Three takeaways from Week 1 of 49ers OTAs
May 24, 2023, 8:30 AM | Updated: 9:04 am
Just like that, the first two days of OTAs for the San Francisco 49ers are over.
The 49ers began their organized team activities Monday, with the first media availability on Tuesday. While it was only an hour-and-a-half-long practice, a lot was seen in that timeframe. From Trey Lance and the quarterbacks to new coaches getting excited for their players, this is the start of the 2023 season for San Francisco. And with almost all players in attendance Week 1, the Red & Gold are eyeing droves of success heading into the New Year.
With that being said, here are a few takeaways from Week 1 of OTAs at the 49ers’ HQ.
Lance is QB1 until Further Notice
After an initial offseason of trade rumors and speculation, former starting quarterback Trey Lance has put himself in a prime position to win the QB1 spot with Brock Purdy still sidelined. And, if all goes well, he has a chance to reclaim the top spot by Week 1 of the regular season. Here’s how he can do it.
Suffering a season-ending ankle fracture in Week 2 last year, Lance was afforded the opportunity to work on his throwing mechanics during the offseason. And boy did he do so. Working alongside league MVP Patrick Mahomes and his throwing coach Jeff Christensen, Lance rewrote his whole throwing stance, adopting a wider base that is lower to the ground. This allows him to be able to throw with more accuracy and power, not relying on his arm to do the heavy lifting.
Then, the release.
Lance’s delivery has drastically improved over the spring, throwing a more compact football that stays close to his head upon release. His previous throwing motion had much more a windup, increasing his release time to allow edge rushers to jar the ball loose. His back foot is also in line with his arm, planting the foot to drive the ball forward.
Take a look for yourself:
Trey Lance fixed his mechanics 👀 pic.twitter.com/B6qMSw4Twq
— Grant Cohn (@grantcohn) May 23, 2023
A comparative look at Trey Lance’s throwing motion in 2021 vs 2023 OTAs. Slowed down the same amount.
— Steph Sanchez (@Steph49K) May 23, 2023
While they might seem like minor tweaks now, they’ll help him develop significantly in the long run.
His second day of OTAs went well, throwing 12 for 17 on pass attempts in scrimmage settings. Lance looked more confident in the pocket, not forcing the ball but taking what the defense gave him. While most passes were for short yardage, his decision-making, coupled with his throwing prowess, was on display.
Lance also passed the leadership test as well.
While not officially designated, the North Dakota State alum took the majority of the first-team snaps Tuesday. He also showed command and poise on the practice field, high-fiving receivers in between drills. Lance has made it a point of emphasis to connect with the offensive stars, signaling George Kittle over for pass-catching reps.
Regardless of how the depth chart unfolds, the 23-year-old’s maturity in this situation is eye-opening, wanting another chance to prove the talent that made him the third overall pick two years ago.
“My opportunity is just to come in and compete and that’s all I wanted,” Lance said to the media Tuesday. I don’t want to take anything away from Brock [Purdy] and no one should be able to take anything away from Brock. He did what he did last year and he deserves all the credit in the world for it. I just want an opportunity to compete.”
While some would expect him to rift with the budding star, Lance explained how he just wanted to be a “friend” in the room for the rookie last season.
Whether you buy it or not, he has a real shot at winning the starting job for 2023. And that’s all he really wants.
Isaiah Oliver is your Starting Nickel
Remember when defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said this about cornerback Isaiah Oliver last month:
“We wanted to make sure we went out and got the best nickel in free agency, and that’s what we went out and did.”
Well, he wasn’t lying.
The 26-year-old cover man had a stellar day in Santa Clara, showing up across the board on defense. Having made several big plays Tuesday, his best was a PBU on a deep out route from Lance to wideout Chris Conley. A ball placed well, Oliver used his long frame to block the pass from reaching the WR’s hands. The play not only fired up his teammates but also coach Wilks, running around the field like a chicken without a head.
The #49ers just held their first open practice of organized team activities. The most impressive player during 7 on 7 was nckelback Isaiah Oliver with several PBUs.
— Matt Maiocco (@MaioccoNBCS) May 23, 2023
It’s early in OTAs and a lot can happen, but Oliver’s emergence could prove vital for the 49ers. San Francisco is thin at the position, with Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir the starters on defense. Oliver immediately becomes the team’s third-best option, able to slot into the nickel-back role while helping other young corners (Samuel Womack III) get better on the field.
Singing with the Red & Gold for two years, $6.75 million, the Colorado alum could be the steal of free agency for a perennial playoff contender.
Rookies Impress in Week 1
Willis, Luter, Bell
The 49ers’ 2023 draft plans were to find players that could contribute right away. They may have done that with their nine draft selections this year.
The standout rookie of the day was tight end Brayden Willis, the team’s second-to-last pick in the seventh round. Despite dropping substantially, the Oklahoma product possessed a fifth-round grade heading into April. Unfortunately for him, 2023 was a very deep class for the position.
But one player’s loss is another team’s gain.
Willis is a big-bodied pass catcher that doubles as a solid blocker at the point of attack. His best play of the day came with QB Sam Darnold on the helm. Running a crossing route, the TE snagged a ball one-handed while falling to the ground.
The 49ers also drafted TE Cameron Latu in the third round. But after only two days, it looks like Willis is ahead of his on the pecking order.
Top plays from the first 49ers' open OTA session of 2023:
-Brayden Willis diving, one-handed catch on a crosser from Darnold
-Isaiah Oliver rangy PBU on a deep out attempt from Lance to Chris Conley
-Darnold nice deep pass to Danny Gray, but Darrell Luter Jr. excellent PBU
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) May 23, 2023
Another rookie standout was cornerback Darnell Luter Jr.
The Southern Alabama alum showed off his ball-tracking skills when he came up with a huge PBU on WR Danny Gray. Running one of the few deep routes Tuesday, Darnold launched the ball down the right sideline before Luter got in Gray’s grill to break up the catch.
A fifth-round pick, Luter is another physical cover-man that Steve Wilks covets on defense. Should he make the roster, expect him to be played in a variety of roles next season.
And finally, WR Ronnie Bell had a great day of OTAs.
While official stats aren’t counted, Bell came down with numerous balls Tuesday. It didn’t matter who was under center, if the ball was going his way, he was making the catch.
Taking him in the seventh round last month, the Michigan alum will have value both on offense and special teams for the 49ers.
- QB Brock Purdy is ahead of schedule in his recovery from elbow surgery; set to begin his throwing program next week
- QB Brandon Allen will likely have a home for the 2023 season
- Players love Steve Wilks; showed serious excitement that fired up his defense in scrimmage settings
- Christian McCaffrey the tone-setter; did the whole practice in midseason form
- Rookie K Jake Moody was solid, going 3/4 on FG tries
- DE Drake Jackson put on some serious muscle this offseason
- WR Danny Gray sighting
- Absentees: Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner & Dre Greenlaw were present but not practicing