Cameron Latu

49ers rookie Latu bounces back from camp struggles vs. Broncos

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SANTA CLARA — This summer has been a struggle for 49ers rookie tight end Cameron Latu.

The 49ers selected him in the third round with the No. 101 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Clearly, the organization believed he could step into a significant role early in his career.

But any time Latu was noticed on the practice field through the first four weeks of training camp, it was generally for the wrong reasons.

On Saturday, Latu turned it around.

“I looked at today as a new opportunity to grow,” Latu said following the 49ers’ 21-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in a preseason game at Levi’s Stadium. “I focused on just today, game day, trying to help this team win, and we got it done.”

In his final two seasons at Alabama, Latu accounted for all of his career’s production. He caught 56 passes for 787 yards and 12 touchdowns — spread out almost equally over those two years.

Latu admits to facing a battle to pick up the 49ers’ complex playbook. In training camp, he appears to be thinking too much on the practice field. Dropped passes piled up for Latu through practices last week.

Latu got off to a good start Saturday with a tough catch on a pass quarterback Sam Darnold fit into a small window.

It ended on an even-better note when Latu hauled in a 22-yard touchdown catch from Trey Lance in the closing minutes.

“I thought his first catch was real good in that tight coverage, a good throw by Sam,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And I thought the others were pretty big plays that he had.

“So I was happy for him because he’s been struggling with a few of those drops. Sometimes when you have some success in the game like that, it can give you the confidence that you need to now move past that and start improving in all the other areas.” 

Latu had one reception in the 49ers’ preseason opener against the Las Vegas Raiders. However, that play did not end well. He lost a fumble at the end of a 9-yard reception.

He said his tough first catch on Saturday helped set the tone for the evening.

It definitely did, knowing I could do it,” Latu said. “Once I got that under my belt it was easy to transition to the next and the next. But I just got to focus on the next play.”

Latu ended with three receptions for 46 yards, and has seemingly put himself right back in the thick of the competition for one of the tight end roles on the 49ers’ 53-man roster.

The 49ers have generally kept three tight ends behind starter George Kittle. Latu, Charlie Woerner, Ross Dwelley, Troy Fumagalli and seventh-round draft pick Brayden Willis are competing for spots.

Latu is now giving himself a chance to stick on the team. He said he believes he is making strides to get more comfortable with the responsibilities that come with playing tight end in Shanahan's offense.

“I study all night, all week,” Latu said. “I was very prepared for this game, and I just try to go out there and play fast and not think about it and just help this team win.”

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