San Francisco 49ers

Why stiff competition has 49ers wideout Kendrick Bourne feeling like a rookie again

Scenes from 49ers training camp

The San Francisco 49ers training camp practice featured Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo among others, on July 28 and 29, 2019.
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The San Francisco 49ers training camp practice featured Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo among others, on July 28 and 29, 2019.

Kendrick Bourne is in a unique situation. It’s not often a team’s most productive receiver one year has to battle for his job the next, but that’s where Bourne finds himself this summer.

In some ways, the undrafted free agent from Eastern Washington who signed with the 49ers in 2017 is going through the same thing now as he did in his rookie campaign.

“It’s kind of the same mindset,” Bourne said Friday. “Because when I first came in, it was a lot of competition too, a lot of good guys around me. I think it’s even better now.”

The improved competition starts with players such as Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor and Richie James Jr. entering the new season with more experience in coach Kyle Shanahan’s complex offense. It continues with the addition of receivers in Rounds 2 (Deebo Samuel) and 3 (Jalen Hurd) of the most recent NFL draft, who are virtually assured spots on the 53-man roster.

Then there’s veteran Jordan Matthews, a former second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, who got off to a strong start this spring while getting most of his playing time with the first string. The 49ers have eight wideouts good enough to play in the NFL, but it’s likely only five or six will be kept for the regular season.

“We’ve got some young guys in that group, and we’re going to ride them hard,” Shanahan said this week. “I expect they’re going to have some ups and downs in this camp, but the pressure’s on them and I want it to be because they have the ability and we need them all to step up.”

Bourne has distinguished himself as training camp has gone on. Thursday might have been his best practice to date, with impressive catches during individual red zone drills and full-team periods. His strong played continued Friday, when he made a diving grab in traffic over the middle from Jimmy Garoppolo, and later toe-tapped near the front of the end zone for a touchdown from C.J. Beathard.

Bourne, who led San Francisco’s receivers with 42 catches for 487 yards along with four touchdowns in 2018, credits his improved knowledge of Shanahan’s playbook and his relationship with the team’s quarterbacks for his development.

“I’ve caught touchdowns from each quarterback,” Bourne said. “So just having a kind of relationship with all of them so when we’re in, they see me out there, ‘OK, he has confidence in me.’ So I try to have a relationship with Jimmy, Nick and C.J. just so once they see my number, they believe in me and they’ll maybe just come to me if they’re in a pressure situation.

“That’s the big, big part. Just having them believe in me. So when they see me out there with them, they really trust me.”

Bourne is the 49ers’ most boisterous player at practice. He’s often dancing to the music playing over the loud speaker, encouraging his teammates with humor or serving as the de facto hype man.

“What our bodies go through, it just kind of gets our mind off of what we’re going through mentally, physically, and just keeps it fun,” he said. “That’s really why I do it.”

He’s also built differently than most of the team’s receivers. Bourne is listed at 6-foot-1 and is known more for his route running than his deep speed, making him different from faster counterparts like Goodwin, Pettis and James. He lacks the track record of Matthews, who averaged 891 yards and over six touchdowns during his first three seasons in Philadelphia. And he doesn’t have the pedigree of the highly drafted rookies Samuel and Hurd.

But if practice is any indication, Bourne might be able to help fix San Francisco’s red-zone woes given his ability to get open in small spaces. The 49ers converting just 41 percent their red zone trips into touchdowns last season, worst in the NFL, albeit without Garoppolo after his season-ending injury in Week 3.

Bourne will have to hold off the competition first.

“I just feel like if the ball comes my way, I’m pretty confident in myself,” he said. “So this depends on how much the ball comes, I feel like.”

The San Francisco 49ers addressed their need to improve the pass rush but added just one player from their eight-pick haul to the secondary in the 2019 NFL Draft. Coach Kyle Shanahan also showed who runs the room.

Chris Biderman has covered the 49ers since 2013 and began covering the team for The Sacramento Bee in August 2018. He previously spent time with the Associated Press and USA TODAY Sports Media Group. A Santa Rosa native, he graduated with a degree in journalism from The Ohio State University.