Exhibition Notes: 49ers hit on picks; free agents, coaches forming new identity

The following notes are from the 49ers' 2017 training camp and exhibition games:

-The 49ers may have their first dynamic return man since Ted Ginn Jr. in Oregon State rookie Victor Bolden Jr. He had two big returns this year, a 100-plus yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown. He’ll be a player to watch on special teams this season.

-Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard has everyone’s attention. Taken in the third round by the 49ers, he was first pegged as a reach in the draft. There was zero hype around him. But in his first preseason he was efficient, decisive and productive. He took command of the offense and good things happened when he was on the field. Of course, he was inaccurate at times, but overall he was much better than most anticipated. And Shanahan noticed it and rewarded it. Beathard quickly claimed the No. 2 job, to the point where the 49ers felt comfortable releasing Matt Barkley, and keeping only two passers. And honestly, Beathard may have shown enough to warrant time under center if Brian Hoyer struggles at all during the year.

-Don’t sleep on Elvis Dumervil, the veteran pass rusher looks spry.

-Reuben Foster opened the third exhibition game with a pad-cracking tackle in the flat on Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook. As far as hits go, it was arguably the highlight of his preseason, and a validating one at that. Instincts, play recognition, and an intense combination of power and athleticism all showed up on that play. Foster so far has lived up to the hype and looks very much like a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. Not only is the 49ers D in good hands, but the No. 31 overall pick looks like the next cornerstone player for the franchise.

-Inside routes to Pierre Garcon appear to be a comfortable place for Hoyer to put the ball. And the wideout looked sharp running them. There’s a good chance we’ll be seeing a lot of that this season. With the way he worked the middle of the field, and his operational style as a possession receiver, Garcon is like a tight end for this offense.

-On thee drive of the preseason, Shanahan had what appeared to be a script to start the game, where he went run, run, slant, run, play-action bomb from the 49ers on their first offensive drive of Game 3 against Minnesota – a drive that resulted in a deep touchdown to breakout candidate Marquise Goodwin. The coach called a hell of a first drive for the 49ers and the team opened with a 7-0 lead. This drive, and even the series following, were idyllic demonstrations of what’s currently in place on the sidelines. It exhibited the competency level from the staff, particularly Shanahan and an offense that’s lacked dynamism for years.

-The 49ers have a conundrum at deep safety with the absence of Jimmie Ward and the emergence of undrafted rookie Lorenzo Jerome. The 2014 first-round pick missed the entire preseason, while the UDFA filled in nicely. But with Ward’s position versatility, the coaches can use the performance of the cornerbacks to aid in their decision making. While Ward is likely handed the FS job once healthy, he and Jerome, and where they play in 2017, will certainly be something to monitor.

-Sky-high potential aside, we’re seeing that Rashard Robinson is a hot and cold cornerback, at least heading into his second year.

-The 49ers’ front seven looks very good overall. It needed to. But the starters look sharp, and the depth looks above average. They’re attacking from all angles, they’ve shown a toughness against the run, and numerous defenders have been finding their way to the passer. Most notably, the three consecutive first-round investments of Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas have been captivating. All of them have stood out. And collectively, that haul could pay real dividends this year.

-The 49ers had an interesting story all camp with undrafted free agent Matt Breida coming in and flat-out stealing the No. 2 RB job—which would’ve otherwise been gifted to an unready Joe Williams—from the team’s fourth-round selection. In camp and in games, Breida performed better. There was consistent playmaking from him. And not only that, but ball security, which Williams failed to prove.

-Veteran defensive back Eric Reid is playing outstanding football in his new role. He took to it like a fish to water. This defense has him in a position that’s more reliant on physicality and less about range and deep coverage skills. If he carries this into the season, the 49ers may make him one of the league’s highest-paid safeties.

-While they were above average in protection, the 49ers' interior offensive line struggled terribly to create running lanes for the backs. There were whiffs and an inability to sustain blocks. Players weren’t getting to their spots fast enough. The team also had to play without Joshua Garnett, who may be potentially out for the season, which makes this a pretty accurate representation of what to expect come Week 1. That’s what they’re trotting out. And despite a trade for former first-round guard Laken Tomlinson, as of now, it seems like the team’s biggest weakness in 2017 will be run blocking.

-Not huge numbers, but rookie Trent Taylor played well. He continued to show an ability to get open and create yards after the catch. Despite a small sample, the NCAA’s leading receiver from last year looks to be as advertised.

-You have to feel good about first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh entering the regular season. The first-team defense was bend-but-don’t-break for the most part, and played an aggressive hard-hitting style. Saleh didn’t hesitate to dial up blitzes, showing a proclivity for sending defensive backs at the quarterback.

Media courtesy USA Today Sports Images, SF Bay

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