It’s almost go time here at San Francisco 49ers HQ. Players report on Wednesday and the team’s first practice will take place on Thursday. As we enter the final 48 hours of the offseason, it’s time to preview what’s to come in August.
This week’s mailbag focuses on the 49ers top storylines and position battles for training camp and the preseason. Thanks as always to those who sent in questions. Away we go.
Not only do I think there’s a real competition at right guard, but I’d also say that it’s the most significant position battle on the roster. There’s no other starting spot on offense or defense with as much ambiguity.
Joshua Garnett dominated first-team reps during the offseason program, but that was due in large part to Jonathan Cooper’s knee injury. I’d expect Garnett, Cooper and Mike Person to all have a shot at the starting job.
I truthfully don’t think I have something that qualifies as a “biggest concern,” especially when you compare this roster to recent years. I think that the biggest question mark facing the 49ers is in regards to the team’s young talent. Who is going to develop and take that next step? San Francisco’s roster is chock full of good players. Good players can get a team to the playoffs, but it takes great players to win a championship.
The 49ers potentially have a great quarterback. Richard Sherman could return to All-Pro form. DeForest Buckner has also shown signs of greatness. But who else will step up? Names like Reuben Foster, Jaquiski Tartt, Ahkello Witherspoon, Adrian Colbert and Jerick McKinnon all have intriguing talent. San Francisco is counting on those key pieces to reach their potential.
If I had to pick a biggest concern, it would be that the 49ers top edge rushers are largely unproven. That said, I believe in the sum of the parts and think that San Francisco's pass rush overall will be adequate.
I still expect K’Waun Williams to start at nickel. D.J. Reed will get reps at that spot, but he’s also being cross-trained at free safety. I also think Trent Taylor will be San Francisco’s primary option out of the slot, especially in third-and-short situations. Dante Pettis is likely to get reps there as well in specific situations, but Pettis won’t be limited to the slot, either. Both young wideouts should carve out roles for themselves within the 49ers offense.
I think it’s Sherman, who in my mind, remains a bit of a wild card. There’s no overstating what it would mean to the 49ers defense if Sherman is able to return to full form. Having a dominant, lock-down cornerback would immediately give San Francisco the opportunity to have a top-15 group league wide.
McKinnon will be a focal point of the 49ers offense, but Matt Breida will be involved as well. Carlos Hyde had 299 total touches (240 rushes, 59 receptions) last season, and yet, Kyle Shanahan still carved out 126 touches for Breida (105 rushes, 21 receptions). That’s just shy of eight touches per game. I expect Breida’s workload to be similar in 2018, if not a tick larger.
I wouldn’t expect the NFL’s new kickoff rules to alter any roster spots when it’s time for cuts. Reed and Raheem Mostert are the most likely candidates to return kicks. Pettis and Taylor will battle for punt return reps. Don’t be surprised if both players split time until one guy takes a stranglehold on the job.
This is tough because San Francisco’s home schedule is absolutely loaded. The 49ers host three prime-time games in 2018 – vs. the Los Angeles Rams on “Sunday Night Football,” vs. the Oakland Raiders on “Thursday Night Football,” and vs. the New York Giants on “Monday Night Football.” Of those three, I’d pick the Rams game with the Raiders matchup coming in a close second.
That Week 7 contest vs. Los Angeles will feature two franchise quarterbacks, two-high profile head coaches and a pair of rosters loaded with young talent. This has the makings of one of the NFL’s premier rivalries for the next several years. Make sure to grab your tickets so you can be in attendance.
I don’t foresee any more notable moves. John Lynch will continue to tinker, but the players who will lead San Francisco into battle in 2018 are already on the roster.