The 49ers had their fifth organized team activities practice on Wednesday and their second practice with the media on hand. Here are the observations from the approximately 90-minute session.
Not in town: DE Nick Bosa, DE Dee Ford, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, C Alex Mack, WR Deebo Samuel, LT Trent Williams
Does not practice: OL Daniel Brunskill, RB Tyrion Davis-Price, LB Jeremiah Gemmel, WR Danny Gray, DE Drake Jackson, TE George Kittle, RT Mike McGlinchey, RB Elijah Mitchell, S Tarvarius Moore, CB Jason Verrett, LB Fred Warner, TE Charlie Woerner
Equipment: Last week, the only streak of 11 against 11 took place without a helmet and without contact. Wednesday’s session was livelier but, per league rules during OTAs, went without a tackle and without full pads.
Sophomores take a leap
A pair of sophomores, safety Talanoa Hufanga and guard Aaron Banks, appear to be heading for a starting role in Week 1.
Hufanga started three games as a rookie and was one of the heroes in the team’s snowy playoff victory in Green Bay when he collected in a blocked punt and carried the ball into the end zone, the 49ers’ only touchdown in the 13-10 win.
Going into the spring, one of the depth chart questions was who would safely take over the starting role of Jaquiski Tartt with Hufanga, Moore and newcomer George Odum among the contenders.
Hufanga took all the shots with the first-team unit in the two open OTA sessions while Odum worked with the second-team group safely. Moore lined up at the free safety with the second strings last week and was one of several absentees on Wednesday.
Hufanga spent a second consecutive off-season training with Pro Football Hall of Fame goalkeeper Troy Polamalu. Those sessions, along with a better understanding of the 49ers defense this season, make him look a bit quicker than he did a year ago.
“This offseason has opened my eyes just to see Huf, the way he communicates there,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “It’s a lot better – stronger, (he’s) a better communicator. And you see him moving faster because I think things are starting to slow down for him.
Banks, meanwhile, said his body fat percentage was lower and his stamina was higher after improving his diet and spending the offseason with the 49ers’ fitness staff.
“I think I’m faster. I think I’m more athletic than I was last year,” he said.
A look at Aaron Banks in today’s 49ers practice – he’s still close to 330 but has reworked a lot of fat into muscle. Banks says he has greater stamina and moves better to start his second year in the NFL pic.twitter.com/J9ykICAV3S
— David Lombardi (@Lombardilimself) June 1, 2022
Banks infamously played just five snaps on offense last season, the fewest of any 2021 second-round pick except Buccaneers No. 3 quarterback Kyle Trask. This year, Banks is in the front row to reclaim Laken Tomlinson’s former starting spot at left guard.
Banks was injured in last year’s preseason and said things didn’t stabilize for him until around Week 8 or 9. By then, according to 49ers coaches, Brunskill was entrenched at right guard and they didn’t want to disrupt the chemistry along the offensive line.
• Trey Lance has been 6 of 10 in 11-on-11 practice, with most of his accomplishments coming from short to medium passes, including to new receiver Ray-Ray McCloud. His best shot was a 22-yard cross over Ross Dwelley, who worked with the first-team squad, Kittle and Woerner out of practice. Hufanga seemed to have a pearl on the ball, but he was close to a deflection.
• While Mitchell practiced on the side court, Jeff Wilson Jr. and Trey Sermon took most of the shots from running backs with the first-team attack. Wilson’s name recently made headlines because he was the subject of a fantasy football controversy – which led to a slap on the field – between San Francisco Giants outfielder Joc Pederson and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham.
“I guess I was just honored to be in the conversation,” Wilson said smiling when asked about the flap. “Thanks to Joc for having me on the team, you know? And taking one for the team.
• Veteran Dontae Johnson, who played outside and nickel cornerback for the 49ers in previous seasons, is lining up as a free safety this spring. Johnson, in fact, had an interception on seven-on-seven practice when he stepped past tight end Tanner Hudson and grabbed Nate Sudfeld’s 15-yard pass.
• None of the 49ers’ first three draft picks – Jackson, Davis-Price and Gray – have practiced, but all were seen walking around the facility and none appear to be seriously injured. (The team doesn’t provide injury updates in the offseason.) The 49ers are likely being extra cautious with their players. Almost a year ago, tackle Justin Skule (ACL) and Moore (Achilles) were lost for the season in the span of a few plays.
• With Mack out and seemingly on the verge of retirement, the 49ers’ top three centers have been Jake Brendel, Keaton Sutherland and undrafted rookie Dohnovan West, who have five NFL starts. One of Brendel’s trades with Lance on Wednesday ended in a pinfall, which angers coach Kyle Shanahan. Rather than let the group take the snap, Shanahan sent the second team group out.
• One of the 49ers’ new coaches, Nick Sorensen, has the ambiguous title of defensive assistant. Turns out he’s mostly helped the linebacking squad this spring. Johnny Holland, the position coach there, retired last season while being treated for multiple myeloma. Holland is back as a full-time coach, although he said last week he was still undergoing treatment.
Ryans noted that Sorensen, who played 10 years in the league, can help in several places. He’s played linebacker and safety, coached defensive backs — including nickel cornerbacks — and last season served as the Jaguars’ special teams coordinator.
“Nick is a guy I’m very happy to have,” Ryans said. “Because when you have a guy who’s played, who’s done it in this league, there’s instant credibility when he walks in the room and talks to those guys. And he also coached the ball a lot.
• Thursday is the first day the 49ers can release Ford — something they’ve signaled they plan to do — and spread his salary cap over this season and next. Additionally, if Mack retires – which is also expected – his cap could also be spread over two seasons. The net savings for both players on the 2022 cap would be around $6.6 million, and the 49ers would also open up two roster spots.
(Photo: Tony Avelar/Associated Press)