5 Takeaways from 49ers 2023 Offseason Program
Jun 8, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: 12:56 pm
(Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The San Francisco 49ers’ offseason program officially wrapped up Wednesday. Now with more than a month to go before training camp officially starts in late July, here are a few things that stuck out heading into the 2023 season.
A QB Battle? A QB Battle
After a few weeks of OTAs & minicamp, it’s pretty clear the 49ers have a few options at the quarterback position for 2023. So much so that this could get a bit dicey in training camp.
San Francisco added Sam Darnold on a one-year, heavily incentivized deal in March. Then, they signed Brandon Allen to compete as the third-string QB in camp while Brock Purdy recovers from off-season UCL surgery.
But where does that leave Trey Lance?
The answer: We don’t know yet.
What we do know is that San Francisco sees potential in all three, especially Lance.
After multiple injuries hindered his development, the 23-year-old prospect has finally made strides as a QB. His throwing mechanics are much more polished, using a wider base and more compact throwing motion now. It’s clear his time with Patrick Mahomes and throwing coach Jeff Christensen worked wonders for him, and that was only for two weeks.
Is it perfect? No, he’s still learning. But that’s okay because what’s key here is continuous improvement in his play and his confidence.
“I’m not gonna lie to you guys, I think Trey looks significantly better than he did last year, I really do,” George Kittle said about Trey Lance Tuesday. “I think his confidence is there. I think that he’s throwing really good passes. He overthrows some people once in a while. Hey, it is what it is. He’s still learning and stuff. But I mean, just watching him, he just looks so much more comfortable in the pocket and I really appreciate that from him, from all the work that he’s put into it.”
“I think Trey [Lance] looks significantly better than he did last year.” 👀
— George Kittle pic.twitter.com/PmkhjTru96
— 49ers on NBCS (@NBCS49ers) June 6, 2023
“I really feel like I’m having fun playing football again,” Lance said during OTAs.
While not the official QB1 this offseason, Lance has certainly acted like it. From the first day of OTAs, he seemed in command and decisive in the huddle. He knew what he wanted to do with the ball, what play he wanted to run and who he wanted to work with.
His energy levels were noticeable, speaking with veterans and rookies alike on the field.
The point is: His character speaks volumes after the rocky start to his 49ers’ tenure. Only playing eight games in two years, many young former first-round selections would pack it in.
Not Trey Lance. And that maturity has resonated with the team as well.
“Trey’s a very special person that I don’t think has to try to act anyway,” Kyle Shanahan said during OTAs. “I think guys have the respect of Trey whether he played any other position, whether he was the one, two or the three. Yeah, obviously when you’re the number one quarterback and you’ve done that and had experience that carries more weight, but also when you’re the number one quarterback and you haven’t played that stuff still isn’t real until you go out there and do it. That’s all just outside perception, so Trey’s been the same since he’s been here. The guys respect the hell out of him and they’ll continue to do that.”
“Just about being a great teammate,” Trent Williams said about Lance’s attitude in the locker room last season. “As opposed to sitting there and being down, which everybody could respect and everybody can say, I get that, I understand. You know, he didn’t. He was in Brock [Purdy’s] hip pocket. Very attentive in every meeting, every walkthrough that he can attend, he was there. And he just always had a smile on his face, always uplifting teammates. To be that young and that mature and handled thinks that well. I was impressed.”
So where are we now?
San Francisco 49ers’ brass has maintained an open competition for the QB1 spot leading into training camp, with Purdy the presumed frontrunner after his play last season. The former Mr. Irrelevant has made substantial strides in his recovery, beginning a throwing program at the end of last month.
While Purdy still has a long way to go in order to be ready for Week 1, signs continue to point to him being fully cleared by the middle of training camp.
But for now, San Francisco will keep an open mind to the position. Shanahan & Co. feel encouraged by all three quarterbacks’ play this offseason. Each of them had their moments, especially Lance, but they all lacked consistency at times.
That, along with just wanting to leave the door open for Purdy, is why the 49ers are in a holding pattern until the start of the season.
“It’s OTAs so every position, like I think I’ve said to you guys before, I don’t try to come in and know who’s ahead or not. All this stuff gives these guys a chance to have a chance to compete in training camp,” Shanahan stated. “When you don’t practice football an entire offseason, you don’t do any practice of football since your last game. It’s very hard to come to training camp and be ready to beat someone out and so that’s what you try to provide all this stuff, just to give guys a chance to learn the offense, get their timing, get everything. So now when they go to training camp, they’re ready to compete and that’s truly where I see the competition starting.”
And who knows, maybe the 49ers keep all four QBs on the 53-man roster. With the new emergency QB rule, that’s entirely possible.
Offseason Program Stats:
Trey Lance: 35-55, (6 drops), 3 RZ TD, 1 INT
Sam Darnold: 38-53, (6 drops), 2 RZ TD
Brandon Allen: 18-28
Brandon Aiyuk is ready to be WR1
An ancillary footnote in the 49ers’ 2022 season was the breakout of Brandon Aiyuk.
The Arizona State alum was the best pass catcher for the Red & Gold last season, eclipsing 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career. He also had a career-high in receptions (78) and touchdowns (8).
When Deebo Samuel got hurt in Week 13, BA filled the No.1 role to a tee. And now entering Year 4, he’s ready to truly put people on notice.
“I’m ready to take off,” Aiyuk said in OTAs.
The talent was always there for the Rocklin native, the problem was consistency and effort. His rookie year was plagued with that, taken out of the lineup for half of the year because of his inability to block downfield. Kyle Shanahan demands all-around production from his wideouts, which includes blocking. Aiyuk didn’t do that initially, making him one-dimensional.
He took the harsh treatment and scorched it.
The 2022 season showed that BA was a willing teammate, setting up key blocks on numerous run plays to get explosive yardage. More than that, his confidence was at an all-time high as the game continued to slow down for him.
Now a year later, the proof is on the field each day for Aiyuk.
“Man, you can’t cover that boy in a phone booth right now,” Samuel said of his counterpart Tuesday.
"You can't cover that man in a phone booth right now."
— NFL (@NFL) June 6, 2023
A blur in practice, no one was able to cover BA throughout the entirety of the offseason program. His route running is as crisp as it gets, his hands are like glue, and now he’s becoming more vocal as a leader on offense.
Put all three together and you have one of the most unguardable wideouts in the game.
“‘Toughest receiver to cover?’ Brandon Aiyuk,” cornerback Deommodore Lenoir said Wednesday. “He’s going to be a top-five receiver in his league this year. He’s gonna put everybody on notice. I feel like he’s been so underrated. He really don’t get the credit that he deserves.”
It’ll be interesting to see how Aiyuk’s numbers shake out this season, particularly with so many mouths to feed on offense.
Additionally, his counterpart, Samuel, has made it clear that his play last season was an illusion, calling it awful in every aspect. Marred by contract disputes and being out of shape, Deebo vows to “never put anything like that on tape again”.
Strong words for the former All-Pro.
Samuel also stated that while he wants to improve his numbers, that won’t come at the expense of winning. If the 49ers win, he wins. A true team-first philosophy that is engrained in the Bay Area.
With that being said, Brandon Aiyuk is ready to be a WR1, making contract talks very interesting entering next season. Could we see the two on the 49ers past this season or next? That remains to be answered.
But one thing is for sure: BA’s time is just beginning.
Steve Wilks has the defense’s attention
My biggest concern for the 49ers’ defense after DeMeco Ryans departed for Houston was how they would rebound with a new coach.
Ryans had been with the Red & Gold since 2017, moving up the ranks from secondary coach to defensive coordinator in four years. He also helped foster the development of most of the team’s standouts, specifically linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw.
Now with Steve Wilks in the building, how would the No.1 defense react to having a veteran coach?
The answer: Overwhelmingly positive
They love Steve Wilks as their DC because he’s a player-coach at heart. The 53-year-old has been around the block for quite some time, coaching some of the NFL’s elite along the way. San Francisco values experience & production in the room, and Wilks has that in spades.
“He’s like the Godfather of the DBs,” Lenoir said about his new coach Wednesday.
He also has an infectious personality, fired up when his unit makes a play in practice. On the first day of OTAs last month, a depth defender made a nice play on the ball to get a pass break-up at the line of scrimmage. Wilks, being a former player himself, ran on the field, high-stepping his way toward his pupil as the rest of the defense erupted in cheers.
It was like a scene out of a high school football movie and this was DAY 1 OF OTAS!
The hiring of Wilks already feels like a home run and they haven’t even played a game. This is because of his philosophy of teaching the game.
Both the 49ers and the coach value high-character players who love to be coached. That’s the latter’s specialty actually, first learning his team by getting to know each athlete as a person.
This is true regardless of stature, from the undrafted rookies to reigning defensive player of the year Nick Bosa.
“I think I told you guys this from day one. I’m about relationships, so it was more about trying to learn him as a person,” Wilks explained Wednesday.
Because of his pedigree in the NFL, the 49ers hope that Wilks will instill more technical abilities across the board, especially with the secondary.
“I would say he’s more technical, with just him emphasizing us using our weapons, our hands, eyes, feet and hips,” Lenoir added.
“He’s like the Godfather of the DBs.” Deommodore Lenoir on his new defensive coordinator, Steve Wilks pic.twitter.com/9D5VpPKoMj
— Tracy Sandler (@TracyFGSN) June 7, 2023
San Francisco’s defense had two key areas of weakness in 2022: Giving up explosive passing plays and getting run on up the middle. This upcoming season will probably be a different story, adding Wilks to help with the DBs, and signing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to clog up the middle.
“As a defensive guy and running things from the back to the front. I emphasize every meeting, pointing out things up front just to let those guys understand and know that it’s not just lip-service. Everything we do starts up front and I want those guys to understand that,” Wilks said.
While his tenure in the Bay could be short-lived, the Charlotte native hopes to leave a lasting impact on his star players, especially Bosa.
Speaking highly of him Wednesday, Wilks detailed the conversations he’s had with the pass rusher, particularly how he wants to build his legacy on the way to a gold jacket like former all-time greats.
“The first one who comes to mind is [former Carolina Panthers LB] Luke Kuechly, [HOF LB] Brian Urlacher, guys that just committed to that craft and trying to get better each and every day,” Wilks explained. “And all those guys that I just mentioned along with Bosa are about really trying to create a legacy and that was probably one of the things that I did talk about beyond just him as a person. It’s just, what are we building towards now, which is each step is towards Canton. I think that’s his mindset as well, but he has to stay in the moment each and every day, be where your feet are and take it as it comes, but ultimately, that’s his goal.”
Look it’s early, but the 49ers made a stellar decision to hire Steve Wilks this offseason. The Red & Gold had a near-perfect attendance at OTAs and minicamp this year, that’s hard to do for any team.
There’s a long road ahead, but Wilks is certainly pushing the right buttons so far in San Francisco.
The Christian McCaffrey Trade was highway robbery
When the 49ers traded for Christian McCaffrey prior to the trade deadline last season, we all thought San Francisco won the trade.
Now it feels like the Panthers got robbed at gunpoint.
Acquiring CMC without trading a future first-round pick was shrewd business by John Lynch & the front office. San Francisco only owes Carolina an additional fifth-rounder in 2024 and then the deal is complete. Meanwhile, McCaffrey has three years remaining on his deal, valued at a little more than $14 million each of the last two years.
That’s a steal for what he brings to the table for the 49ers. An all-purpose offensive force who’s basically unstoppable when healthy. Last season showcased that, combining for 1,210 scrimmage yards and 11 total TDs in 11 regular-season games for San Francisco.
The scary part: He was still learning the playbook.
Wanting to put his best foot forward for 2023, CMC has been present at every single 49ers workout this offseason. What’s more impressive is his demeanor, taking each rep at full speed in practice. While most veterans don’t even partake in OTAs, McCaffrey is running at full speed like a bull who sees the color red.
Christian McCaffrey turns 27 today — still remarkable that the 49ers were able to acquire a piece so tailor-made for them in the middle of his prime
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) June 7, 2023
The best story from this offseason occurred on the final day of minicamp. Running full steam in 11-on-11s, CMC took a handoff through the traffic as he tried to break into the second level.
He was held, unsurprisingly.
What was surprising is how he reacted.
McCaffrey furiously went over to the line judge and chewed him out for a solid 10 seconds. Eventually, left tackle Trent Williams had to pull him back before giving his two cents on the matter.
The point being: CMC is a different breed and that’s been clear since the day he got to the Bay Area.
“When you get to know Christian, you understand why he’s the player he is,” Trent Williams exclaimed. “I mean, that’s every day. We’re in a minicamp. Most of the veterans are on the sideline with a front-row view. You can’t keep him out the huddle, that’s him. He’s a competitor, he doesn’t take a day off, doesn’t take a play off. So, it doesn’t surprise me that he was pretty pissed off.”
Turning 27 this week, McCaffrey & the 49ers hope to extend his prime into age 30. That didn’t feel possible in Carolina, suffering injury after injury in the previous seasons.
Now with a winning program, the Colorado native feels reinvigorated and motivated to be the best version of himself always. His work ethic not only inspires but lifts the rest of the roster up each day he’s out there.
A true tone-setter and leader in an already established locker room; you can’t put a price on that in any trade.
Nick Bosa is putting his best foot forward for 2023
This goes without saying: Nick Bosa is the most dominant defensive player in football today.
The 25-year-old edge rusher reminded everyone of that last year, cruising to a league-high 18.5 sacks last season. He also mustered up 51 combined tackles and 48 QB hits on his way to the Defensive Player of the Year award.
Now entering Year 5, Bosa is firmly in contract talks with San Francisco, likely set to make him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. And while that sounds nice, Bosa isn’t too concerned, confident he’ll be rewarded in due time.
“I think I’ll get what I deserve,” Nick Bosa said bluntly Tuesday.
San Francisco has a history of reaching an agreement on mega deals prior to training camp. Last season it was Deebo Samuel, signing a 3-year, $72.5 million deal.
In the meantime, the Bosa Bear is locked in on his preparation for next season, starting with taking better care of his body. A physical specimen, the Ohio State alum explained how he’s working on better management over the course of the calendar year. That means knowing when to take days off and recover, and when to push his body for the big moment.
“For most of the offseason it’s just preparing myself for a long year and making sure that my body is going to be able to take on a load of 21 games. So, just taking days off, I’d say I have been taking a little more time, not forcing myself to push through things,” Bosa said openly.
“I’m learning my body every year, I’m making small tweaks…taking those days when I need them, not forcing myself to push through when it’s May or April or those months where if I push through something it’s kind of pointless.
Yeah, I don’t take time off very much and that’s probably been the biggest change is just knowing when to take the days off.”
When his peers discuss his play, the biggest takeaway is how humble he is, always wanting to get better and learn. That’s what stuck out to Steve Wilks from the jump, asking his star player what he sees next for his career.
“And I think as you get to learn him as a person, then now you get a feel for the player and then you can put him in position. One of the things we talked about is just his commitment to this game and him still trying to get better, defensive player of the year and can I take the next step? Can I do it again? He has that focus and determination, so I just love coaching guys like that, it’s not about my status. It’s definitely not about the money. He’s committed to trying to be one of the best.”
Luckily, Bosa will have a little more help to reach the next level in 2023.
San Francisco addressed interior defensive line concerns by signing Javon Hargrave in March. Pairing him with Bosa and Arik Armstead will be a nightmare for offensive lines and play callers alike, having to pick your poison on each play.
#49ers DE Nick Bosa on DT Javon Hargrave: “I feel like people give him his due, but people don't really know how good he is overall… I feel like he isn't quite talked about in the Aaron Donald top echelon… but I think he played like that last year and throughout his career.” pic.twitter.com/2eS7QpocOy
— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) June 7, 2023
Offenses will still likely double Bosa when they can, but now that only frees up other maulers to wreak havoc on QBs. And then when they don’t double Bosa, good luck.
For now, though, Bosa isn’t really playing football.
While present at minicamp, he didn’t practice. Instead, he lifted some weights Tuesday and showed up on the field Wednesday with no jersey on.
But that’s okay.
The 49ers plan to have Bosa’s new deal wrapped up by the start of training camp in late July. And once that’s done, then he’ll be the same dude as always.
Except this time, he has some powerful, A-list friends to help him out.
- Jake Moody is Money
- Kerry Hyder Jr. pick-six
- Danny Gray time?
- JP Mason RB2?
- Trent Williams likes to work out at 2 a.m.
- Rookies that impressed: S Ji’Ayir Brown, TE Brayden Willis, K Jake Moody
- UDFA love: CB D’Shawn Jamison, OL Spencer Waege