The 49ers’ mass exodus this offseason means that young players have a chance to make a splash this season, something that could not be said on previous, veteran-heavy squads. Here’s a quick update on how the 49ers’ 10-man draft class and other rookies are being used in training camp.
DL Arik Armstead. The 49ers’ first-round pick has received high praise from coach Jim Tomsula for arriving for training camp in excellent shape despite missing most of the spring sessions due to NFL rules. Armstead has handled himself well in one-on-one pass-rush drills, and his strength and athleticism -- lowering his 6-foot-7 frame and firing off the line of scrimmage -- are apparent. Armstead’s biggest challenge is the depth chart: There are as many as three players ahead of him at left defensive end right now, and because of that his practice repetitions have been sparse.
S Jaquiski Tartt. With another young safety, Jimmie Ward, coming back from a foot injury, Tartt has gotten plenty of practice snaps. The big, 220-pound safety has been playing strong safety alongside Craig Dahl with the second-team defense. An excellent hitter, Tartt is likely to have a role on special teams coverage units. What remains to be seen is whether he also will get into games in the dime defense, something the 49ers will use against pass-heavy opponents like, say, Green Bay in Week 4.
OLB Eli Harold. The team’s third-round pick has stood out in the early practices. Harold is a high-energy player and he’s been very good in pass-rush drills, showing excellent quickness around the outside. As was the case at Virginia, Harold has been rushing from the right side and has been Aldon Smith’s backup. With second-year player Aaron Lynch being held out of practice while he works his way back into shape following a spring injury, Harold is the team’s de facto No. 3 outside linebacker.
TE Blake Bell. He’s been heavily used in the 49ers’ opening practices, which is a bit of a surprise a.) considering he began his college career as a quarterback and b.) because the 49ers have so many tight ends on the roster. The team is using Bell the same way Oklahoma utilized him -- as a point-of-attack blocker both on the end of the offensive line and in the backfield. Bell doesn’t have elite athleticism or speed, but it’s clear he’s a tough guy.
RB Mike Davis. Rookie running backs typically get a lot of carries in training camp because, well, teams don’t want their more experienced runners to get worn down or to get hurt. Indeed, Reggie Bush has had zero carries so far while Kendall Hunter has been held back, too. That means a lot of work for Davis. He hasn’t jumped out, but that’s not a surprise. He’s a meat-and-potatoes-style runner. What’s notable is that he knows what he’s doing in pass protection, which could get him on the field during the season if there are injuries elsewhere.
WR DeAndre Smelter. The 49ers are optimistic Smelter can play at some point this season. Still, his ACL injury occurred on Nov. 29. Unless the 49ers are in desperate need of wideouts at the end of the season, does it make sense to rush him into action?
P Bradley Pinion. He won his battle with veteran Andy Lee before it even began. The 49ers traded Lee to Cleveland for a conditional 2017 draft pick. Pinion’s punts are as impressive as advertised. The question now is whether he will handle kickoffs. Some of his early attempts have sailed out of the back of the end zone.
G Ian Silberman. The 49ers have a super-abundance of guards and sixth-round pick Silberman is behind Alex Boone, Marcus Martin, Joe Looney, Andrew Tiller and Brandon Thomas on the depth chart right now. He’s received most of his snaps at left guard.
T Trent Brown. The 49ers’ lack of tackles has thrust Brown into the spotlight. He received a lot of snaps with the first-string offense at right tackle in the spring and even lined up at left tackle with the first-team unit on Monday. It’s clear that Brown needs to get stronger and more fit. Today’s full-contact sessions ought to be telling for him. But it’s also apparent that he has nice quickness for someone as tall (6-foot-8) and long-limbed (36-inch arms) as he is. Barring injuries, Brown will not start this season. The question the 49ers want to answer is whether they can rely on him to be an emergency backup as a rookie.
TE Busta Anderson. Along with Vernon Davis and Derek Carrier, Anderson is one of the 49ers’ more athletic tight ends and has the ability to make big plays in the passing game. That type of player typically is asked to work on his shortcomings, which involves in-line blocking. Anderson’s biggest issue is depth at the position. The 49ers have eight tight ends with an emergency ninth, Kyle Nelson, at longsnapper
Undrafted: The standouts so far include three wide receivers: Dres Anderson, DiAndre Campbell and DeAndrew White. Anderson is a polished route runner, Campbell is big-bodied and physical while White has been the team’s most prolific receiver and has made the biggest plays from May-August. ... Aussie running back Jarryd Hayne is intriguing for the mere fact that he is a big man who runs very fast. All eyes will be on him for today’s padded practice, his first in America. Hayne’s ticket to a roster spot is through special teams and it will be interesting how he takes -- and delivers -- a hit. The NFL would love it if he lands a roster spot as it would expand the league’s scope into Oceania. That, however, is not a concern for the 49ers. ... Tackle Patrick Miller (Auburn) has been playing on the left side behind Joe Staley. The team’s paucity at that position makes him interesting and means he will get a lot of preseason snaps. ... The 49ers have only three quarterbacks and one of them is undrafted Dylan Thompson. He, too, will get plenty of opportunities to show his stuff in the second half of preseason games.