In what was a mostly lackluster preseason from the Santa Cla err I mean San Francisco 49ers, here’s a look at what to expect from the team this season.
Blaine Gabbert will be the starting quarterback.
It was expected all along that Colin Kaepernick would not be the starting quarterback for this team. It is amazing to me and I’m sure many others, that Kap is still even on this team. Kap missing practices and the first two preseason games basically ended whatever quarterback battle existed. It is not like Gabbert has gone out and played well to earn the starting spot either. He’s still Blaine Gabbert, a quarterback good enough to win you 4 or 5 games. Oh, and if the 49ers group of quarterbacks wasn’t already laughable, the team went out and signed Christian Ponder, basically a Gabbert 2.0. The 49ers are left with two underachieving quarterbacks from the 2011 draft class as well as Kap who is a shell of his former self. There’s still a chance Kaepernick takes the field at some point this season because we all know Gabbert is going to struggle, which could lead to a quarterback by committee approach by the staff. From a fans perspective, there is no way in hell I want to see Blaine Gabbert line up under center for my favorite team. Kaepernick is at least a has-been, Gabbert is a never-been. Let’s see what Kap can do under Chip Kelly’s offensive system and see if the new coaching staffs can rekindle the spark that Kaepernick once had. For now it will Blaine Gabbert slotted as QB1 week 1 against the rams.
The O-Line will be something to look forward to
The 49ers offensive line in 2015 was about as bad as an offensive line could possibly be. The line consisted of Joe Staley, Alex Boone, Marcus Martin, Jordan Devey and Erik Pears. Martin, a 3rd round pick from 2014 who has underperformed every year, and then Pears/Devey, a couple of veterans who were awful in the run game as well as pass protection.
There are couple big reasons why the 49ers offensive line will be better this season. The first is the return of formerly retired, Pro Bowl tackle Anthony Davis. Back in the Harbaugh days (the glory days!), Davis was one of the leaders in the trenches. In June 2015, Davis announced he would retire for one season in order to get his body right. Now AD is back, but he isn’t returning to his position at right tackle. Trent Brown, a 7th round pick from 2014, shined in the last 2 games of the 2015 season as well as in training game and has forced Davis to switch positions to guard. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown went through the entire preseason (41 pass blocking attempts) without allowing a QB pressure. Von Miller, reigning SB MVP, even acknowledged Browns progress by calling him “one of the better tackles there is in the NFL” Miller brought up Brown in an interview about tackles that give the lethal pass rusher the most trouble. A 7th rounder receiving praise from the best defensive player in the NFL and forcing a former Pro Bowler to change positions is pretty impressive. AD was expected to move from RT and take the starting RG spot, but it seems that may not be happening. It was announced the other day that Davis was contemplating retiring again only for us to learn he will be back but is now refusing to play guard. Whether Davis starts at guard or is the primary backup at RT, he at least provides the team with depth that they lacked last year. In line to start at RG then would be Andrew Tiller. Tiller played a decent amount in the 2nd half last season, ranking 27th out of 82 qualifiers at guard according to Pro Football Focus. The team also spent a 1st round pick on Joshua Garnett, a left guard who’s been impressive in the preseason. Garnett is working his way up the depth chart and wouldn’t surprise anybody if he were starting some point during the season. The team also still has pro bowler Joe Staley. If you’re searching for something to look forward to watching from the team this season, the offensive line should be it.
49ers WR depth chart will be the worst in the NFL
If you ask anybody what the saddest movies they’ve ever seen are, you’d get responses like The Notebook, Old Yeller and Titanic. Watching the 49ers wide receivers this season might be sadder than all those movies combined.
This WR core may be the worst I’ve seen from the team in as long as I can remember. Yes, even worse than when the team had Brett Swain as one of its core receivers in the 2012 playoffs. Torrey Smith, a guy you want as your #2 receiver at best, is at the top of the depth chart. Starting along Smith will be Quinton Patton, a 4th round bust from the 2013 draft class. That means a guy who has 1 touchdown in the last 3 years will be the #2 receiver on my favorite team…Woo! The #3 and #4 receivers will be guys that weren’t even on the team 3 weeks ago. Jeremy Kerley who had 16 catches all of last season and Rod Streater, who has 10 catches in the last 2 seasons, will be the #3 and #4 receivers. The only positive is 6th round pick Aaron Burbridge has made enough of an impression in training camp to make the final 53 man roster. The 49ers depth chart took a big blow by losing Bruce Ellington (torn hamstring) for the season as he was expected to have a breakout year. However, as the depth chart stands now, the 49ers have to have arguably the worst group of pass catchers in the league. It also doesn’t help that Blaine Gabbert will be throwing the rock to them.
Defense will keep team in some games
A few years ago the 49ers defense put fear in all opponents eyes. The team was filled with badasses and guys that just wanted to smack you in the mouth. One of my favorite plays in 49ers history was when Donte Whitner knocked Pierre Thomas out and forced a fumble on the Saints first drive in the 2012 playoffs (Also my favorite NFL game of all time.) The defense of the 49ers is what carried them for years. Due to retirements, injuries and free agency that defense isn’t close to what it used to be, but its still probably the teams biggest strength. Led by the last two 1st round picks (and former college teammates) Deforest Buckner and Arik Armstead, the team has a front 7 that has a chance to be pretty special. Buckner tallied 10.5 sacks in his last season at Oregon and Armstead received rave reviews during this past training camp. One of the best parts of the defense last season was 2014 1st round pick Jimmie Ward ascension to starting cornerback. While he struggled in his rookie year, Ward excelled at the slot corner position last year. With impressive young players in Buckner, Armstead and Ward along with veterans Bowman, Bethea and Reid, the 49ers defense should hold their ground and keep this team in a lot of games.
Going to be a long season
Based on the preseason, the roster and common sense, this is going to be a long season for the Red and Gold. The window can close fast in the NFL as the Niners have seen. A few years ago they were the darlings of the NFL, always vying for the Super Bowl. Now they are the favorites to land the top pick in the 2017 draft. Oh and they are also tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the toughest schedule in the NFL this season so that’s really great. As for something to look forward to, it will be interesting to see the development of some of the young and promising defensive players and it’ll be interesting to see how Chip’s offensive system works with this team. No matter how depressing this season gets for 49ers fans just remember that by week 8 we’ll have Warriors basketball back to distract us all!