49ers may have advantage with training camp uncertainty

Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers with Arik Armstead #91 and Dee Ford #55 (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers with Arik Armstead #91 and Dee Ford #55 (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

With the NFL schedule for offseason programs and training camp still in doubt, the San Francisco 49ers may have an advantage in their bid to return to the Super Bowl.

I know what you may be thinking: Yes, historically speaking, the team losing the Super Bowl struggles the following season trying to make it back to the big game.

And, yes, the San Francisco 49ers did lose two big pieces to that puzzle this offseason with the trade of defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and the loss of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in free agency. Those are legitimate concerns and ones you will hear often when the topic of who will be playing in Super Bowl LV next February is brought up.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic creating possible delays, changes or possible cancellations of all or part of OTAs and training camps, teams will may lose valuable time acclimating their rookies and free-agent acquisitions to their system.

And that is where the 49ers may be in a bit of an advantageous position.

The team still boasts one of the best rosters in the league and brought back nearly all of the team that came up just short from winning it all. Hence, with the annual transition in the NFL of coaching staffs and player movements, the Niners had much fewer moving parts in the offseason. This enables them to maintain a certain level of continuity in a proven system, whereas other teams changed coaches and had major roster changes.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch went into the draft with few picks and some definite needs. They were able to fill the two big holes on the roster with players who could have an immediate impact.

With an already-stout defensive front, featuring Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford and rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, while raw, should be able to fit in and mitigate the loss of Buckner without tremendous disruption to that unit. After all, disrupting opposing offenses, when Kinlaw was at South Carolina was where he excelled, and his supporting cast was not nearly as talented as the one he will play with in San Francisco.

And while the transition for receivers in their rookie season can be difficult, their other first-round pick, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, may shorten the learning curve with precise route running and the ability to run a full route tree.

Of course the rapport between Aiyuk and quarterback Jimmy Garropolo may take some time, but there is one important caveat for Aiyuk that endeared him to Shanahan, and he explained as much when he joined joined The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami on the TK Show podcast:

"When I look at Aiyuk I like that he can run every single route. He can run them from all three positions. The toughness he plays with. He’s a very smart player. He can do everything. He did time out a 4.5 (40-yard dash), but he had one of the fastest (10-yard splits) in the draft, which means I think he can get from zero to 10 yards as fast as anyone, and that translates pretty well. And I do think he runs better than his 4.5 on tape. You look at like his GPS times, which we get a lot of, and he’s one of the faster receivers that’s that’s recorded in games. So, I like how he can run all the routes in the tree."

With Shanahan scheming offensive plays that include jet sweeps, screens and even slot routes, Aiyuk stands to be utilized much like fellow wideout Deebo Samuel was in his inaugural season in the NFL.

While the front office seemingly filled those two glaring holes, they also kept the secondary in tact. Re-signing safety Jimmie Ward enabled the team to keep intact a unit that had a strong 2019. And while they struggled a bit in missed assignments late in Super Bowl LIV against quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, the production cornerback Richard Sherman and Co. displayed throughout the rest of the 2019 season is something for defensive coordinator Robert Saleh to feel good about heading into this year.

With the potential for an abbreviated offseason, OTAs and training camp, teams that had fewer player turnover and coaching change may have a slight upper hand in preparation for the upcoming season.

Next. 49ers will benefit long-term in wake of DeForest Buckner trade. dark

And for a team like the NFC champion 49ers who return the majority of their 53-man roster intact, that just may be enough to secure the team’s sixth Super Bowl championship.