Observations from 49ers training camp


Observations from 49ers training camp

SANTA CLARA -- You'll have a chance to see them in action for the first time in nearly eight months Friday night against the Minnesota Vikings, but I've been present for the 49ers' past three days of training camp at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

After a bit of needling from Insider Matt Maiocco, here are a number of observations that caught my eye:

- Offseason additions created a talented and crowded backfield for the 49ers. While Frank Gore's training camp touches were limited, Kendall Hunter looked to be the fastest to the outside. The second-year pro showed tremendous burst and ability to turn upfield quickly this camp.

- Demarcus Dobbs is being tried as a two-way player, and his big body belies his soft hands. He has looked good as a pass catcher this training camp. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn't concerned he'll lose him to the offense, though, and he says Dobbs factors into the team's future defensive plans. Dobbs wore No. 96 last year, but he's been wearing No. 40 this camp, a number that won't require him to check in with referees as an eligible receiver on offense.

- If I were out there throwing passes this training camp, I would be targeting undrafted rookie receiver Brian Tyms. He has really impressed me with his size, speed and ability to go get the ball. Tyms is listed at six-foot-three and 210 pounds. The 49ers already have six top receivers they're likely to carry into the regular season -- Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins -- but see if they don't try to stash Tyms on the practice squad. Nathan Palmer is another undrafted rookie the team is excited about, but Palmer was relatively quiet for the few days I witnessed.

- Keeping up with Insider Matt Maiocco's Camp Summaries, I expected one of the NFL's top defenses to continue having their way with Greg Roman's offensive units. But I was impressed to see Tuesday and Wednesday that the offense was holding their own, and in some practice periods -- especially with the clock in play -- pushing the defense on their heels with a series of positive gains. With the stakes raised, they forced post-practice sprints from the defense on Tuesday. It will be fun to watch this offense have a chance to play against a defense that isn't familiar with the gameplan. Holes should be a little bigger against a defensive unit that can't expect what's coming next.

- Scott Tolzien looked good. Granted, he's often up against the the last-string defense, but his decision making and ball delivery have stood out, so much so that he could challenge Josh Johnson for the third-string QB role. Their preseason play will go a long way in determining the depth chart, but at this point, I'm putting Tolzien three.

- Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman showed last season that they like to break out a bit of trickery from time to time. I saw my first two progressive plays Wednesday when they went to Kyle Williams on the end around, and deployed a flea flicker with Tolzien going deep (unsuccessfully) for A.J. Jenkins. After bolstering their arsenal with new weapons, I am looking forward to seeing how Roman and the 49ers push football's play-calling limits and get their playmakers the ball in space.

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Jay Gruden anticipates Kirk Cousins returning to Washington

Quarterback Kirk Cousins is, perhaps, the top NFL player scheduled for unrestricted free agency in March.

But if Washington is unable to sign Cousins to a long-term contract before the start of the free-agent signing period, the club appears likely to place the franchise tag on him for the second year in a row.

Washington coach Jay Gruden appeared to confirm that suspicion on Tuesday while speaking to reporters at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

"We totally anticipate Kirk coming back to (Washington)," Gruden said via CSN Mid-Atlantic. "We're excited about parlaying two very good years as the starting quarterback with a third year and continue to watch him grow."

But does Gruden anticipate another team willing the pay the price it would take to acquire Cousins?

If Washington places the franchise tag on Cousins at approximately $24 million for one season, another team could sign him to an long-term offer sheet and pay the price of two first-round draft picks as compensation.

The 49ers – and presumptive head coach Kyle Shanahan -- are expected to be interested in acquiring Cousins. If the cost of two first-round draft picks is considered exorbitant, the 49ers could attempt to negotiate another deal with Washington.

Washington can end any possibility that the 49ers or any other team could acquire Cousins this offseason if they tag him as an exclusive franchise player at a cost expected to be slightly higher than $24 million.

Cousins, who turns 29 in August, started every game the past two seasons for Washington. In 2015, he completed 69.8 percent of his pass attempts while throwing 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 101.6. Last season, he finished third in the NFL behind Drew Brees and Matt Ryan with 4,917 yards. He averaged 8.1 yards per attempt and had a rating of 97.2.

Falcons C Mack explains what makes Shanahan's offense so effective

Falcons C Mack explains what makes Shanahan's offense so effective

The Atlanta Falcons had the highest scoring offense during the 2016 regular season, averaging 33.8 points per game, and they racked up 6,653 total yards.

In two playoff games, they've scored a combined 80 points.

The architect of that high-powered offense is Kyle Shanahan, who is the presumptive head coach of the 49ers.

So what makes Shanahan's scheme so effective?

Falcons starting center and former Cal Bears star Alex Mack answered that on ESPN's Mike and Mike show on Tuesday.

"He does a really good job of just having a very balanced offense. We want to run outside schemes. we want to run outside zone, we want to be really effective at doing that. And when a team stops you from doing that, when they put people over there, or they slant out or whatever they do to stop that, he has the backup plan," Mack said.

"He knows exactly when they bring that safety down to make it really tough to run outside zone, well that's going to open up some throws later down the field. And then when they put someone out there on the throws, well, there's a bigger cutback lane, so he calls a different run for that. So our offense is really built around being balanced and having an answer for what the defense wants to do to stop us," Mack continued.

Mack, Shanahan and the Falcons are set to put their No. 1 scoring offense to the test against the Patriots' No. 1 scoring defense in Super Bowl 51 in Houston on Feb. 5, 2017.