3 Things To Look Out For At 49ers Training Camp: Defense Edition

Jul 22, 2022, 12:00 PM

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images...

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Congrats football fans, we made it to the end of the offseason.

After months of no NFL Sunday Ticket, no Joe Buck or Troy Aikman on the call and no touchdown celebrations, the 2022 NFL season is finally on the horizon.

The first step: NFL training camp, as a number of franchises have already welcomed both rookies and veterans back into the facilities, more than a month-long hiatus since mandatory minicamps took place. The remaining teams are scheduled to have their respective rookies report to camp either Saturday or at the beginning of the week, with veterans expected to report a few days after that.

Among those final teams are the San Francisco 49ers, with both rookies and veterans reporting Tuesday, July 26th. With the 49ers adding key pieces via free agency and the draft, the future is now for the Bay Area team as veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to be traded before the start of the regular season, leaving second-year top prospect Trey Lance with the keys to kingdom.

While there are a ton of key areas to keep an eye on, here are three of the most interesting points to look out for as we preview the defense ahead of 49ers training camp.

Brinks Truck For Bosa?

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Besides Deebo Samuel, the other contract extension shoe to drop for the 49ers is that of pro bowl defensive end Nick Bosa.

Bosa, 24, has two years left on his rookie deal after the team picked up his fifth-year option at the end of April, extending him with the team until 2024. While the former Ohio State Buckeye would make close to $18 million next season, many expect the young superstar to not touch the field without a long-term extension.

Bosa is coming off his best season in the NFL, registering 15.5 sacks while hitting the QB 32 times in 17 games in 2021, showing his potential as a tier 1 edge rusher in the league. Through his first three seasons, Bosa has obtained 24.5 sacks, 105 tackles and 58 QB hits, making the pro bowl twice.

Now theoretically entering a contract year, the Red & Gold will have to pony up the big bucks if they want to keep their elite defensive line intact, as most expect Bosa to be the second defensive player in history to make $30-plus million annually in his next deal.

Aaron Donald currently holds the throne of most expensive defensive player after his contract extension with the Rams this offseason, but don’t be surprised to see Bosa right next him, or even surpass him before the season starts.

In terms of where we’re at now, talks have been quiet over the past month but Bosa, like Samuel, has made his presence known with the team, reporting to mandatory minicamp in June. The defensive end is expected to report to train camp as well, possibly a sign of a looming contract extension on the horizon.

“Those guys are gonna be a part of us for a long, long time,” Lynch said in March regarding both Samuel and Bosa.

For now, I’d take their words to heart as letting go of a superstar pass rusher entering his prime would be catastrophic for the 49ers, but it is something to monitor leading up to the preseason.

Drake Jackson’s Potential

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Aside from Bosa, the 49ers have a slew of pass rushers on the defensive line, including rookie Drake Jackson.

Jackson was drafted in the second round out of USC this year, playing both on the defensive line and at linebacker for the Trojans. Seen more as an edge rusher in the NFL, Jackson has already been impressing his coaches and teammates on the field, confident that he can make an impact from day 1.

“He’s the whole package,” defensive line coach Kris Kocurek said, via David Lombardi of The Athletic. “We had a combine interview with Drake early on in the process. Bendy dude. He’s got some slipperiness to him. Change of direction, a knack for winning one-on-one in pass rush. A player that should be ascending.

“He was asked to do a lot of things in college, and we’re going to try to narrow it down, try to let him do what he does best — set the edge in the run game, make plays sideline-to-sideline with effort, that type of mentality. Then, once it’s time to sack the quarterback, win one-on-one.”

The 21-year-old impressed his new running mate, Bosa, as well, admitting that USC prospect could do things that he couldn’t early on.

“I’m glad we got him,” Bosa said. “His bend and his mobility, that young. I think his gymnastics background or whatever — he just can bend really well. And that’s something I had to improve on as my career has gone on as I’ve trained with my brother and our trainer. But he’s just got it naturally. So if he can keep working and keep getting better, that’d be pretty scary.

“He does things out there that I definitely couldn’t do as a rookie, just the way he moves.”

High praise from a player about to be one of the richest men at the position, but that’s how high they are on Jackson, seeing him as another star on the defensive line.

Make no mistake, Jackson will have to earn his spot in the starting lineup, even if/when the 49ers cut Dee Ford from the roster. The team brought back contributors Samson Ebukam and Kerry Hyder Jr. after previous stint with the organization, making the position one of the deepest for the organization.

Nevertheless, I expect the USC product to beat out the competition at camp, and with Ford gone, start opposite of Bosa on the left edge. The future is now for Jackson and the 49ers.

The Depth in the Secondary

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

While all the attention goes to the 49ers’ front seven, the front office made moves during the offseason to shore up the secondary of the Red & Gold, starting with cornerback Charvarius Ward.

Inking a three-year deal with the Empire during the offseason, Ward comes to the Bay after his first four years in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2021, Ward featured in 13 games, completing 10 passes defended, 2 INTs and 67 combined tackles.

The 26-year old will replace the elder Josh Norman as the starting corner next to Emmanuel Moseley, looking to bring a little more physicality and cover to a team ranked 26th in interceptions a year ago.

Additionally, former pro bowl CB Jason Verrett is making a return to the 49ers after suffering a torn ACL in the opening game last season. Derailed by injuries throughout his career, Verrett is healthy for the time being and ready to make an impact in the secondary.

Only 31, the former Charger has been productive when he’s healthy, snagging two INTs and seven passes defended in his lone healthy season with the 49ers in 2019. He’ll most lily slot into the nickel spot this season, hoping to regain his form early enough to make the starting selections tricky for defensive coordinator Demo Ryans.

The safety positions are where the organization may look to upgrade as we progress towards the regular season. The 49ers signed veteran George Odum to a one-year deal to pair alongside Jimmy Ward, but the team shouldn’t feel content with just those two if they want to make the playoffs this season.

The NFC West has a slew of talented receivers that could easily have their way with those two manning the backline. Meaning, the organization could look to other players if those two don’t hold up.

Of course the 49ers could turn to someone on their roster, like second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga, to get some extra reps as they try to develop their young talent.

Alternatively, the Red & Gold could look to the free agent market once again, picking up a veteran who has been in big games before. Players like Landon Collins and Tashaun Gipson are out there, waiting to prove that they still have value to a team.

I prefer the former as Collins is both younger (28 to Gipson’s 31) and a multi-time pro bowler from his years with the New York Giants. He’ll cost a bit more, but if the goal is making the playoffs, you can’t go wrong adding a former standout at the position.

The San Francisco 49ers officially kick off their 2022 NFL training camp with rookies and veterans reporting Tuesday, July 26th.

For all things 49ers and NFL, stay locked in here on Sactown Sports.


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