It’s time to get it going.
The Los Angeles Rams kick of the 2016 season against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football next week. Amid the Colin Kaepernick protest, hiring Chip Kelly as their new head coach and Blaine Gabbert being named the Niners’ starting QB, why there’s just nothing interesting about the 49ers this year. Nothing at all.
To get more information on that nothingburger, I linked up with David Fucillo from Niners Nation, the SB Nation community for fans of the 49ers.
Let's start big picture. It's Year 1 for the Chip Kelly era, now three years removed from that three-year run you guys had with consecutive NFC Championship appearances. What are the demands/expectations for this era? How many years should Kelly be afforded to right the ship and get you guys back to the post-season? And how worried are you about the potential for another rough period for the franchise like what yall went through between Mariucci and Harbaugh?
The pressure really is more on GM Trent Baalke than on Chip Kelly. Sure, the team will need to take positive steps, but I think Kelly has more of a leash than Baalke in that regard. The 2013, 2014, and 2015 draft classes have had some hits, but have a lot of potential misses. A lot of those potential misses are getting huge opportunities in 2016. If we don't see improvement from them, even without improvement in record, Trent Baalke could be replaced by assistant GM Tom Gamble (who is close to Baalke, but also worked with Chip in Philadelphia).
I think Chip gets three years minimum on this one, but obviously that could vary depending on potential regression at any point along the way. The team is paying Jim Tomsula to do whatever he is doing, and I don't think they're going to can Kelly after one or two years as well. He'll get some time, and the bar is set pretty low after the glorious Jim Tomsula year.
Rough years are certainly a concern, but I think Kelly as a coach is significantly better than Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan, or Mike Singletary. There are issues if he gets personnel control, but he does not have that right now. If he can just focus on coaching, I think this could actually work out OK for him. There are talent issues, but if this re-building process moves along, I think Kelly could do some good things with the 49ers.
Y'all had a mammoth draft class. How are the rookies settling in? Any of the Day 3 picks looking like they could stick?
It was a busy three days for the 49ers. The rookies are all over the place. Six of the 11 are on the 53-man roster, one is on injured reserve, three were cut and signed to the practice squad, and one (6th round pick QB Jeff Driskel) was cut and claimed off waivers by the Cincinnati Bengals. The one on IR, Will Redmond, tore his ACL last year but was practicing and playing late in the preseason. He was placed on IR after the 53-man roster was set, so he retains the potential to be activated as the one return option. The timing is interesting, so the option remains.
The team spent a first round pick on DT DeForest Buckner, and traded up to draft OG Joshua Garnett. Buckner is listed as a reserve, but will get significant playing time in the team's nickel and dime defenses. They spend a majority of time in their sub-packages, so Buckner will likely play as many snaps as some defensive starters. Garnett missed most of the offseason workout program because of Stanford's final exam schedule, which put him behind the curve. The team welcomed back Anthony Davis and promptly moved him to right guard, while free agent addition Zane Beadles is at left guard. Eventually Garnett will replace Beadles, but when that is remains to be seen.
Ronald Blair is the day three pick most likely to make an impact as a rookie. He can play all across the line, and even might get work as a pass rushing outside linebacker. His versatility bodes well. Wide receiver Aaron Burbridge joins a questionable wide receiver corps. Given Chip Kelly's prolific volume on offense, it could mean more work for Burbridge right out of the gates.
How did you guys get set up during the preseason? Any big lessons coming out that you think will apply to the regular season?
The preseason was a mixed bag. The quarterback position did not impress. There were some big plays, and the team welcomed Colin Kaepernick back, but Blaine Gabbert will be the starter after a somewhat underwhelming preseason. The ground game looked strong for the offense. Carlos Hyde will start, with Shaun Draughn, Mike Davis, and DuJuan Harris behind him. I think you can expect to see Draughn used as a key back in the passing game. All three backups looked good for stretches, although Davis and Harris dealt with some fumble issues. The preseason showed us that Blaine Gabbert could end up focusing on his tight ends and backs out of the backfield in the passing game. Torrey Smith was targeted once in four preseason games. That doesn't mean he'll get nothing in the regular season, but it will be something to watch.
What do the 49ers need to do to win the game? What's the main thing they need to prevent the Rams from doing?
On offense, the 49ers need to get a strong performance from their offensive line. If they get that, the ground game could be in good shape. The passing game will remain a question mark, but with some decent time to boost the running game, it might give Gabbert the time to find his short and intermediate receivers. The past two seasons, a major reason the offense has fallen apart is problems on the offensive line. Injuries have been an issue, but so has ineffective play. This group looks better than what the 49ers had last year, but they still need to execute. If they do, the 49ers offense could be better than expected.
On defense, the 49ers are going to need some semblance of a pass rush. Leading pass rusher Aaron Lynch is suspended the first four games. The team has some interesting OLB options, but they're going to need their sub-package on the line to get penetration. DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead could prove to be the keys for this defense taking a significant step forward. If they can win their matchups, it could open up the pass rush, which eases things for the rest of the defense.
Since we won't be back around until Christmas Eve, what's your W-L projection for the season? What are the major games that will swing things one way or another?
I have them winning around 6 games. I think this team could show notable improvement, and still not have many more wins than last year to show for it. They benefited in a big way from some field goal wins last season, and their Pythagorean Theorem result should have been about three wins. Chip Kelly is a huge improvement, but the schedule is brutal this year. The two Rams games are obviously big. The Cowboys game is suddenly a lot more interesting with Tony Romo unlikely to play. The 49ers face several teams (Atlanta, Chicago, for example) that could be improved but face plenty of their own questions.
I think the 49ers do have a higher ceiling than some think. I don't think they win eight or nine games, but if every little thing went right, I'll let my homer flag fly and say a .500 record is not 100% unlikely. I don't think it will happen, but I'll leave a modest amount of optimism. What else do I have for the stomach punch later in the season?
Thanks to Fooch for the time.