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June 28, 2022

49ers Mailbag: Was Brandon Aiyuk struggling?

The 49ers may be off for summer vacation, but discussions of the team’s prospects for 2022 will continue.

With the team canceling the final day of minicamp, there was time to finally get around to opening the mail. The 49ers Faithful came strong with a number of questions about the state of the offensive line and secondary, along with player-specific questions. Let’s take a look. 

What position group or groups took a big step forward this offseason? – Niners Jess, @JM41484 

The 49ers roster has taken big steps forward in multiple areas, including cornerback, wide receiver, and running back. 

The addition of Charvarius Ward is a significant upgrade for San Francisco’s secondary. If Jason Verrett can get fully healthy, they could have one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL. Don’t forget about Emmanuel Moseley and Ambry Thomas, who moved into the starting lineup late in the regular season. 

The wide receiver room is much improved over last season. Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Jauan Jennings lead the way, but the rest of the room makes this group so much better. Ray-Ray McCloud’s ability to make plays all over the field was impressive during OTAs and minicamp. Rookie Danny Gray will be an improvement over Travis Benjamin as the deep threat. Veterans Malik Turner, Austin Mack, and Marcus Johnson will fight for the final spot on the roster with rookies Tay Martin and Taysir Mack. 

At running back, I think the top three are set with Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, and rookie Tyrion Davis-Price. Veteran Jeff Wilson Jr will battle with JaMycal Hasty and Jordan Mason for the final spot on the roster. 

Who do you think will take the starting slot cornerback role is year? – Gavin Ferguson, @g_fergy 

I think the starting slot cornerback in week one will be Darqueze Dennard. 

Dennard is a former first-round pick who filled in for San Francisco during the second half of their week 18 win over Los Angeles to reach the playoffs. The veteran has taken all the snaps with the starters throughout the offseason program. 

Don’t sleep on Samuel Womack here. The rookie from Toledo has shown the ability in coverage to get the job done inside for the 49ers. My only concern with Womack is if he’s big enough right now to hold up in run support. Womack is not quite as thick as Dennard, and based on his college film it doesn’t look as though he’s aggressive enough at the point of attack. 

If Jordan Mason approaches preseason like he did minicamp, does he make the 53-man roster? – Imagidadnation, @imagidadnation 

I think so. 

As I mentioned earlier, the top three running backs look to be locked in. That group is heavy on guys who are going to pound defenses between the tackles, while Mason brings something different. 

Mason showed explosiveness as a runner and receiver during the OTA and minicamp practices. If he shows the ability to help in special teams, he will knock Jeff Wilson Jr and JaMycal Hasty off the roster.

Is Brandon Aiyuk struggling like some are suggesting and should we expect him to finally take that next step this season? – MrPTown49, @MrPTown49 

Aiyuk’s performances during OTA and minicamp practices weren’t what you’d expect from a former first-round wide receiver entering his third year in the system. 

With Deebo Samuel not participating, Ray-Ray McCloud was making play after play, not Aiyuk. 

Having spent time working with Trey Lance over the offseason in Southern California, the two were expected to be on the same page from the get-go. That wasn’t the case. In fact, one of the two interceptions from Lance came after a perfectly thrown pass bounced off Aiyuk’s hands in the endzone. 

Do you feel the offensive line we have right now is sturdy enough to make another playoff run, and do you think they are mobile enough to protect Trey Lance for 17 plus games? – 490 We Global, @490TankMates 

Yes, I do. I think the concern for the offensive line is based only on the unknown. 

The 49ers selected Aaron Banks last season with an eye toward him moving into the starting lineup in 2022. Banks struggled early in training camp last season with switching from the left to right side and then injured his shoulder in the first preseason game against Kansas City. The time missed set him back, and nobody other than the 49ers had a chance to see him in action during the regular season. 

Having played only 250 offensive snaps in his career makes Jake Brendel a question mark at center. Offensive line coach Christ Foerster knew Brendel from their time together in Miami and pushed for the 49ers to sign the former UCLA Bruin during the 2020 offseason. If he hadn’t opted out due to Covid-19, the 49ers might have been in a better position to go through the season without Weston Richburg. 

Consider this; the 49ers allowed 39 sacks in 2020 while playing musical chairs at center and right guard. 49ers quarterbacks averaged 35.6 pass attempts that season. In 2021, Cincinnati allowed 55 sacks during the regular season and reached the Super Bowl, while Tennessee allowed 47 sacks while posting the best record in the AFC. Both teams averaged fewer pass attempts than the 49ers in 2020. The difference was the play of their quarterbacks.

Who is going to be this year’s surprise pass rushing star? Drake Jackson, Charles Omenihu or Kemoko Turay? – Uncle Salty, @mba_seattle 

I don’t expect much out of Jackson this season. The 49ers have a deep core of edge rushers, and Jackson will see around 15 total snaps per week on average. 

Look for Omenihu to reprise the role Arden Key played for the 49ers defense over the second half of the season. Omenihu was often used as an inside pass rusher during his time in Houston, and that experience will help him in San Francisco. Look for him to receive favorable matchups inside with the attention focused on Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead. 

Kemoko Turay is my pick for the biggest surprise. He shows an explosive first step and the ability to make life miserable for offensive tackles. Turay will compete for snaps with Samson Ebukam; however, I can see him bettering his career-high of 5.5 from last year with Indianapolis. 

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