While all 32 clubs are navigating their way through safely and effectively undergoing an NFL season in the midst of a pandemic, fullback Kyle Juszczyk believes the 49ers could have a slight advantage over the competition.
Over the last several months, coaches and personnel have taken steps to maximize distance learning practices. Teams underwent virtual offseason programs in lieu of in-person instruction. While the challenges of limited remote learning have made for an even playing field across the league, the extended season coming off of a Super Bowl run could potentially give teams playing into February an advantage in this condensed offseason.
"Obviously, there are not too many positives or advantages to having a world pandemic," Juszczyk said. "But if you're going to do it in any offseason, I think the best way to do it is right after you just played into February. We were able to stay together, get that extra month of work and that time that we're building with each other on the field. But then, we get a little bit of extra time that we're off our feet, that we're away from it. We can still do our virtual meetings and work on things mentally. But you have some time to recover from what was a longer season."
Another benefit for San Francisco heading into the season is the continuity across the roster and coaching staff. The 49ers are fortunate to see 22 of 25 starters returning this season (8 offense, 10 defense, 3 special teams).
ESPN recently ranked NFL teams' continuity from 1-32 heading into the season, with the 49ers sitting as high as No. 4 on their list. According to the site, over 82 percent of their snaps from 2019 are returning. Also, nearly all of the coaching staff from their NFC Championship season are back in house, which means less time focusing on the basics of San Francisco's schemes.
"We've just kind of picked up where we left off," Juszczyk said. "It's nice to be in an offense that it's our fourth year doing it. We don't have to spend so much time on the Day 1, Day 2 – that kind of stuff. We're kind of past that and we're to a point that we can really start building on everything that we've already done and get into some of the more advanced, minute details of things."
Outside of the number of veterans returning, the familiarity for newcomers who have prior experience under Kyle Shanahan, like Trent Williams and Tom Compton among others is an advantage for San Francisco. However, there's still an uphill battle for many first-year players to get caught up to speed. Without a full offseason to implement schemes and in-person training, rookies are forced to pack months of install into a truncated training and camp deprived of live preseason reps.
Running backs Salvon Ahmed and Jamycal Hasty are undrafted rookies who, in addition to the difficulties of the jump from college football to the NFL, are forced to acclimate themselves in a shortened, modified offseason. Despite the changes, Juszczyk believes San Francisco's bevy of proven and experienced veterans are an ideal catalyst the help equip the rookies to overcome the unique offseason.
"There are some advantages to coming to a more veteran team – to a team that's been running this offense for a long time," he added. "There's something to be said about when everyone around you knows what they're doing, it pushes you a little bit more to know what you're doing, and things are just a little more clear for you.
"I do agree that it seems like an uphill battle with less practices, less meeting time, less games – all that stuff for them. But I do think there are some things working in their favor."