get his game on the right track.
Winner: Will Redmond
Conversely, Redmond is having a strong start to camp. He is wearing a big knee brace on his surgically-repaired knee, but the fact the 49ers are getting this production on the field at this point of camp is very pleasing.
Redmond is doing a nice job of disguising blitzes and knocking down passes from the slot cornerback position. His physical strengths are at this position which would give defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil the luxury of keeping previous slot corner Jimmie Ward on the outside (to the right most likely, opposite Tramaine Brock).
"CB Will Redmond. The backup slot cornerback during every team drill. Quarterbacks challenged him zero times in coverage for the third day in a row."
And from Sakamoto:
"Redmond stole the show however. From disguising a perfectly timed cornerback blitz from the slot resulting in a sack on QB Colin Kaepernick to breaking up a pass on the very next play, Redmond showed us why he was selected ahead of Robinson. He displayed fluid hips while staying on the hip of the receiver throughout their route tree. A nice cover corner with the quickness to match, Redmond may relish the slot cornerback role with DB Jimmie Ward kicking outside."
Loser: Jaquiski Tartt
It is not Tartt’s fault that he is injured (he is currently on the active/non-football injury list with a right quadriceps strain) but for a second-year player to miss the beginning of training camp is a setback for his development, and to get up to speed on the field in O’Neil’s defensive schemes.
As Biderman notes, he is one of the most versatile players on defense, and to not have him on the practice field hurts:
"Tartt is expected to return soon. And San Francisco is going to need him in 2016. He will be one of coordinator Jim O’Neil’s most versatile pieces, particularly as a hybrid linebacker that can cover on passing downs in nickel and dime sets. He’s also a capable fill-in should Eric Reid or Antoine Bethea suffer an injury.Good players typically develop the most entering their second seasons. The 49ers would hate to have a nagging injury slow down one of their most promising safeties."
Let’s hope he can return to the field shortly. This is what he brings to the field:
The 49ers return to the practice field today after yesterday’s day off. Their first preseason game against the Houston Texans is now just 10 days away.