49ers Training Camp Day 1 Breakdown: Defense

The San Francisco 49ers began training camp practices on Wednesday, marking the first time since June that players hit the field with their teammates for a 75-minute practice that involved individual drills, team drills, 7-on-7s, and some 11-on-11s as well.

As it was the first day of training camp, pads weren’t on. They’re likely to come on during Monday’s practice, however; the exact date is unknown currently.

Here were the 49ers’ starters on defense:

DE Samson Ebukam
DT Arik Armstead
DT Javon Kinlaw
DE Nick Bosa
LB Fred Warner
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
LB Dre Greenlaw
CB Charvarius Ward
CB Emmanuel Moseley
NB Darqueze Dennard
S Jimmie Ward
S Talanoa Hufanga

Defense

Defensive Line

The defensive line looked as good as advertised on Wednesday, as they racked up several pressures during the scrimmage period, including a nice move by rookie Drake Jackson on backup right tackle Jaylon Moore.

In positional drills, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw looked like he regained his speed and explosiveness, and is poised to start alongside Arik Armstead as long as he remains healthy.

Here were the defensive line rotations:

1st Team
DE Samson Ebukam
DT Arik Armstead
DT Javon Kinlaw
DE Nick Bosa

2nd Team
DE Kerry Hyder/Drake Jackson
DT Kevin Givens
DT Maurice Hurst
DE Charles Omenihu

3rd Team
DE Jordan Willis
DT Kevin Atkins
DT Hassan Ridgeway
DE Kemoko Turay

Arik Armstead stood out during scrimmages and overall, had the best day of any defensive lineman on Wednesday, albeit without pads on.

As training camp progresses and pads come on, it’ll be interesting to see which of the many edge rushers and defensive tackles stand out amongst their peers.

Linebackers

The biggest news about the linebackers came early in practice when Azeez Al-Shaair collided with Kyle Juszczyk and was down for a minute, although he later returned to practice and it was confirmed that he just had the wind knocked out of him.

The starting linebackers remained the same, but the battle between Al-Shaair and Greenlaw in Nickel packages will be something to watch as both are finally fully healthy.

Here were the linebacker rotations:

1st Team
SLB Azeez Al-Shaair
MLB Fred Warner
WLB Dre Greenlaw

2nd Team
SLB Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles
MLB Curtis Robinson
WLB Oren Burks

3rd Team
SLB Segun Olubi
MLB Jeremiah Gemmel
WLB Marcelino McCrary-Ball

The quiet standout was backup linebacker Curtis Robinson, who reportedly stood out during the early portion of the offseason, and was very vocal and communicative with his fellow linebackers when on the field Wednesday. The Stanford product is a sleeper candidate to potentially make the 53-man roster.

Cornerbacks

Top cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Charvarius Ward had strong performances during their minimal appearances on Wednesday, as Moseley had two pass-breakups on his two targets, while Ward didn’t see a single pass thrown his way.

Here were the cornerback rotations:

1st Team
CB Charvarius Ward
CB Emmanuel Moseley
NB Darqueze Dennard

2nd Team
CB Ambry Thomas
CB Deommodore Lenoir
NB Samuel Womack

3rd Team
CB Ka’Darr Hollman
CB Tariq Castro-Fields
NB Qwuantrezz Knight

After starting at slot cornerback throughout the offseason, Dennard continues to get all the first-team reps at the position and is the current favorite to start.

Of the backups, cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Tariq Castro-Fields looked good in positional drills, with both making acrobatic plays on the ball in coverage.

Ambry Thomas spent all of his time on the outside today, and had his ups and downs, allowing a 50-yard touchdown to Malik Turner where the cornerback was not only a step behind, but mistimed his jump to make a play on the ball. Apart from that, Thomas mainly held his group for the duration of practice, although the 49ers did play softer coverage during scrimmages.

Safeties

Talanoa Hufanga and Jimmie Ward were the starters, once again, at safety, with the USC product being the first one out on the field to begin practice on Wednesday.

Here were the safety rotations:

1st Team
SS Talanoa Hufanga
FS Jimmie Ward

2nd Team
FS Tarvarius Moore/Dontae Johnson
SS George Odum

3rd Team
FS Tayler Hawkins
SS Leon O’Neal

Hufanga was somewhat of a vocal leader on Wednesday, mentoring O’Neal on several plays, while Ward continued with his confident demeanor on the field.

As for the backups, safety Dontae Johnson was seen in single-high looks while playing on the second-team, perhaps alluding to a coverage that the 49ers will implement more in 2022. Johnson has been receiving the majority of his snaps at safety this offseason.

Special Teams

Much wasn’t revealed about special teams on Wednesday, however; several 49ers were fielding kickoffs/punts, which gave some insight on who may potentially carry that role in the season.

There were four receivers returning kicks: Ray-Ray McCloud, Danny Gray, Marcus Johnson, and KeeSean Johnson.

McCloud was one of the most effective returners in 2021, as he returned 38 punts(1st in NFL) for 367 yards(1st in NFL), averaging 9.7 yards per return(3rd in NFL).

Additionally, McCloud was a good kick returner, as he returned 35 kicks(3rd in NFL) for 776 yards(4th in NFL), averaging 22.2 yards per return(15th in NFL).

However, McCloud did have somewhat of a fumbling issue during his career in Pittsburgh, coughing up 11 fumbles during his four seasons as a returner.

Emphasizing one of the two returning fields could help McCloud’s efficiency in 2021, and rookie Danny Gray may be the best option to handle the other returning role as of now.

The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

The San Francisco 49ers began training camp practices on Wednesday, marking the first time since June that players hit the field with their teammates for a 75-minute practice that involved individual drills, team drills, 7-on-7s, and some 11-on-11s as well.

As it was the first day of training camp, pads weren’t on. They’re likely to come on during Monday’s practice, however; the exact date is unknown currently.

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