Lack of preseason isn’t bad news for Kyle Shanahan, 49ers

Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Head coach Kyle Shanahan of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /

The NFL won’t host a preseason in 2020, which isn’t terrible news for the 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan despite unknown effects.

It would be one thing if the San Francisco 49ers were in the midst of a retooling or rebuilding phase heading into 2020. But they’re not.

Retaining 18 of their 22 starters on offense and defense last year, head coach Kyle Shanahan’s squad isn’t exactly looking for a lot of standouts to fill open roster spots. Yes, there are a number of position battles to be determined in training camp. But the vast majority of roles have been filled, even on the depth side of things.

The NFL isn’t going to have a preseason this year, thanks almost entirely to the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to create a longer build-up time to the regular season. In addition, offseason rosters are going to be trimmed from the usual 90 players down to 80.

Yes, this stinks for players on the fringes of the roster, especially those 10 immediate cuts. And it hurts fringe players who otherwise needed the preseason to showcase their value, if not to the Niners, at least potentially to one of the other 31 teams out there watching.

Yet San Francisco’s focus isn’t necessarily about discovering a wide new crop of players who can fill voids. It’s one of the benefits of a team carrying over the vast majority of their top contributors. Other teams that underwent a lot of offseason changes, such as the Minnesota Vikings, aren’t quite as lucky with this context.

Last year, Shanahan gave his thoughts on the preseason, which are quite telling and fall in line with what many think the preseason should be like:

“You absolutely don’t need four preseason games,” Shanahan told reporters. “I’d rather have zero than four. Preferably, I’d like two. One to evaluate the people trying to make the team and then just one to knock a little rust off.”

Earlier this offseason, the idea was going to be two games. Now it’s zero. Either way, at least in Shanahan’s perspective, the change is a bonus in contrast to what is typically the norm.

Only a handful of 49ers players should be affected

Yes, there are players who’ll be hindered by the lack of a preseason. There’s no getting around that. For the most part, however, they’re players on the roster bubble.

Case in point, the Niners brought aboard five prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft. Only two of them, defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw and wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, are projected to be competing for starting roles this season. The rest — offensive lineman Colton McKivitz, tight end Charlie Woerner and wide receiver Jauan Jennings — are vying for spots on the depth chart and don’t figure to start right away this season.

Some of the other notable moves, namely the in-draft trade for former Washington tackle Trent Williams and the free-agent pickup of former New York Jets guard Tom Compton, shouldn’t be totally hindered by a lack of the preseason either.

Williams and Compton have both played in Shanahan’s offense before, so their re-acclimation should be much easier than a first-year rookie.

True, it’ll be hard not seeing some of those feel-good stories at the back end of San Francisco’s roster during preseason bouts. And it’ll mean fans have to wait a little longer before they can watch on-field football.

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But from Shanahan’s perspective, it’s not a big deal and the 49ers aren’t terribly affected by the lack of exhibition bouts anyway.