49ers rookie TEs making strides in first NFL training camp

Aug 8, 2023, 2:00 PM | Updated: 4:00 pm

Cameron Latu #81of the San Francisco 49ers works out during training camp at SAP Performance Facili...

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

NFL life comes fast for most rookies, ringing true for the San Francisco 49ers’ newest tight ends as well.

Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis went to prestigious football schools, Alabama and Oklahoma, respectively. But the 49ers under Kyle Shanahan is a whole other level, leaving the two talented prospects staying up late at night studying the playbook.

“I’m getting a good grasp of it and the game is slowing down, I’m just obviously thinking way too much every play,” Cameron Latu told the media Tuesday. “I just gotta slow it down a little more from me, just understand what I got to do on every play and just do it at a high speed. I think I’m too slow right now and I gotta get faster with the game.

‘Yeah, I mean, as a rookie it’s definitely a lot,” Brayden Willis added. “It’s a complex offense, there’s a lot of moving parts and things going on. So I think for any rookie to say that they have it figured out. I mean, I would say they’re lying…”

That in turn leaves them having a few off days on the field.

The former is the latest culprit of that, ending practice Tuesday with a few dropped passes. And while Latu knows that’s “unacceptable,” he partially attributes it to thinking too much on the field.

“Really just the smallest of the details of every play. My stance, start, what I got to do, how fast I gotta do it, how I gotta do it, just different stuff. But at the end of the day, I got to slow down for myself, study every night and just do what the team is asking me to do,” Latu explained.

As for Willis, he’s more-so focused on being the most versatile tight end he can be for his new team. Whether it’s blocking at the line of scrimmage, or running a 10-yard out route, the rookie is happy to play his part for the team.

“I’m comfortable doing whatever they ask me to do, whether that’s down the field, in-line, outside, wherever they asked me to do, I feel comfortable doing it. Like I said, just trying to get the playbook, get better,” Willis said.

Both men also speak with each other daily, trying to help elevate their hands in a short amount of time. But it’s the advice from veterans like George Kittle, that has made the difference in training camp.

“He’s been a tremendous help, just by vision of the game, what he sees on the field and how he translates it into the film room so I can understand it. So, that’s what I mean when I think too much. I’m just trying to do a lot of different stuff that’s just getting thrown at me and I’m just trying to be perfect. But it’s one day at a time, we’re gonna work through it and just get better every day,” Latu said.

Housing five tight ends on the roster seems unlikely for the 49ers, meaning one or two players at the position could be cut. And with Charlie Woerner & Ross Dwelley already established in the offense, that could mean a rookie is packing his bags.

But that doesn’t matter to the rooks at the moment.

What matters is the mentorship they are getting from their 49ers coaches and teammates, looking to get better with each passing day.

“I want to compete, and of course I want to make the team, but my focus right now is just getting better every day. I can only control what I can control,” Willis said. “Like I said, I got the vets in the nation, so I appreciate all those guys for helping me out as much as they have.”

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