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Mercifully, the NFL regular season has (finally) arrived. The San Francisco 49ers are currently preparing to open their 2017 campaign with a home game against the Carolina Panthers. We will spend all week diving into the contest's most intriguing matchups, and we start with the mailbag.
Programming note: From here on out, the mailbag will be posted primarily on Tuesday's. Set your calendars accordingly.
Here's a look at the 49ers 53-man roster and what to expect on Sunday against the Panthers.
Christian McCaffrey vs. the entire 49ers defense is going to be one heck of a matchup. I can guarantee you that San Francisco will be keying on McCaffrey every time he steps on the field. ESPN's Dianna Russini reported Tuesday morning that the Panthers have an entire set of plays devoted to the eighth-overall pick. Carolina will get creative in how they deploy McCaffrey. The disadvantage for the 49ers is that there isn't much tape to study.
McCaffrey averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored one touchdown during the preseason. He also caught three passes for 51 yards including a 38-yard reception. Hopefully former Stanford teammate Solomon Thomas will have some tips to defending the talented playmaker.
Trent Taylor (punts) and Raheem Mostert (kicks) are listed as the starters in the return game per this week's updated depth chart. Victor Bolden Jr. is listed as the No. 2 guy at both spots.
The 49ers will likely keep Bolden and/or Kendrick Bourne down on Sunday. Bolden's potential return duties and Bourne possibly serving as a starting gunner on punt coverage will impact that decision.
I can almost guarantee you that San Francisco won't dress nine offensive linemen. I'd expect that only seven are up on gameday. That means either Garry Gilliam or John Theus (the primary backup tackles) are likely to sit. One of either Erik Magnuson or Zane Beadles could be the other.
There are two things to consider here. One, who is the backup center? That player (possibly Magnuson) will be active. Also, how quickly will Laken Tomlinson get acclimated to Kyle Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme? The answer to that question will play a role in Sunday's inactives.
Brock Coyle, Adrian Colbert, Pita Taumoepenu, Lorenzo Jerome, Xavier Cooper and Jimmie Ward (if not medically cleared) are other players who could potentially be inactive.
Absolutely. Pierre Garçon is the clear cut No. 1 receiver on the 49ers roster, and we know that Pierre Garçon trusts him entirely. In the first half alone against the Minnesota Vikings, Garçon was targeted seven times. He caught six of those passes for 64 yards. Remember, Garçon led the NFL with 113 receptions in 2013 while playing in Shanahan's system. He'd need 75 yards per game to get to 1,200. The touchdowns are a bit harder to predict because they're more random. However, the numbers you suggested seem entirely possible.
It's impossible to guess what Ronald Blair III's role will be when he returns. So much can happen between now and then. The rotation at defensive line might solidify itself, which would make it tough for Blair to find playing time. Another scenario is that a player is either struggling or injured, which changes the picture completely.
Here's what you should take away from Blair remaining on the roster: The coaches are impressed with his effort level, love for football and versatility on the defensive line.
Solomon Thomas will rotate with Garrett Celek. Carolina's initial offensive personnel will likely determine who "starts". Robert Saleh has said he sees both players as starters. Carradine will play primarily on base downs with Thomas coming in on passing situations. Just like the Panthers and their use of McCaffrey, the 49ers won't be shy about throwing Thomas into the fire in his NFL debut.
This is similar to the last question. Who "starts" will be determined by the personnel grouping that takes the field first. What I assume you're getting at is forecasting how Kittle will be used in the passing game. To that point, I think the 49ers view the rookie as their top receiving weapon at tight end. His ability as a downfield threat is unmatched by Logan Paulsen and Garrett Celek.
Expect to see plenty of Kittle on Sunday.
There are two reasons why Ward will stay at safety for the time being. For starters, the 49ers believe that free safety is Ward's best position. It's a vital spot in Saleh's defensive scheme, and the team needs someone there that they trust. I also think it's a testament to how the coaching staff feels about Dontae Johnson and K'Waun Williams.
Many (myself included) expected to see intense position battles at corner. However, Johnson (outside corner opposite Rashard Robinson) and Williams (nickel) took immediate hold of their spots.
This is a great question. Jerome started the first two preseason games at free safety in Ward's absence. Then, in the "dress rehearsal" against the Vikings, it was Jaquiski Tartt who got the nod. Saleh gushed about Tartt in his last press conference and explained how the 49ers are finding creative ways to get the third-year safety onto the field. My guess is that Tartt would start (solid rhyme, I know) against Carolina if Ward is unable to go. I expect Tartt to have a sizeable role regardless.
This is a fun, open-ended question. Carolina was stingy against the run in 2016, allowing opponents just 3.9 yards per carry. I'll guess Hyde churns out 85 tough yards and scores one touchdown. "El Guapo" has scored a pair of touchdowns in Week 1 each of the last two seasons.
With so many players on the bubble, it's hard to call anyone a "surprise". That said, Jeremy Kerley was the 49ers best receiver in 2016 and was re-signed this offseason. Parting ways with Kerley says more about Bourne and Bolden. San Francisco clearly believed that not only were the undrafted free agents potential impact players, but also that they wouldn't make it through waivers and back onto the practice squad.
Kerley will be missed, and he's got plenty of football left in him. He's already been scooped up by the New York Jets.
Short answer is, yes. It's the reason why Kerley was cut and why the 49ers opted to stand pat outside of Xavier Cooper. The one caveat is that they might have put in a claim for someone snagged by the Cleveland Browns, who added five players from the waiver wire.