SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In the technical sense of the term, the San Francisco 49ers wrapped up the "training camp" portion of the preseason Thursday. After that final practice with the Denver Broncos, coach Kyle Shanahan explained what that means.
“It’s weird," Shanahan said. "Especially when you don’t go away. Every day is kind of the same day. I got reminded right at the end that tonight guys aren’t staying in the hotel and things like that. We’re going to be in [at] the same time [Friday], at the same place. ... You don’t think about it much, but yeah, training camp is over. What that means is we aren’t all staying in dorms together and we’re not having night walk-throughs.”
Just because the Niners will no longer be spending their nights at the Santa Clara Marriott doesn't mean there isn't a lot left to accomplish between now and the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Carolina Panthers. With three preseason games and a roster cut-down from 90 players to 53 left, Shanahan, general manager John Lynch and their respective staffs still have plenty of difficult decisions to make.
“There’s a lot of good competition on our team," Shanahan said. "Not just for starter positions, but backup positions. I can tell you, it’s going to be real tough to cut it down to 53. We’re going to need all this game and practices to evaluate that.”
After 15 training camp practices and one preseason game, new schemes were installed, some Niners shined, some struggled and some were injured.
Here's a run through of the highs and lows of the Niners' first edition of Camp Shanahan:
Camp MVP: WR Marquise Goodwin. From the first practice to the last, Goodwin was the Niners' most consistent playmaker, regularly providing offensive fireworks during team drills. It wasn't just his speed and ability to get deep that had all eyes on him during this camp. Goodwin proved a better short and intermediate route-runner than his reputation would suggest, and he also had a knack for adjusting to the deep ball in the air. That the 26-year-old was able to continue producing against Denver's loaded cornerback group validated the work he did against the Niners' shakier secondary. If he can stay healthy -- no sure thing given his history -- Goodwin could be the bargain of Lynch's first free-agent class. Apologies to quarterback Brian Hoyer, who also merits mention here for his command of the offense and strong performance nearly every day.
Mr. Consistency: FB Kyle Juszczyk. After the Niners' Thursday practice, I went back through my notes from each of the 15 sessions to see if I'd jotted down a mistake Juszczyk might have made during any of those workouts. I found none. No drops, no whiffs on blocks, no obvious missed assignments, no fumbles. Nothing. That doesn't mean Juszczyk was perfect; I'm sure the coaching staff probably had plenty of critiques for the 26-year-old through the course of camp. The point is, none of them was glaring to an outside observer. Suffice to say that Shanahan wasn't just blowing smoke about having big plans for Juszczyk in his offense. He'll be involved in the offense in multiple ways.
Safety first: In the opening week of camp, the Niners lost safeties Jimmie Ward (hamstring), Eric Reid (ankle) and Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) to varying degrees of injury. Reid returned quickly, while Tartt recently came back and Ward is still recovering. Those injuries opened an opportunity for undrafted free agents such as Lorenzo Jerome and Chanceller James, both of whom had some impressive practices along the way. The good news is the Niners look to have found something in a young safety such as Jerome (James landed on injured reserve with knee trouble); the bad news is Ward missed out on key reps as he transitions from corner to free safety. Reid looks comfortable, but the Niners need Ward back soon to get him up to speed before the season starts.
Secondary the first priority: Getting Ward back is particularly important because the Niners have other pressing concerns in the secondary, namely at cornerback. Rashard Robinson is the de facto No. 1 corner, and though his upside is high, the second-year pro still had some growing pains and will continue to have them as the season goes on. On the other side, the expected competition between Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser never materialized as Reaser suffered an injury early in camp. Johnson dealt with a concussion in recent days but had already staked himself to a big enough lead that it looks as though he will nail down that job. K'Waun Williams looks to be a potential nice find as the slot corner, but there isn't much depth behind him, either. It wouldn't be a surprise if the 49ers keep their eyes open for help as cut-down day arrives.
What's my line? Two of the possible battles on the offensive line seem to have been settled, with Trent Brown at right tackle and Daniel Kilgore locked in at center. Joe Staley looks as solid as ever at left tackle. But the Niners have some questions to answer at guard, where they are currently leaning on veterans Zane Beadles and Brandon Fusco. Joshua Garnett is also in that mix and was with the starters on the left side before suffering a knee injury. He should be back early in the season, but it remains to be seen if he'll reclaim his job. Beyond that group, the Niners have mixed and matched a variety of options and still seem to be searching for depth. As with the secondary, this is an area that could continue to be addressed as cuts are made, and even into the season.
Getting physical: Shanahan wanted to set a tone and create competition in this camp and he undoubtedly succeeded. The Niners spent a lot of time in full pads and somehow made it through without any real infighting. They also mostly avoided serious, long-term injuries to key players, though the loss of linebacker Malcolm Smith to a torn pectoral was a big blow. Otherwise, among players expected to contribute, only Ward and Garnett have or have had ailments keeping them out for extended periods.