With the 49ers now gathered for training camp in Santa Clara, the next few weeks will be filled with daily reports of players’ progress, injuries and position battles. How the 49ers fare through late July and August will go a long way toward determining how the team plays from September through December.
At the start of camp, here are five players who are worth paying particular attention to this summer:
Joshua Garnett: After a year away from playing because of an injury, the 49ers will finally get to see if their former first-round pick from 2016 was worth it. The former Stanford standout was billed as perhaps the top guard coming out of college two seasons ago, but he struggled as a rookie. Then, after being sidelined, the 49ers braintrust decided not to activate him last season so he could focus on fitness and reshaping his body to better fit the offensive line scheme under head coach Kyle Shanahan. Nothing is guaranteed for Garnett, who will have to fight off a challenge from another former first-round pick Jonathan Cooper, who came to the 49ers from Dallas.
Fred Warner: The former BYU defensive standout was a sort of hybrid safety-linebacker for the Cougars but will get a chance to win a spot at linebacker as a rookie. Selected in the third round, Warner is a 6-foot-3, 236-pounder with great range and an ability to cover receivers, which could be a huge plus for this defense. Going into camp, however, Warner isn’t penciled in as a starter, with Reuben Foster (middle) and Malcolm Smith and Eli Harold (on the outside) the presumed starters. But with a good camp – or injuries to the top three – Warner could force his way into the lineup by opening day, or soon after.
Dante Pettis: Pettis could be another high-impact rookie. He can play both slot and outside receiver – and could gain more and more snaps once the season begins. But his biggest contribution could come on special teams, where his speed and quick burst make him an instant threat on punt returns. Pettis, a 6-foot-1, 186-pounder from Washington, set the NCAA career record for punt-return touchdowns with nine. The 49ers haven’t had a dynamic return man since Ted Ginn. If Pettis’ talents translate to the NFL, it would be a huge boost for the 49ers.
Richard Sherman: The question is, is the former All-Pro cornerback with Seattle healthy? After missing the last portion of 2017 with an Achilles’ tendon tear, Sherman comes to the 49ers on an incentive-laden contract. If he shows he’s fit and fast by the end of training camp, the Niners will get a big payoff.
Joe Williams: The former Utah standout running back missed 2017 with an injury, but he could be a bonus performer in 2018 if he comes back strong. It’ll be a battle for him to beat out Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert this summer, but he looked much better in spring workouts from a year ago. He’s put on more muscle. If he can stay healthy and hold on to the football – he’s had a problem with fumbles – Williams could be a nice addition to the ground attack.