49ers: What We've Learned Through Week 1 of Training Camp
The sound of pads crackling and the strong smell of grass means football is back! Well, most of us won't be in Santa Clara or even Baltimore during the 49ers training camp sessions, but you get my point.
The Hall of Fame game was just the start to what should be an eventful preseason. For the 49ers, they're just hoping players can show up to the regular season in one piece.
Injuries can really make or break a team’s season. We all saw how the absence of Michael Crabtree impacted this offense in 2013. The same situation can occur this season with NaVorro Bowman sidelined for at least six games.
You just never know with camp. Regardless, the start of training camp means we're that much closer to meaningful football.
Let's delve into some interesting storylines from the 49ers' first week of training camp.
'New Crabtree' Is Better Than 'Old Crabtree'
I've been one of Michael Crabtree's biggest critics over the years. While Crabtree always possessed great physical gifts, his production never really matched his huge talent.
However, the past two years have really changed my opinion. Not only has Crabtree become an excellent blocker, but his route-running ability is also amongst the best in the league.
Even after tearing his Achilles tendon in OTAs of last year, his return from injury that same season prompted applause from both the coaching staff and fans alike. Talk about toughness.
Well, it seems my admiration for Crabtree is only growing. According to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, offensive coordinator Greg Roman believes Crabtree has taken his game to another level.
“I think this training camp, as look at it, I'm saying that he's better than the old Michael Crabtree,” he said. “Why? His physical conditioning, his understanding of the game. I think he played the games last year under less-than-ideal circumstances and had to adjust his game a little bit to account for that.”
Crabtree was sensational in his return last season, and if Roman believes the best has yet to be seen, that's bad news for the rest of the NFC West.
Marcus Lattimore Has a Future with 49ers
If the injuries to Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James didn't do the trick, the support of Coach Harbaugh should help reassure Lattimore of his place on this team, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
"Marcus is going to be a part of this team, in some form or fashion,” Harbaugh said. “I know what he’s got inside of him and I know what he’s capable of doing on the football field. We all do."
Lattimore is still recovering from the devastating injury he suffered in college a few years back. If Lattimore can see the field at all this season, I say that's a win-win for everyone.
Even if Lattimore is healthy, this is still a crowded backfield. I can't see Lattimore leap-frogging either Carlos Hyde or a healthy James in the running back rotation.
Regardless, like any football fan, I'm rooting for Lattimore to realize his dream of playing in the NFL.
Rookies Will Make an Impact
Outside of stud safety Eric Reid, can you truly say rookies have a place on this 49ers team? Of course, a few have made an impact on special teams, but for the most part, rookies take a backseat with the 49ers.
That could change this season with guys like Carlos Hyde, Bruce Ellington and Jimmie Ward filling in for departed or injured veterans. Ward even has a chance to start as a slot cornerback this season before making the eventual shift to safety in a few years.
Hyde will likely serve as Frank Gore's backup, which should prep him to succeed No. 21 as soon as next season. Ellington won't get the same playing time as Ward or Hyde, but in certain packages, the 49ers could let the speedy rookie loose on opposing defenses. Not to mention Ellington's potential impact returning kicks and punts.
Again, the 49ers don't expect much from their rookies, but at least a few of them will get the opportunity to gain some valuable experience.
Future of Jim Harbaugh
It's quite ironic, isn't it?
Harbaugh has promised that Lattimore will have a future with this team, yet we don't know if Harbaugh himself will be with the team in the foreseeable future.
CEO Jed York was unsuccessful in his attempts to sign Harbaugh to a contract extension, prompting the 49ers to table contract talks until after the 2014 season. Here's York's take on the situation, via Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
We actually just had this conversation yesterday, York said. "Lots of people were talking to him about it. We just said, 'You know what, let's not do anything during the season. Let's sit down a week or so after the season is over and let everybody know we're not focused on anything that's off the field right now.
As a coach's salary doesn't count against the cap, I'm not sure why York is hesitant in giving Harbaugh the deal he desires. Outside of Bill Belichick, I'm not sure there's a better coach than "Captain Clutch."
While I doubt Harbaugh leaves before his contract ends, this is a situation worth monitoring at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
Aldon Smith Facing Suspension
Like many analysts and fans, I believed Aldon Smith would only serve, at worst, a two- or three-game suspension. I might have spoken too soon.
According to Adam Schefter, Smith could be facing a "significant suspension" after meeting with Roger Goodell on August 8. Now, defining "significant" in this case is difficult.
If Smith is able to return for the 2014 season, then the 49ers should be fine. However, the absence of Smith will be felt if Goodell decides to suspend Smith for the entire 2014 season.
I love Corey Lemonier and Dan Skuta as temporary replacements, but both lack the overall ability that Smith brings to the table. With Bowman already missing time, the 49ers defense can't afford to lose Smith in such a cutthroat division.
It's all up to Commissioner Goodell at this point.
Colin Kaepernick's Development
Can Colin Kaepernick develop into a top-flight pocket passer? We all know Kaepernick possesses the physical intangibles to be a dominant player, but many will be looking for the fourth-year quarterback to improve in other areas, like touch and accuracy.
As always, according to Taylor Price of the 49ers' official website, Kaepernick has the backing of coach Harbaugh.
Colin is farther ahead by an amount where I would say it like this,” via 49ers.com. “Blaine [Gabbert] is very smart and he knows the plays, he already has picked up many of the nuances. But Kap’s at a different level. Where Colin’s at a level of the highest level where he can auto correct
While I wouldn't use Harbaugh's exact words, I do believe Kaepernick is due for a big season. After struggling much of last season with a subpar cast of receivers, general manager Trent Baalke considerably upgraded the position in the offseason with additions like Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd and rookie Bruce Ellington.
Don't expect to see much of Kaepernick in the preseason. The 49ers have avoided using Kaepernick much in the preseason, and rightfully so.
With all of the injuries at this time of the year, can you blame them?
No, we'll have to wait until the start of the regular season to see Kaepernick's development from the pocket. Against a suspect Dallas Cowboys defense, we might see Kaepernick replicate last season's prolific opening-game performance. As we all know, Kaepernick torched the Green Bay Packers defense for over 400 yards passing.
Entering his second full season as the starter, many expect big things from No. 7.