Top Storylines in Training Camp
While training camp is all about competition and getting ready for the regular season, a number of notable storylines always wind up popping up between now and Week 1.
Here are the few ones to watch.
Effectiveness of Defensive Changes
A year removed from boasting a historically bad defense, the Niners brought in Robert Saleh — a disciple of the Seattle Seahawks organization — to install a new scheme and approach in 2017.
Saleh will utilize a 4-3 hybrid, of sorts, which calls for the use of 3-4 players. This is essential for San Francisco, as the team has drafted players (Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner) for the previously used 3-4 alignment.
Many of these changes are up front within the front seven — a unit which Pro Football Focus ranked dead last in the NFL.
This might be a bit laughable, considering all the new additions and high investments, but the Niners have a lot of work to do in order to shake off this association carrying over from last year.
Will the Offensive Line Be the Primary Weakness
Even with some changes, the 49ers offensive line probably winds up looking a lot like it did last year. Maybe the only notable change is center Jeremy Zuttah taking over for Daniel Kilgore.
This unit, according to Football Outsiders, ranked 30th in pass protection last year and worst in run blocking. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone blocking scheme marks a slight change from last year, but it’s very possible this group will be a liability in 2017.
The 49ers can hope second-year guard Joshua Garnett makes a big leap from an otherwise forgettable rookie season in 2016.
But the other guard position, regardless who holds it down, is a question mark. So is right tackle with Trent Brown. He’s not exactly an ideal fit in Shanahan’s scheme.
The Effectiveness of the Offense under Kyle Shanahan
Shanahan’s offense is widely viewed as one of the most complex in the NFL.
On one hand, it’s possible to see how well it clicks when talent is available and all cylinders are firing. Just look at Shanahan’s top-ranked Atlanta Falcons offense from a year ago.
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Yet the talent level in San Francisco is vastly different.
In order to bring the Niners up to speed, John Lynch signed a number of offensive free agents familiar with Shanahan’s system. Guys like tight end Logan Paulsen, running back Tim Hightower and wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Aldrick Robinson have played under Shanahan before.
So has quarterback Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer is a stopgap option, and everyone knows it. How well he’s capable of impacting the offense in a positive way is anyone’s guess. But the 49ers are hinging almost all of their offensive success on his shoulders.
These stories, and more, will be at the pinnacle of focus during training camp. The Niners still have a long way to go before getting back to playoff contention.
Still, all signs are pointing towards the team being back on the right track. It’s a feeling not seen in Santa Clara since the Jim Harbaugh years, and this long-term rebuild is showing signs of being exactly where it needs to be right now.
Overall, it’s great to have football back again.