49ers begin mandatory minicamp this week, here's what we're watching

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) and wide receiver Willie Snead IV (18)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) and wide receiver Willie Snead IV (18) / David Berding/GettyImages

The 49ers moved up mandatory minicamp a week, so let's take a look at what storylines need attention the most.

In a not-so-bold move, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan elected to cancel the final week of organized team activities and move up mandatory minicamp into its place.

It's not bold because Shanahan has done this before. And by doing so, his players and coaches essentially get an extra week off before everyone is expected back to report by training camp in late July.

Thanks, coach.

OTAs are voluntary. That's important. Mandatory minicamp is, well... mandatory. The name kind of implies it. Unless a player has team permission to be absent, he'll have to attend.

Unlike last season, when All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel was going through a contractual standoff, the Niners aren't dealing with any glaring contractual headaches. Granted. All-Pro EDGE Nick Bosa's looming contract extension is eventually going to be massive news, but there aren't any developments there yet.

However, there are some things we'll be observing closely from mandatory minicamp, which will begin on Tuesday, June 6 and run for three days.

Which 49ers QB is shining more, Trey Lance or Sam Darnold?

With Brock Purdy still on the mend following offseason elbow surgery, San Francisco has given first-team reps equally to both Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, at least in the media-observed practices.

According to one report from Sports Illustrated's Grant Cohn, both quarterbacks appeared to be too conservative during practices, which isn't exactly a good choice during padless practices like OTAs.

Both are former No. 3 overall NFL Draft picks. Both are in desperate need to resurrect their careers, and both could essentially seize the Week 1 starting job if Purdy isn't quite healthy yet.

Will either quarterback take the lead during minicamp?

Is Jordan Mason going to be 49ers' No. 2 running back?

Another report from Cohn talked about how running back Elijah Mitchell was being held out of Week 2 of OTAs because of some undisclosed injury or perhaps even rest.

Either way, Mitchell has spent the better portion of his two years in the league dealing with some sort of injury setback.

Mitchell's repeated absences prompted the 49ers to trade for All-Pro Christian McCaffrey last year, but the former Carolina Panther still needs a reliable backup.

Perhaps that'll be second-year pro Jordan Mason, the 2022 undrafted free agent who accumulated 258 rush yards on 43 attempts and averaged 6.0 yards per carry his rookie season.

Mason beating out Mitchell for the No. 2 role behind McCaffrey wouldn't actually be that shocking.

How is the 49ers' new-look secondary performing?

OTAs and minicamp are tremendous in helping determine the effectiveness of a defensive backfield. After all, with zero contact and no tackling, the pass rush is virtually nonexistent. Also, defensive backs aren't able to engage in physical contact at the line of scrimmage, so they'll need to rely more on their natural coverage skills instead of jamming receivers early.

The Niners were forced to revamp much of their secondary during the offseason, thanks largely to the free-agent departure of now-Houston Texans defensive back Jimmie Ward. No. 2 cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is also gone via the free-agent wire.

While San Francisco will retain two of its starting safeties, Tashaun Gipson and All-Pro Talanoa Hufanga, there are new bodies in nickel cornerback Isaiah Oliver and rookie defensive backs Ji'Ayir Brown and Darrell Luter Jr.

It's fairly fluid who winds up ascending or being relegated to the back end of the depth chart, and minicamp could end up providing some answers.

Which 49ers rookie will be the most exciting?

First-year bliss is always entertaining, and it's great discussing rookies during the period from the NFL Draft until the preseason when fans can actually watch the players play.

Brown, San Francisco's top draft choice from last April, is versatile enough to play all over the secondary, so watching his fit should be entertaining. Likewise, kicker Jake Moody has already garnered some headlines during OTAs.

Can one of the 49ers' two fifth-round draft picks, Luter or EDGE Robert Beal Jr., shine? Or will it be one of the Niners' two rookie linebackers, Dee Winter or Jalen Graham?

Heck, which undrafted free agent surprises the most this offseason?

Is rookie WR Ronnie Bell the real deal?

Normally, talking about seventh-round draft picks is folly. Sure, it can be fun to find the occasional hidden gem out there (like Purdy), but the rarity of those finds makes it a silly exercise.

However, San Francisco might have another in wide receiver Ronnie Bell, the former Michigan standout who could have easily been a fourth- or fifth-round pick and probably should have been.

Read more: Let's overreact to these 5 things from 49ers OTAs

Bell turned heads during rookie minicamp and was also the No. 1 favorite target for multiple 49ers quarterbacks during the first week of OTAs.

That said, Bell struggled with drops during the second week of OTAs, which certainly dampened the hype he had received up to this point.

Look for Bell's trajectory to go in one of two ways during mandatory minicamp: upward or downward.

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