Twitter Mailbag: Burning Camp Questions

With training camp coming to a close this week, it's time to open the Twitter mailbag back up and answer your questions. You can follow on Twitter our Niners Digest Editor-in-Chief @ChrisBiderman and @Scout49ers.

The 49ers close training camp this week as they prepare for their first game inside Levi's Stadium Sunday when they welcome the Denver Broncos.

To this point, it's been a relatively uneventful camp with a number of starters sitting to save themselves for the start of the regular season. San Francisco can do that because the team has made three straight deep runs into the playoffs with the same coaching staff in the same system. It's a good position to be in, because a lot of teams that undergo organizational turnover don't have that luxury.

With that out of the way, let's get to your questions.

There's no question wideout Brandon Lloyd made a positive impression during the offseason program. He's in great shape and has fit in well with the others in the meeting room. But his solid practice play might not mean much until he can prove it in a preseason game.

The 49ers like to call themselves a physical team. But Lloyd, 33, is anything but. He's not a great blocker and he's been known throughout his career as a player who struggles to make plays when he knows he's going to drilled by defenders.

There's been little to no contact in practices Lloyd has participated in, so it's hard to say if those habits are still there. But the good bet is they are. And given he doesn't contribute on special teams, it's hard to see Lloyd sticking around on the 53 come Sept. 7.

To me, the Lloyd acquisition reads like an insurance policy for any of the three starters atop the depth chart. If Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree or Stevie Johnson were to suffer a significant injury in camp, then Lloyd would certainly make the team and become a key figure on offense. But if those players stay healthy, it's hard to see him staying over youngsters Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington. The other question is whether or not Lloyd would make it over key special teamer Kassim Osgood.

I think there's a good chance Hyde gets 10-12 touches per game, and here's why:

Barring injury, Frank Gore will be on the field during crunch time. So that would lead me to believe Hyde could spell Gore for significant portions of first halves of games in order to save his energy.

Hyde has had a strong camp and looks like an ideal fit for the system. He's performed well in pass protection and has also shown an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield that's rare among rookie running backs. So to start, I'd expect Hyde to play a few series in the first half to help Gore, 31, stay strong for late-game situations.

I do. Jimmie Ward has spent the most time at nickel with the first team defense over the last week leading me to believe he can handle it. To this point in camp, Ward has actually received more first team work than Eric Reid did as a rookie last year at this point in camp.

Here's what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had to say about Ward this week:

"We’ve given him a lot of reps there trying to get him to learn the position. There’s a lot to learn there. Basically, the nickel becomes like a linebacker. He has to learn how to play zones from a linebacker’s perspective. He has to play man on a slot. He has to know his correct leverage and help where it is, etc. There’s a lot to learn there. So we’ve given him more than enough reps and he’s gotten a lot of reps in the practices that you guys don’t even see, these walkthroughs that we have. We’re trying to get him schooled and ready to go.”

My stance has always been that as long as the backups play well, the 49ers won't budge in their stance. But with Jonathan Martin struggling after having mono in the spring, rookie Marcus Martin still dealing with his ankle injury and looking like he's in terrible shape, and Adam Snyder now missing practice with a leg injury, it sure seems like the 49ers could use Boone to help solidify the offensive line. The way things are looking now, the team would be in very bad shape if Jonathan Martin had to play should something happen to either tackle Joe Staley or Anthony Davis.

San Francisco restructured Ahmad Brooks' contract at the end of July, which could have been part of the foundation for a new deal for Boone. The restructure reportedly cleared up $2 million in space, which could potentially double his 2014 salary.

We'll have a better idea of the status of the offensive line after Sunday's game against the Broncos.

He does. But he's tough to evaluate in practice because he usually plays at a much higher level on Sundays.

But it's clear his receiving options are vastly improved this time around. Last year during camp, it was Vernon Davis, Boldin and a bunch of guys that wound up on other teams midway through the season. The one exception was Jon Baldwin, who was released by the 49ers Aug. 3. Crabtree was still in the early stages of his recovery from his Achilles injury at that time and %%MATCH_11%% was a wide-eyed rookie.

Kaepernick's touch passes could still use some work, but when he's able to throw at high velocity he's usually pretty accurate.

Here's my broad theory on Kaepernick as a thrower: He's a former pitcher and naturally has more success when he throws with maximum effort.

If you watch baseball, you've probably seen pitchers run toward first base and toss the ball underhanded after fielding a comebacker. It's because there's an unnatural feeling when you lob a throw after pitching at high velocity. Release points change with your arm speed, and it's not easy for pitchers to make that adjustment. That's not to say Kaepernick will never be a good touch passer, but it's definitely the physical part of his game that can improve the most.

Just my two cents.

Skuta has been fine. You probably haven't heard his name much because of the other players at his position stealing headlines. He's still a favorite to land a roster spot considering his better-than-advertised production last season and his play on special teams.

With the 49ers expecting a lengthy suspension for Aldon Smith, they will need an experienced player at that position. Corey Lemonier has had a very good camp, but remains a relative question mark when it comes to the idea of playing in both base and nickel situations. Aaron Lynch is the wild card of the group who might have as much upside as anyone. But Lynch has practiced for just over a week since his his severe hamstring injury during the offseason program. He's also playing outside linebacker for the first time after playing defensive end in college.

That's one of the big questions in camp. As I mentioned earlier, Lloyd's status could be tied with Osgood's directly.

Osgood was very good last year as a gunner on punts and in kick off coverage. But at 34, he's getting up there age. And it's worth pointing out Ward has gotten a number of reps at gunner in case the 49ers go a different direction.

If I had to predict the 53-man roster today, Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson, Patton, Ellington and Osgood would fill out the group. But plenty could change over the coming weeks.

Kaepernick had 21 touchdown passes last year, with 13 going to Davis, seven to Boldin and one to Crabtree. It's not unreasonable to think he could get to 30 this year with more weapons as he enters his third season as a starter.

If it were to happen, I would be bet it would be more circumstantial than simply a product of the offense opening up.

Change is in the wind when it comes to the 49ers' identity. They will still want to be a physical, running team. But with NaVorro Bowman out for at least the season's first six weeks, an unproven secondary and the uncertainty surrounding Aldon Smith, the defense might take some backward steps this season.

If that were the case, the 49ers might have to throw it more to win games. That, to me, seems more likely than it being as simple as just opening up the offense.

But if the defense remains one of the best in the league despite those circumstances, then the focus will remain on the running game and winning the field position battle with good special teams play. That would make it unlikely Kaepernick gets to 30 TD passes.

Bykowski appears more likely to make it than Seymour. With Boone not here and Martin struggling, the 49ers are thin at tackle behind the starters and Bykowski would have the edge there, for now.

Without game tape to watch, I'm not sure what Baalke would do to pass the time. At least with Harbaugh I know I'd have someone to play catch with once in a while. But I don't like to make comparisons because someone always gets diminished...

Barring injury, it's hard to envision a scenario in which Vance McDonald becomes much more than he was last season as a versatile blocker that could be an occasional option in the passing game.

He made eight catches for 119 yards in his rookie season. With a better understanding of the offense and more experience under his belt, 15-20 receptions seems like a reasonable expectation considering the 49ers' improved weaponry.

I do expect McDonald to be a better player, but it might not translate to the stat sheet.


That's all for the latest Twitter Mailbag. Thanks for all your questions. As always, follow along on Twitter and feel to send more my way.


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