2016 NFL Season Preview: San Francisco 49ers
Abysmal is one of the many adjectives one could describe the 49ers 2015 season. “Win with class” was the mantra owner Jed York championed when he fired Jim Harbaugh and in just about every game last year, the team was out classed on every level. That Monday Night opener versus the Minnesota Vikings was very much fool’s gold, as the team barely got to witness much good fortune after that game. What became after that week 1 matchup was just sickening: two 40 point blowout losses the following two weeks, a quarterback switch, and a defense that was so bad that you wouldn’t believe this is the same defense for four years ranked among the best in the NFL. How the squad managed to muster up five victories is one of the great sports mysteries of our time as far as I’m concerned. And trust me, I witnessed a Tim Rattay led 2-14 campaign front and center.
The Jim Tomsula era was short like leprechauns. Nice enough guy, but it was clear he was not the coach that was needed after following Harbaugh. As the weeks went by, I kept wondering if the play of the 49ers irritated me more or his Ron Jeremy mustache. Shortly after the season ended, Tomsula got the can and so now the official rebuild for the team has begun. Chip Kelly was brought in after his stint in Philadelphia in attempts to right the ship in the bay. His failures as a GM makes this signing as a last chance sort of thing for him, as now if he fails in Santa Clara, who knows if he’ll get another chance in the NFL. He’ll strictly be doing the x’s and o’s this time, as the current GM Trent Baalke is on the hot seat it would appear, as his role in the demise of the 49ers can’t be overlooked. Drafting hurt college players and redshirting them in the rookie season has not worked out in his favor, as only Tank Carradine has made the team in the 4 years Baalke has done this method. Let’s not even discuss the 2012 draft; possibly the worst class in the franchise history. Look it up.
This is what Chip Kelly was brought in for. This signing was met with skepticism, but for me personally, I like it. We forget that with all the things that happened in Philadelphia, Chip Kelly has a winning record so far as an NFL coach. 10 win seasons back to back and a playoff appearance is enough to get you any gig after your first job. I must say that if you think this team is going to be lights out on this side of the ball this season, I’m going to have to be the one to temper expectations. That won’t happen, at least not this year. We got issues at QB. He’s my guy, but Colin Kaepernick got to step up and claim his job back. He has instantly become a fan favorite again not only within the fan base, but throughout the league with his national flag controversy, but don’t forget. He’s currently a backup QB due to missing the off-season programs from surgeries and his play from last year. He’s the ideal prototype player to helm this new offense, but until that time comes, Blaine Gabbert will be starting. I know, very unexciting. This QB battle at camp has turned out to be the equivalent of winning the final round of Street Fighter by the time running out.
Have you seen this team’s stable of wide receivers? Yes, don’t do it. I’m trying to figure out how this offense is even going to get 100 yards through the air in a game. Torrey Smith could maybe do something. He isn’t a true number 1 WR though and this position will have to be address next offseason. My personal favorite whipping boy TE Vance McDonald is in his contract season. He might actually catch a football for once, although I wouldn’t bet on it.
Getting that out of the way, this offense got some good here. The team got hogs at running back, with Carlos Hyde leading the charge for that unit. If healthy, I fully expect him to have a great year. Injuries are a concern with him and if for whatever reason he can’t go, Mike Davis should carry the load fine as he looks much improved from his play this preseason. The offensive line has probably been the biggest improvement for the team, as Anthony Davis has returned to the team from retirement. Trent Brown has been getting such good reviews out of camp that Davis has been moved to right guard. Look for Brown to get Pro Bowl recognition soon.
Jim O’Neil is the new defensive coordinator in charge of a unit that is looking to be better than the mess that it was last season. The defensive line on paper is looking to be the best the team has seen in a long time. Arik Armstead is poised to be the breakout player that made him the 1st round pick last year. Look for him to make some noise. His Oregon teammate DeForest Buckner has been drafted this year and looks to be in the mix of things as well, along side nose tackles Glenn Dorsey and Quinton Dial.
Navarro Bowman will look to continue build on his comeback year in which he led the league in tackles after missing the entire 2014 season due to injury. Any doubts about his return were immediately erased and with a new four-year extension, I can expect him to be a terror for other teams for a long while. The pass rush will be put to the test early, as outside linebacker Aaron Lynch is going to serve his 4 game suspension for a diluted drug test. An interesting player to watch on this defense is Ahmad Brooks, who is also coming into his contract season. When focused and not off the Henny, he’s a very good linebacker. If he shows up to play, this defense will benefit.
The questions will be all on the secondary. Eric Reid at safety has health issues and at the moment could be expendable after a promising 2013 rookie season in which he made the Pro Bowl. Antoine Bethea could be sent to the bench if his play doesn’t improve in favor of Jaquiski Tartt, whose shown he could play at this level. Tremaine Brock is steady if unspectacular at corner. Jimmie Ward has earned the opposite starting corner spot and it’s going to be interesting to see how he plays there, as he was drafted by Baalke to be in the slot who has worked his way into the starting role.
Year 1 of the rebuild process is never fun but in order for this team to get back to where they was 4 years ago, they got to fix some things. Look for an improved defense to carry the load as the offense tries to figure itself out this season. I will say this offense will be functioning at the least. Compared to what this team has gone through offensively over the years even going back to Harbaugh, I can at least say we have a chance to score in the red zone this season with Chip calling the plays. Year 2 is when I think we’ll see the high octane offense we want to see. Being the more optimistic fan, I have the team going 6-10 but realistically, 4-12 is probably accurate. Being in the NFC West and having a top 5 difficult schedule is brutal, but this is the NFL. My prediction can be terribly off, and I wouldn’t mind at all if that happens.