San Francisco 49ers: Observations from early work at OTAs

Mar 1, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan speaks to the media during the 2017 NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan speaks to the media during the 2017 NFL Combine at the Indiana Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers entered their first day of OTAs with plenty of roster questions, but what have we learned thus far?

The San Francisco 49ers entered this offseason with plenty of question marks. And regardless of how well they did in free agency or the draft, many questions still remain. While there is no doubt that team general manager John Lynch added talent and depth to a depleted roster, fans continue to ponder how the individual pieces will fit together.

NFL Spin Zone’s own Nicholas McGee recently wrote on all of the unanswered questions surrounding the team. During free agency, Lynch went out and brought in players that fit what coach Shanahan needs for his offense. Still, many of the offensive players on the 49ers roster are unknown commodities to coach Shanahan.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are transitioning to a completely different defensive alignment. Some players are a perfect scheme fit such as former Colorado defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon, a long-bodied cornerback, will fit right into defensive coordinator’s Cover 3 scheme.

However, how will players like former Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas fit in when the 49ers already have two players playing the same position? How about rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard; will he be the backup or end up on the practice squad?

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Many of the questions can’t be answered until after training camp ends. Some questions, thankfully, have already started to get answered through the first day of organized team activities or OTAs.

So without further ado, here are the most pertinent observations from Day 1 of OTAs (notes provided by

Day 1 Observations:

– Reuben Foster: Considered the 49ers draft day steal, Foster has not been able to participate with the rest of the team due to recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Still, all signs point to Foster being on track to participate in the team’s offseason training camp. Nonetheless, Foster still ran through OTA drills and walkthroughs, but avoided any drills or activities in which physical contact could be involved.

– Arik Armstead: Armstead enters his third year as an NFL pro and has plenty hinging on his shoulders this season (pun intended). While he is still recovering from last season’s shoulder surgery, Armstead is participating with all team drills. However, he is not practicing at his normal position on the defensive line. He is now practicing at the left defensive end spot or the “LEO” spot.

The LEO position is the premier edge rushing position in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense. Who knows if Armstead actually remains at the LEO spot considering his athletic profile does not fit this position.

– The safety positions: To no one’s surprise, Eric Reid and Jimmy Ward anchored the strong safety and free safety positions, respectively.

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– The Corners: Remarkably, the starting corners were Rashard Robinson, Keith Reaser and K’Waun Williams. Robinson has been pencilled in as the starter since the end of the 2016 season, so that is no revelation. However, many expected rookie defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon or veteran Dontae Johnson to get the starter’s share of reps at the outside corner spot. Seeing Reaser as the starting corner certainly has caused vexation from a fan perspective.

– Joshua Garnett: Second-year player Joshua Garnett practiced at both guard spots during Day 1 of OTAs. During the press conference, coach Shanahan stated the team was trying to find the best spot for Garnett.

– Stand-out players: Brian Hoyer, the expected starting quarterback, completed all of his passes during his first 7-on-7 drill. Rookie wide receiver Trent Taylor showed off his ability to play from the slot by routinely getting open. Lorenzo Jerome, an undrafted free agent, intercepted a tipped pass. On defense, nose tackle Earl Mitchell and defensive end Arik Armstead both notched “would-be” sacks.

Notes from head coach Kyle Shanahan’s press conference:

(Notes were taken from the press transcript provided courtesy of Niners Nation).

– NaVorro Bowman does not seem to have any setbacks from his Achilles injury suffered last season. Shanahan addressed the trade rumors regarding Bowman, stating that there was no truth to the rumors.

– Shanahan also openly detailed that this week both the offense and defense would run the core plays that will make up the foundation of the team’s offensive and defensive schemes. Everything moving forward will begin and end from this week’s core set of plays.

– When asked who would be the team’s backup quarterback, Shanahan clarified that he doesn’t have any quarterback pencilled in as the team’s starter or backup. He stated that it is an open competition and that the best player will start.

– Shanahan stated that Aaron Lynch is on his way to meeting the conditioning goals set by the staff. He confirmed that Lynch came in a bit heavy.

Next: San Francisco 49ers Film Zone: Joe Williams breakdown

– As a new head coach, Shanahan remarked on how he is still trying to settle into the role. He mentioned that as he walked around the field as an offensive coordinator he always knew what to observe. Now, as he passes some of those responsibilities on he finds it a bit strange.