The 49ers begin the third phase of their offseason program today, a phase that includes 10 OTA practice sessions and, yes, even players wearing helmets.
That's a basic component of any level of organized football, and the players were in helmets and pads during their two earlier minicamps (pre-draft and rookie minicamp). But the first two phases of the offseason program to date have consisted of 1.) strength, conditioning and rehab and 2.) drills, on-field instruction but no offense-vs.-defense situations.
Phase 3 doesn’t allow one-on-one scenarios, such as pass-rushing drills between a defensive end and an offensive tackle. But it does permit the players to suit up in seven-on-seven, nine-on-seven and 11-on-11 situations. You know, like a regular practice. The only thing that's missing is the hitting and tackling, but there's very little of that even in training camp and in practices during the regular season.
The OTA sessions are voluntary, but it's hard to see any players sitting them out unless there's a pressing family matter or similar situation. Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have made it clear that everyone will be competing for a roster spot. And while every coach says that (all the time), the new regime already has revamped a large percentage of the roster and there could be more changes on the way.
Two rookies will not be able to take part because their schools are still in session. They are: First-round draft pick Solomon Thomas and undrafted receiver Kendrick Bourne from Eastern Washington, who stood out with a diving, finger-tip catch in the 49ers' rookie minicamp.
Thomas can rejoin the team June 14, the second day of the team's three-day, mandatory minicamp. Bourne will be allowed to return later that week.
Fifth-round receiver Trent Taylor had to sit out some of Phase 2 but was able to return on Friday. First-round pick Reuben Foster (shoulder) is not expected to join practice until training camp.
The 49ers are still very much in learning mode, so don't expect any rookies to be among the first-string -- or perhaps second-string -- units.
Remember, the team's first-round picks from 2016, DeForest Buckner and Joshua Garnett, began training camp with the third-string unit. Buckner quickly worked his way into a starting role; Garnett's first start came in Week 6.
Several 49ers did not participate in the team's April minicamp because of minor injuries. That included tight end Blake Bell, receiver Bruce Ellington, linebacker Eli Harold, running back Raheem Mostert and offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah.
It will be interesting to see where Zuttah, who has played extensively at center and left guard in the past, lines up because it will have a domino effect on the rest of the interior line.