SANTA CLARA — It’s parade season in basketball, and the meat of the schedule in baseball. Football, meanwhile, has reached a strange false summit. The Raiders and 49ers both began three-day minicamps on Tuesday, the final burst of activity before the dead zone that precedes training camp.
It was hot at the Niners’ practice fields, across the street from Levi’s Stadium, but the pace seemed good, the mood upbeat.
Much of the attention, of course, followed Jimmy Garoppolo, the charismatic quarterback who has yet to lose — and certainly never will lose — an NFL game. Playing a supporting role was veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, who has immediately emerged as a team leader. Sherman addressed reporters in the media workroom, then managed to break the mic stand on his way out; he was forced to hold it upright for a moment as secondary-mates Jaquiski Tartt and K’Waun Williams followed him to the lectern.
The marquee in Santa Clara right now would also include names like defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, offensive tackle Joe Staley, wide receiver Pierre Garcon and linebacker Reuben Foster, who returned to practice following the twists and turns of his recent legal brouhaha. They are likely to form the core of this team, which finished the 2017 season with five consecutive wins and believes it is poised to make a playoff run this year.
But those bona fide playmakers can wait till August. Right now, in the heat of early summer, I’m more interested in the last chancers — guys who will either take a step up or a step out the door in 2018. Specifically, I’m interested in Joe Williams and Joshua Garnett. The 49ers traded up to get both of them. Neither has justified the transaction.
Garnett was the last first-round draft choice made by former general manager Trent Baalke, who traded a package of lesser picks to Kansas City for the opportunity to get the big guard in 2016. A lot of draft analysts considered it a reach, but Garnett came with solid credentials. He won the Outland Trophy as a Stanford senior, and was a unanimous All-American.
The 49ers thrust Garnett into the starting lineup as a 2016 rookie, and he generally appeared overwhelmed. The scouting service Pro Football Focus gave him an overall grade of 42.4, which ranked 70th among 72 qualifying guards that year. His PFF pass-blocking efficiency rating, 93.2, was dead last among the 61 guards who played enough to qualify.
A year ago, Garnett injured his knee in training camp. Reports said he could have made it back onto the field fairly soon. But he was overweight and unproductive, and the 49ers decided to place him on their injured reserve for the season.
First-round draft picks tend to get plenty of chances in the NFL. But remember, Garnett was somebody else’s pick, not current GM John Lynch’s. The 49ers traded for one veteran guard, Laken Tomlinson, last year, and another, Jonathan Cooper, in March. They also re-signed Mike Person, an NFL journeyman whom they originally drafted in 2011.
So Garnett has plenty of competition. Maybe too much competition. With Cooper currently rehabbing a knee injury, it was Person who started Tuesday’s team period at right guard, though Garnett did get first-team reps of his own.
Before practice, Shanahan had sounded optimistic about the Stanford grad.