Minicamp Day 1: 49ers' new-look offense?

Minicamp Day 1: 49ers' new-look offense?
June 18, 2014, 7:00 am
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For the first time in a long time, the 49ers appear capable of putting four wide receivers on the field at the same time.
Matt Maiocco

SANTA CLARA -- It’s difficult to say what form it ends up taking, but the 49ers’ offense will be different than the past.

The actual offensive system will be the same, of course. But some of the personnel will be different, and that should impact the play-calling of offensive coordinator Greg Roman.

“It’s fair to make the statement it’s a different offense,” Roman said Tuesday on the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp. “We’ve got some new guys in.”

The new guys he mentioned are wide receivers Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson. With Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree firmly set as the team’s starting wideouts, the 49ers appear to have better depth than at any point since the beginning of the Jim Harbaugh era. Quinton Patton, who ended his rookie season as the No. 3, finds competition from a rookie, fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington.

Only for the final five regular-season games last season when Boldin and Crabtree were on the field together did the 49ers have two productive wide receivers. And they’ve never gotten much contribution from a No. 3.

For the first time in a long time, the 49ers appear capable of putting four wide receivers on the field at the same time.

And depending on how committed tight end Vernon Davis is to his contract holdout, the 49ers’ depth at wide receiver comes at a great time.

Here’s a recap of Day 1 from the 49ers’ minicamp:

--Vernon Davis and guard Alex Boone skipped the first day of the mandatory minicamp, prompting a rebuke from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh: “(It’s) not the decision I envisioned being the 49er way.” Those are the strongest words Harbaugh has said since coming to the 49ers directed at his players.

[RELATED: Harbaugh: Absences 'not the 49er way']

--Crabtree and Johnson went through individual drills, then sat out the team periods. Boldin looked as strong and sure-handed as ever. The other player who stood out was Ellington, who appears to have the short-area quickness to be an effective slot receiver.

--Tight end Vance McDonald moves up to the No. 1 slot with Davis’ absence. Here’s what Roman had to say about his contribution last season: “(He) was instrumental in our rushing attack. Didn’t have a lot of opportunities in the passing game. That will probably pick up more.”

He should get more opportunities to catch the ball, considering he caught just nine passes in 19 games, including the postseason. He had a couple of opportunities in 7-on-7 drills, but dropped darts from Josh Johnson and Colin Kaepernick.

--Reserve tight end Derek Carrier, who spent eight games on the active roster a year ago, has put together an impressive offseason. However, he went down early in practice with what’s believed to be a mild hamstring strain. He did not return to practice.

--These players did not take part in practice: running back Frank Gore, tackle Anthony Davis (shoulder), linebackers NaVorro Bowman (knee) and Aaron Lynch (hamstring), defensive linemen Ian Williams (leg) and Justin Smith, fullback Trey Millard (knee), cornerback Keith Reaser (knee), safeties Jimmie Ward (foot) and C.J. Spillman (hand). Cornerback Chris Culliver (knee) took part in individual work, but sat out team drills.

Bowman and Gore watched the 2-hour, 20-minute practice from the sideline. Bowman declined comment in the locker room. He will be placed on the physically-unable-to-perform list upon reporting to training camp on July 23. He is expected to open the regular season on PUP, too, which would make him ineligible for the first six weeks of the season.

--With Bowman out of action, the 49ers have moved Patrick Willis to Bowman's "mike" position. That way, Michael Wilhoite can remain in the "jack" position he played when he filled in for Willis last season.

--With Boone, the starting right guard, taking a stand on his contract, third-year player Joe Looney is getting the first-team practice time.

“Joe Looney has done a great job -- shown himself well,” Roman said. “Next man up. That’s how it goes.

“He played in the Rams game and graded out extremely high against a really good defensive front. So he just needs to keep stacking great days on top of each other and keep getting better.”

--Jonathan Martin has also getting tutored at right guard, but he spent all of his practice time at right tackle with Anthony Davis out of action. Harbaugh said he hopes Davis will be available at the start of training camp after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

[REWIND: Anthony Davis undergoes shoulder surgery]

--Safety D.J. Campbell, a third-year player from Cal, intercepted a Kory Faulkner pass in 7-on-7. Safety James McCray, an undrafted rookie from Catawba, had a very good day with three passes defensed.

--Outside linebacker Aldon Smith made one of the better plays when he dropped into coverage and jumped high to break up a pass intended for wide receiver Devon Wylie along the left sideline.

--LaMichael James and Perrish Cox were the only two players back deep fielding punts. Ellington and Quinton Patton got work on the outside as gunners, which could be key to their bids to suit up among the 46 active players in the regular season.

--Running back Marcus Lattimore continues to show very good hands as a receiver out of the backfield.

--Veteran Eric Wright’s decision Tuesday to retire likely saved him from ultimately getting released as the 49ers must trim their roster from 90 players to 53 to open the season. With Chris Cook’s emergence and the coaches’ preference for Cox, Wright was looking like a long shot to win a job behind presumptive starters Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver.

[NEWS: 49ers CB Wright retires]

--Practice concluded with four possessions in which the offense took over at their own 30. The defense stopped the offense each time.

Aldon Smith broke through to “sack” Colin Kaepernick for a 7-yard loss, and Ahmad Brooks and Tony Jerod-Eddie batted down passes at the line of scrimmage to halt the first drive.

With Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, the offense went three-and-out with only a short completion to tight end Asante Cleveland. Two passes to LaMichael James got nothing as cornerback Dontate Johnson and safety Bubba Ventrone had those two plays sniffed out.

Kaepernick completed passes to Kassim Osgood (20 yards) and Ellington (14), but fullback Bruce Miller was ruled stopped short on a fourth-and-1 run. (Not quite sure how that was determined, since these are non-contract drills).

And, finally, Josh Johnson completed a 25-yarder to undrafted rookie tight end Kevin Greene before the final drive stalled. While Ward is out of action, the 49ers are giving a lot of work to second-year cornerback Darryl Morris in the slot. Morris broke up a pass intended for Osgood.

--Kaepernick continued to spend his down time during special teams drills working on timing passes in the red zone. He sailed a couple passes down the field during team work drills.

--Gabbert looked sharp. Due to his guaranteed $2 million salary, it would be a major surprise if he’s not the No. 2 quarterback. Predictably, Harbaugh said he’ll have to earn it: “We’re competing for that spot.”