When the 49ers’ offseason program officially gets under way Monday, it will be the one young player who isn’t there – linebacker Reuben Foster – who will get the most attention.
Foster won’t take part in the team’s offseason program until he gets more clarity to his legal situation.
But for those other younger players who show up for the first phase of workouts, largely oriented toward conditioning and meetings, it will be a chance to impress the coaching staff and get a leg up on earning significant roles in 2018. Among those eager to take a big step forward are guard Joshua Garnett, tight end Cole Hikutini, defensive end Pita Taumoepenu, running back Joe Williams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.
But as both Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com and Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee point out, second-year wide receiver Kendrick Bourne may have the greatest chance to build on what he did as an undrafted rookie in 2017.
The 6-foot-1, 203-pounder from Eastern Washington caught 16 passes as a rookie for 257 yards – averaging 16.1 yards per reception – with nine of those coming over the season’s final four games. His biggest game came on Dec. 12 when he had four catches on six targets for 85 yards in a 25-23 victory over the Titans.
Wrote Barrows: “He’s perhaps the most physically impressive member of the team’s wide receiving corps. Bourne is … a great leaper and shows excellent body control. The 49ers could use one of their nine draft picks on a receiver, but they are unlikely to do so until the middle rounds. A young player like Bourne, who already has spent a season in an NFL offense, should have a leg up on securing a role in the 49ers’ offense.”
Especially, Wagoner notes, because the Niners refused to go after a high-priced receiver in free agency.
Bourne started the season on the practice squad but got his opportunity later in the season as injuries opened up a spot. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said the 49ers eventually moved him on to the active roster because the franchise was afraid another team might snap him up.
Shanahan said Bourne wasn’t ready to play early, but worked hard and “took a huge step.”
Shanahan told reporters he and his coaching staff paid a lot of attention to him because they believe he has the right makeup and ability to become a good wideout.
“Even when we would ride him (in practice), he didn’t go into a shell, he kept working,” said Shanahan. “He and our receiving coach Mike LaFleur put in a lot of time together.”
Now, with a big offseason, Bourne is positioned to play a much bigger role in his second season.