The universal answer to the age old question is always the same, “YES” — we are ready for some football.
Having just finished calling the four 49ers preseason games and being around training camp, there are a few distinct impressions and thoughts heading into the 2018 season.
- John Lynch is legit. Truly great leaders empower those around them and demand collaboration as a group to accomplish a goal. They never take or grab credit and are content with collective success. Lynch reminds me of Bob Myers so often I need to find out if they are related. The football guys with the 49ers are excellent— Adam Peters, Martin Mayhew, and Keena Turner. And Parag Marathe is very creative, tough-minded and sharp on the financial end of things. The talent upgrade of the 49er roster in such a short period of time is really stunning.
- Kyle Shanahan was born to be a head coach. Yes, the family lineage is there but this guy has a Doctorate in Football. His play calling builds upon itself, plays that set up other plays, increasing rhythm and tempo at just the right times. Running to set up the pass, passing to set up the run. As the talent level increases, the 49ers are going to be dynamic offensively. As so many teams flounder at the QB position, the 49ers had Nick Mullens and Jack Heneghan competently run their offense. Not many teams are doing that with third and fourth-string quarterbacks. It’s a credit to the coaching.
- Which brings us to Jimmy Garoppolo. He has “it.” I’ve been around enough special athletes in pro sports to just sense how they are really different from ordinary players. Jimmy G is talented, fearless, a leader, and still one of the guys. His acquisition is the key to the 49ers’ turnaround. Also, the Captain Obvious note is that he must stay healthy. The 49ers would be hard pressed to win a game without him. Many NFL teams are now acquiring ready made backup quarterbacks (see Foles, Nick) as the position is just so critical. The 49ers are not there yet. And the drop off to C.J. Beathard is something that the Faithful do not want to contemplate this year.
- A strength of this team will be the number of wide receivers who can play. Yes, there isn’t a Julio Jones or DeAndre Hopkins on this team. But Marquise Goodwin is going to have 1,000 yards receiving, just watch. And many of the puzzle pieces fit what Shanahan wants to do each week.
- The STARTING offensive line will be solid. Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike Person/Joshua Garnett, and Mike McGlinchey are talented. But the lack of depth behind these five is a major concern. Hey, you can’t fix everything in two years.
- Mixed bag on running backs and tight ends. Very much a “show me” situation. Just haven’t seen enough of Jerick McKinnon or George Kittle to make any legit projections. The optimist sees great things from both in this system. The realist says talk to me after 16 regular season games. Starting the season injured is always worrisome.
- I really like the 49ers defensive line prospects. Yeah, yeah they don’t have a pass rush. I’ve heard it 1,000 times already. And the 49ers haven’t had a player with more than seven sacks in a season in any of the past four years. But Deforest Buckner is real. Solomon Thomas will be noticed weekly. Arik Armstead is the wild card, but the three of them played together briefly in Indy, and there is something about that youthful energy, size, and activity. The 49ers will rotate numerous D-linemen, and I think they will be very good against the run this year— shocking given the porous run defense of previous years.
- Linebacker is similar to offensive line in that injury, suspension, inexperience, and lack of proven depth have this unit being a huge question mark. Let’s see Malcolm Smith, Reuben Foster, and Fred Warner play together for a few games. The Niners just can’t have any real idea of how this unit will perform.
- Can Richard Sherman still play at a high level? The Achilles injury is a huge one for guys constantly stopping and starting while running forward or backpedaling. His presence and leadership has been just outstanding and he has been “all in” as a 49er from the day of his signing. I will guarantee the 49ers play Seattle very well in both regular season meetings. Ahkello Witherspoon is going to be picked on a lot. And he will have to take a giant leap forward in year two. There are a lot of young secondary bodies that show promise, but this is one of the most inexperienced units on the team.
- There is no stat for momentum or belief. But the final five games of last year has the entire 49ers organization and fan base feeling so different heading into this season. With Jimmy G, all things are possible. There is chemistry and cohesion amongst the youngsters. A high level coaching staff and a tradition that has few rivals in pro football. 2018 will be the beginning of the 49ers resurgence, and it can’t come soon enough.