The calendar has already turned to June and training camps across the league are open for business again. Optimism and the stench of sweaty grown men is in the air as every NFL player and team believes that they will be the ones to hoist the Lombardi Trophy by the end of the season. Well, perhaps not all the teams, but at least a good majority of them.
Now is the time for players who disappointed the year prior or are on the fringe of the roster to prove their worth, step up their game and give the coaching staff a reason to be excited enough to reward them with a place on the opening day roster.
The fans and media don’t receive the luxury of watching the entirety of training camps, however. Instead, the majority of us are left to read in-between the lines and interpret mostly vague quotes from the coaching staff and players in a desperate attempt to understand which individuals are standing out in camp and which others are disappointing.
You can’t even trust the minimal information you are given, though. The offseason hype train comes and goes every season, with player after player being knighted as looking in the best shape of their life or like a rejuvenated incarnation of Jerry Rice or Deion Sanders. Rarely do these flattering statements from teammates and coaches ever lead to mind-blowing results during the regular season. You might as well take all the preseason quotes and flush them down the drain for all the good they’ll do you.
To prove my point, let’s go ahead and look at some of the best 49ers quotes from the past few decades and rate them out of ten:
Kyle Shanahan commenting on Dante Pettis during the 49ers training camp in 2020:
"I was very excited with Dante," Shanahan said. "He was one of the guys that I was looking forward to talking to the most. When he came in, I saw him right away and we got to talk and you could just tell his mindset, how his body was, that he spent the time away from us doing everything he could to put himself in a position to make this team and to be as successful as he can be.
"I was very excited with Dante. His mindset and body are in great shape. Very proud of Dante and he had his best practice just yesterday. The aggression and demeanor are there and I've been very pleased."
Headed into the 2020 offseason, the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan seemed ready to close the door on their former disappointing 3rd-round pick, Dante Pettis. However, the picture was painted so vividly by the head coach himself that Pettis had a newfound motivation and energy about him; watch out everybody! Pettis is here to take the receiving room by storm, and he’s not slowing down for nothing or nobody!
Well, unfortunately enough, during the 2020 season, Pettis went onto catch exactly zero passes, caused a back breaking kick return fumble against the Seattle Seahawks, and failed to stay on the 49ers beyond Week 8 due to them finally and mercifully releasing him from the team.
Overall, I give Kyle Shanahan a 5 out of 10 for his great quote, but he does receive negative demerits mostly for what ended up being a futile attempt to build up Pettis’s confidence. Don’t get into motivational speaking as a full-time profession, Kyle.
Terry Donahue on the 49ers 2003 1st-round draft pick Kwame Harris:
“With Kwame Harris, we’ve been waiting to draft a big offensive lineman for a long time and there he was all 315 pounds of him," said Terry Donahue. "We wanted to get him. The good thing from our standpoint is that he is a big athlete, who can bend his knees and move his feet. He’s a big physical man. The fact that we realize that he is a junior and he doesn’t necessarily have to come in here and start. He can come in here and learn from our players that we have in the organization and we can bring along at our own pace. If he is ready to start, great. If he isn’t ready to start, that is great too because he is an underclassman and we just see him as having a huge upside.”
When watching the sport of football, I definitely prefer that an athlete “can bend his knees and move his feet” as the alternative would mostly likely be people standing frozen in place or lying down to have a rest on the field. And nothing builds up a person’s confidence that a team selected the best player possible more than hearing that he could just as well sit out for the entirety of his first season.
Harris ended up starting in 55 games total during his 49ers career and was remembered mostly for his horrendous pass-blocking abilities and propensity to draw penalties. On the plus side, he did bend his knees on occasion and moved his feet during at least several dozen pre-snap moments, so you can’t call Donahue a liar. I give Terry an 8 out of 10 for his quote being so accurate and giving us a good indication upfront that Harris is probably not a draft pick worth getting excited about; we appreciate the candor, Terry.
Kyle Juszczyk commenting on Jerick McKinnon during the 49ers training camp in 2020:
"Jet has looked phenomenal, you just would never guess going out there and watching the way he practices, how smooth he is, how he doesn't second-guess himself, how quickly he answers questions in meetings – all that kind of stuff, you would never guess that this guy hasn't been on the field for two years," Kyle Juszczyk said. "He just makes things look so natural, so smooth. There can only be positive things for him this year, I think he's going to have a really good year."
McKinnon spent the first two seasons with the 49ers on Injured Reserve, so it was definitely exciting to have him back healthy and with such glowing feedback backing up his return. However, he would spend the 2020 season mostly as a backup, plodding his way to a 3.9 yard per rushing average, struggling through “tired legs” after only 44 carries, and finding himself as mostly an afterthought on a team that was desperate for healthy running backs. Given how thick Juszczyk laid on his comments about McKinnon and how high he got the hopes of the press and fans about Jerick’s return, I give his quote a 10 out of 10. Well done, Juszczyk, you really got us all good that time.
Greg Manusky on the 49ers 2008 1st-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer:
"He's got versatility and so we can use him along the line," said Manusky. "He plays hard. He's a good run stopper, and has great takeoff and burst. He's a big cat who can move with a lot of upside, and that's hard to find anymore."
Kentwan Balmer was certainly a “big cat,” registering in at 6’5” and nearly 300 pounds, but only lasted two seasons with the 49ers before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks shortly following a mysterious absence from training camp during the 2010 season. Despite having zero sacks during his 49ers tenure, Balmer’s addition to the team did lead us to getting Manusky’s quote, and for that, I am eternally grateful. I’ll give a 6 out of 10 to Greg here for his fine ability to blow smoke up the rear ends of those of us who follow the team.
Kyle Shanahan on the 49ers 2017 3rd-round draft pick C.J. Beathard:
“He processes the game so well,” Shanahan said. “Tough as s---. Got a chance. He reminds me a lot of Kirk Cousins.”
John Lynch on the 49ers 2017 3rd-round draft pick C.J. Beathard:
"Some of those (traits) were his toughness. That stands out on film. He repeatedly stands in there when he knows he's going to get hit and can deliver accurate footballs. Kyle talks a lot with quarterbacks about guys that don't need a lot of space. They don't need to hit you two times and have that space to generate good torque, and C.J. has that as well. We feel like he's very accurate.
"And then the thing I think that reminded (us) ... that trait that did give him some hope that he could be like Kirk ... was the process. He processes information very quickly. So, when you threw all that together, the more we watched him ... (and) we knew we were going to stay away from quarterbacks earlier in the draft; we had too many needs ... C.J. became that guy that we really appreciated."
These quotes require no further elaboration or comment. The quarterback desperate 49ers selected C.J. Beathard in 3rd round of the 2017 NFL draft, with the assumption that he’d be the next Kirk Cousins; that is all you really need to know. 10 out of 10 for this one.
Honorary offseason hype mention to Trent Taylor, Solomon Thomas, and Vance McDonald. We may have never seen you perform at a high level when it mattered, but those training camp practices were things of legend.