49ers training camp: 3 units impressing the most
By Robert Smith
No. 1: 49ers wide receivers
Much like the offensive line, the wide receiver group has taken quite a few hits in the injury department this offseason.
It started with injuries to Deebo Samuel and Richie James during their offseason training. And then came the news second-year wideout Jalen Hurd suffered a torn ACL while working out individually last week. Hurd was expected to return this year from a back injury that kept him out all of last season.
While Samuel is expected back sometime between Weeks 1 and 3, James will more than likely miss the first month of the season. And with Travis Benjamin opting out of the season, the receiver group has been thinned out. The team did sign veterans Tavon Austin, Jaron Brown, and J.J. Nelson, but they may be long shots to make the final roster.
Shanahan is hoping to get major contributions from Trent Taylor, who is fighting to return from injuries that cost him the past two seasons, and rookie first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk.
Taylor, by all accounts, has looked impressive in his return, displaying the speed and shiftiness that had made him a favorite target of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo during his rookie season. If Taylor can stay healthy, he looks to be ready for a huge role in the 49er offense this season.
Aiyuk has some added pressure beyond the typical first-round hype, as he will be asked to contribute early to help cover for the loss of Samuel. But so far, he has dazzled in the early part of training camp. In this tweet courtesy of 49ers.com, Garoppolo found Aiyuk for a huge completion downfield:
If Aiyuk continues to develop a rapport with Garoppolo, his impact on this 49ers offense will be felt immediately.
Another player looking to have even more of an impact this year is Kendrick Bourne. The fourth-year receiver and former UDFA hauled in a pair of touchdowns during the team’s first padded practice. His expanded role will play a big part in helping overcome the loss of Hurd.
Even seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings has flashed a skill set in practice. While he is still a raw talent, his ability to highpoint the ball and break tackles can only serve to benefit this offense and provide him more opportunities to secure a roster spot.
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Perhaps the most surprising standout among the receiver group the past few days has been none other than third-year veteran Dante Pettis, a regular in coach Shanahan’s doghouse last season. It got so bad during the season that Pettis didn’t catch a pass after Halloween, and was an afterthought throughout the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
But, according to Shanahan, Pettis has come into this training camp with a bulked-up physique and renewed confidence.
And so far, it is paying dividends on the practice field. Pettis caught five passes during 11-on-11s this past Tuesday, all across the middle of the field. He has been quick in and out of his breaks, and it appears Garoppolo is regaining confidence in him. His emergence, as well as the contributions of Aiyuk, Bourne, and Taylor can help to mitigate the loss of Samuel until his return.
While it is still much too early to make any definitive assessments on any or all of these units and how they will perform when the regular season begins, the early returns are promising.
However, as we learned quite painfully last year, it isn’t how well you start, but how you finish.