Who gets the 49ers starting shots, Trey Lance or Sam Darnold? 10 things to watch out for in OTAs

Who gets the 49ers starting shots, Trey Lance or Sam Darnold?  10 things to watch out for in OTAs

The 49ers will take to the field for OTAs on Monday, the first time the team has practiced as a whole this season.

Well, almost as a whole.

A certain quarterback will watch from the sideline while his elbow heals and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t usually attend voluntary sessions like this. It’s also common for players to undergo cleanups at the start of the offseason, and some of those might come to light as well.

The team will have two OTA sessions this week, Monday and Tuesday. The media will be present on Tuesday. Here’s what we’ll be looking at…

1. Nothing will come under more scrutiny than Trey Lance’s throwing motion, which obviously improved after Lance spent most of March with quarterback guru Jeff Christensen and the most fame of Christensen, Patrick Mahomes, in the Dallas area.


49ers’ Trey Lance made ‘substantial leap’ working alongside Patrick Mahomes

According to Christensen, Lance throws tighter spirals, his release is quicker and, perhaps most importantly, he no longer faces the arm fatigue he experienced in previous seasons.

Lance’s sessions with Christensen were all about mechanics, and he mostly threw to high school receivers with no defensive players on the field. Now Lance will test his revamped delivery against the league’s best defense last season. Lance completed just 54.7% of his attempts during training camp last year. The team would like to see him raise that to the 60% range this spring and summer.

2. Who gets first-team reps at quarterback with Brock Purdy still recovering from elbow surgery? You’d think they’d go to Lance, the 2021 No. 3 draft pick who, at this point last year, was the undisputed starter.

Kyle Shanahan, however, gave the impression that Lance and Sam Darnold were on even terms and that the two will have chances with the better offense this spring.

“I really see Sam, talent-wise, as a top pick in the draft, just like he was,” Shanahan said earlier this month. “You look at his whole career and there’s no reason to think any differently. He hasn’t been in the best situations so we’re happy to have him here. And I’m so glad he wants to come here. He could have gone into a lot of different situations and probably made a lot more money.

Shanahan reiterated that Purdy is the best quarterback on the team when healthy. But #2?

“We know we have a quarterback who has made it to a high level in the NFL that we can win with,” Shanahan said. “I also believe we have two more on our list. strongly. But a guy showed it. So let’s see how it goes. »

3. Nick Bosa will almost certainly be out of OTAs, and it’s not because he’s waiting for another mega-contract from the 49ers. Bosa is spending his offseason training with his brother Joey at their super-secret two-member gym in South Florida, and he has the 49ers’ full blessing for missing voluntary sessions.

“Trust me, Nick Bosa is working,” general manager John Lynch said last offseason. “He shows that every time he shows up he’s in elite form.”

If Bosa doesn’t attend the mandatory minicamp in June, that would be a big deal. And if he doesn’t show up for training camp at the end of July, well, that would be even more newsworthy. The 49ers aim to have Bosa’s deal done by then.

Nick Bosa is not expected to attend voluntary OTAs, but the 49ers don’t care that he stays fit. (Bill Streicher / USA Today)

4. The silver lining of Bosa’s absence: It gives the team more opportunities to assess other defensive ends, a group that includes Drake Jackson, free agent additions Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, and pick fifth-rounder Robert Beal Jr.

Ferrell and Jackson will likely be the first defensive ends this week while Bosa is out of town. The team would like Jackson to keep that starting point when Bosa arrives. Jackson reportedly added bulk and strength — things that dwindled late in his rookie season — during the offseason. He tops the list of sophomores the 49ers hope to take a significant step forward in 2023.

5. We might as well add Kalia Davis to this year’s rookie class. The defensive tackle was a sixth-round pick from Central Florida last year (Athleticism Dane Brugler ranked him fourth or fifth round) but has spent 2022 on the non-football injury list while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in college.

Davis, however, was able to train with the team for three weeks at the end of the season and said he felt great – and confident in his knee – at the end of that third week. Which is to say, he entered the offseason with momentum.

As you may recall, Davis transitioned from linebacker to defensive lineman midway through his college career. His game is based on speed and pursuit, which should fit well with the defensive style of the 49ers. Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek still wants a strong group of “Bravos” – what he calls his second-tier defensive line. Candidates for this group this year include Davis, Javon Kinlaw, Kevin Givens, Ferrell, Bryant and Kerry Hyder Jr., signaling that it could be one of Kocurek’s best so far.

6. Jackson may be the most watched of the sophomores this spring, but he’s closely followed by a pair of 2022 third-round picks, running back Tyrion Davis-Price and wide receiver Danny Gray.

Davis-Price was edged out by undrafted rookie Jordan Mason last season, while Gray finished with just one strike, which came late in a blowout win over the Buccaneers.

The 49ers’ top four receiver spots are set with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud III. And while Gray is the favorite to hold on to fifth place, there are a few young wides nipping at his heels.

Danny Gray only had one take as a rookie last season after being drafted in the third round. (Stan Szeto / USA Today)

The first is Tay Martin, an undrafted 2022 rookie who has remained on the practice squad throughout the season. Martin could follow the course set by Kendrick Bourne (undrafted 2017) and Jennings (seventh round 2020) until bursting in Year 2.

The other contender is seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell, who stood out during rookie minicamp practice earlier this month. The 49ers see Bell as a quick learner — someone who can become a reliable backup at all three receiving points. Guys like that are valuable on the game day roster.

Davis-Price, meanwhile, will face Mason and two newcomers, undrafted rookies Khalan Laborn and Ronald Awatt, for third place in the stopper rotation.

7. Zane Gonzalez, we barely knew you? Yes, it’s very difficult to see Gonzalez, the veteran kicker acquired by the 49ers in March, make the 53-man squad after the team used a third-round pick on Jake Moody.


‘A Michigan legend’: Jim Harbaugh thinks Jake Moody will thrive with 49ers

But that doesn’t mean their kicks won’t be listed and compared throughout the spring and summer. A close battle would only benefit the 49ers, who might be able to trade Gonzalez to one of the many teams that were looking for a kicker during the draft.

The 49ers acquired him from Carolina for a conditional seventh-round pick. Who knows, maybe they could process it for something better at the end of August.

8. Given how important the center is to Shanahan, it’s odd that he never developed his own in San Francisco. Every player who has started there since 2017 is either someone Shanahan inherited or was acquired through free agency.

This year, Jake Brendel will start and veteran Jon Feliciano will likely be the replacement. But it will be interesting to see which young players also line up in the center in the spring and summer. Candidates include Keith Ismael, Nick Zakelj, Jason Poe and a trio of undrafted 2023 rookies Joey Fisher, Ilm Manning and Corey Luciano. Of that group, Ismael, a 2020 Commanders fifth-round pick, is the only one not from home.

9. It will also be interesting to see who the 49ers develop at tackle. Trent Williams, Colton McKivitz, Matt Pryor and Jaylon Moore occupy the top spots. Someone to watch: Leroy Watson, a converted tight end the team added to the practice squad last season. Watson was a powerful blocker in college who seems to be transitioning steadily into his new position.

ten. The right guard is also worth watching. Last year, then-rookie Spencer Burford alternated playoffs with veteran Daniel Brunskill. This year, Brunskill is with the Titans and the 49ers have signed Feliciano for the inside line backup role.

Will Feliciano be worked as Brunskill in 2022 or has Burford proven himself to get the starting job?

(Trey Lance top photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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