49ers hope Raiders scrimmages bring position battles into focus

After 11 training camp practices, familiarity hasn’t bred contempt among the 49ers.

They’re all in it together, secure in the belief that coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have assembled one of the top rosters in the NFL.

But it sure will be nice to break up the monotony with a couple of practice sessions Thursday and Friday in Las Vegas against the Raiders before the two teams square off Sunday in an exhibition game at Allegiant Stadium.

How good are the 49ers right now? They sure didn’t look like much passing the ball Tuesday before boarding a plane for Las Vegas. Then again, it’s early August, and training camp is mostly designed to keep players healthy leading up to Week 1 while reinforcing systems of football to veterans and teaching them to newcomers and rookies.

When the NFL Network completed its list of the top 100 players in the sport as voted on by players, the 49ers ended up with eight — the most of any team. One of them, defensive end Nick Bosa (No. 4), won’t be there as he awaits a contract extension.

(In case you were wondering, Philadelphia and Dallas tied for second with seven players each).

The rest — tackle Trent Williams (No. 14), linebacker Fred Warner (No. 15), tight end George Kittle (No. 15), running back Christian McCaffrey (No. 35), wide receiver Deebo Samuel (No. 61), safety Talanoa Hufanga (No. 78) and linebacker Dre Greenlaw (No. 79) — are carved-in-stone starters, health permitting. They have nothing to prove and the priority is getting them to Sept. 10 for the regular season opener in Pittsburgh.

Yet they’ll play to varying degrees against the Raiders in practice, with the coaching staff and general manager John Lynch holding their collective breath. Tempers will flare, but Shanahan wants everything kept under control.

“You want to make sure both teams treat other with respect,” Shanahan said. “I think us and the teams we’ve gone against have been pretty good about that. And I expect (Raiders coach) Josh McDaniels and his crew to be the same.”

Some things to look out for during the practice sessions:

Trey Lance vs. Sam Darnold

Shanahan has given no indication as to his plans for backing up Brock Purdy. It’s Purdy’s job no matter how he looks against the Raiders.

If it doesn’t go well, watching the panic attacks outside the building will be amusing. Keep in mind the obvious — Purdy missed an entire offseason and he won’t be practicing with a game plan designed to maximize his strengths against a specific opponent.

As for Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, they’ve both had their moments of good and bad. Lance is throwing the ball better. Darnold didn’t have his first interception until Tuesday when Ji’Ayr Brown stole one.

While there’s some outside sentiment to part with Lance, he has improved enough to merit a long look.

San Francisco 49er safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (31) practices Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Safety Tashaun Gipson has three training camp interceptions — three more than any of the 49ers’ cornerbacks. Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Cornering Jimmy G

Speaking of shaky practice sessions, Jimmy Garoppolo has had a few for the Raiders. But he once threw interceptions on five straight passes during a camp practice for the 49ers, so it’s not as if it will define how he does in silver and black.

The 49ers have seven camp interceptions during team 11-on-11 sessions — three from free safety Tashaun Gipson and one each from linebackers Greenlaw, Demetrius Flanigan-Fowles and rookie Dee Winters, as well as Brown’s interception Tuesday.

Not a single interception by a cornerback.

Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir have nailed down starting jobs at corner with Isaiah Oliver at slot corner, but the entire position group has been blanked. There has been some solid play in particular from Ambry Thomas, who was an after-thought a year ago as a 2021 third-round draft pick.

The running back conundrum

The 49ers would love to see Elijah Mitchell (adductor strain) have some good fortune in terms of health but he’s missed more than half the games he’s played and won’t face the Raiders. As much as they’d love to get the ball to McCaffrey on every play, the 49ers will need another back or two to share the load.

Ty Davis-Price has gotten rave reviews from teammates and coaches and can make his move against the Raiders, hoping to separate himself from Jordan Mason. There’s also Khalan Laborn, a potential practice squad player unless injuries necessitate a move up.

Jeremy McNichols was added to the roster and promptly got a handful of carries. He could end up getting a lot of work against the Raiders in the preseason game.

That’s the way it usually works in the preseason — the running backs with the stats are the ones who don’t make the team. They’re getting the rented-mule treatment to keep the other runners as healthy as possible.

Who gets the edge besides Bosa?

With Arik Armstead and Javon Hargrave anchoring the middle and Bosa expected to be aboard at some point before Sept. 10, the 49ers will be looking for someone coming off the opposite edge to get after the quarterback.

Austin Bryant, who played for Detroit last year, recovered from a hamstring strain to get back in action and was dominant Monday. Clelin Ferrell has had some good days and second-year player Drake Jackson remade his body in hopes of avoiding the fade that left him inactive at the end of his rookie year.

Taco Charlton, a former first-round pick, also had a very good first day for the 49ers a week ago and will get a long look.

San Francisco 49er tight end Brayden Willis (9) practices, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Tight end Brayden Willis has flashed some skills as a receiver during the first 11 practices of training camp. Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group

Kittle’s kids?

Kittle played in 15 games a year ago and had his first healthy offseason in a while, but he plays the game with abandon and is 29 years old. So the 49ers drafted two tight ends — Cameron Latu out of Alabama in the third round and Brayden Willis of Louisville in the seventh.

Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2023/08/10/five-position-battles-to-watch-in-49ers-scrimmages-vs-raiders/

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