Rounding Up 49ers' Offseason Buzz, Post-Minicamps
With the conclusion of OTAs and minicamps, the only thing standing in the way of preseason football is training camp. Of course, training camp is over a month away, so we'll have to preoccupy ourselves with something until mid-July. Soccer, anyone?
The San Francisco 49ers' offseason has been quite tame since the flurry of trades; however, there were some notable narratives. For example, did anyone expect Vernon Davis and Alex Boone to pitch a holdout? How about the new pieces along the secondary? Even the draft was surprising, though general manager Trent Baalke has never really fit the norm in this area.
While we wait for training camp like the zombies we are, let's take a look back at some of the most interesting offseason storylines in Santa Clara!
For offensive coordinator Greg Roman, he envisions the 49ers offense will adapt to the new personnel brought in by GM Trent Baalke.
"It's fair to make the statement it's a different offense," Roman said Tuesday on Day 1 of minicamp, per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco. "We've got some new guys in."
For starters, the 49ers actually have some depth at receiver. After what they trotted out last year, you could only go up from that point.
With Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson manning the top three spots at receiver—not to mention the presence of Brandon Lloyd and two young upstarts in Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington—we should see the 49ers spread the ball more on offense.
Now, this will still be a power-run offense.
More than anything, this adds more options to an already-complex and diverse offense. The real question is: Can Mr. Roman take advantage of all his new toys?
"I want to see this offense do whatever it has to do to win games," Kaepernick said, per the San Jose Mercury News' Mark Purdy. "That's really what's most important. But I'm always good to throw a few more balls."
We'll have to wait for the start of the preseason to see this new-look 49ers offense in action.
The 49ers Secondary
With such a strong defensive front, the back end has long been the Achilles' heel of this 49ers defense. At least, this is what many in the media would have us believe.
While the front seven is clearly the strength of this defense, the secondary has held its own the last few years. In the last two seasons, statistically speaking, the 49ers secondary has ranked in the top 10 in pass yards allowed.
Now, I must admit that changes are on the horizon for the secondary. It'll be without two starters from last season, and one of its potential starters could potentially miss a few games due to idiotic off-the-field behavior. From context, no names needed to be listed.
The 49ers will have to make peace with the defensive backs who are playing. Tramaine Brock returns as a starter, and news coming out of Santa Clara is that cornerback Chris Cook has impressed.
Here's Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee describing Cook as one of the few bright spots in OTAs and minicamp:
He was the beneficiary of Chris Culliver's absence and of an ankle injury to Eric Wright, who retired this week. That meant that Cook took nearly all the first-team defensive repetitions at right cornerback. He did not stand out with any interceptions – a shortcoming of his – during any of the open practices. But there also was no press or jam coverage permitted, which is Cook's specialty. That is, Cook had a good spring and we still have yet to see him in his element.
Cook may end up being a very important player for the 49ers this season. Considering I had Cook on the outside looking in when it comes to making the 53-man roster, this is a nice surprise for both coaches and fans.
Healthy Year 2 Players
The 49ers have been ahead of the curve when it comes to redshirting rookies due to injury. Unlike the 49ers, most teams don't have the depth and talent to shelve a rookie for a year or two before reaping the potential benefits.
Brandon Thomas is the latest draft selection who will likely redshirt his first season with the 49ers. The year before that it was Marcus Lattimore and for the most part Tank Carradine.
The 49ers are hoping to reap the benefits of a healthy Lattimore and Carradine. Now, of the two players, Carradine has a better chance at making an impact on the field this season and beyond.
With Aldon Smith's season in doubt, Carradine can make an impact as both a pass-rusher and run-stopper in situational downs. He won't be a starter, but he'll be a part of a deep rotation along the defensive line.
On the other hand, Lattimore will have a tough time getting carries with a healthy Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in front of him. Not to mention, second-round draft pick Carlos Hyde should be in the running for most of the goal-line carries.
Nonetheless, I have a feeling Lattimore will make an impact one way or another. This is just a gut feeling, but, man, would this make a great story. Truthfully, Lattimore doesn't need a breakout year for this to be a successful season.
With both players finally healthy, they only add to the excellent depth already on the roster.
Both Vernon Davis and Alex Boone were absent from minicamps and OTAs. The real test will come during training camp. If both players are absent at the start of training camp, it's time to seriously consider both players could miss regular-season action.
The 49ers have already started preparing for both players' absences. They have used Joe Looney at guard as the replacement for Boone. Second-year tight end Vance McDonald took snaps with the first team in Davis's absence.
While I love McDonald's potential, I'm unsure he's ready to take over as a starter. Davis is one of the most explosive players in the NFL, so replacing him won't be an easy task for McDonald.
On the other hand, Looney's progression to the starting lineup should be far smoother. Roman seems to really like what Looney has shown during his short time with the first-team lineup.
"Joe Looney's done a great job. He's really shown himself well. I'm excited about what he's been able to do with the opportunities. So, it's next man up. That's just how it goes," Roman told reporters.
The business side of football can get very ugly. In all honesty, the 49ers would love if Boone and Davis return. While Looney and McDonald serve as future replacements for their respective positions, Boone and Davis are the better players at the moment.
We'll see how serious both Davis and Boone are in the coming weeks!
Potential Impact Rookies
In previous seasons, many of the newly minted 49ers rookies were drafted primarily for depth. We could see that change with the 2014 draft class.
The 49ers may not have big roster holes to fill, but there are some weaknesses that need to be addressed.
Let's start at the running back position. The addition of Carlos Hyde was a bit of a head-scratcher at first, but this pick could pay huge dividends for the 49ers as early as this season.
Hyde will likely assume the same role as former 49ers running back Anthony Dixon. He can be the goal-line and short-yardage back for this 49ers power-running attack. Against the physical teams in the NFC West, Hyde could be a very useful weapon for Kaepernick and Co.
How about the secondary? We talked about the holes in the secondary previously, but one name that should be mentioned is first-round pick Jimmie Ward.
Ward is not healthy at the moment, but when medically cleared, he'll provide some excellent versatility in the back end. He can play in the slot and at times outside. Also, his natural position of safety gives the 49ers some depth behind starters Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea.
"I feel like he has game speed. He's faster than he looks and he can separate. So, we're very excited about what he can add to this team."
The 49ers have long needed a vertical threat to open up this passing offense. Not to mention, Ellington can also flourish as a kick returner on special teams.
With some of the injuries and possible repercussions from off-the-field behavior, this 2014 rookie class for the 49ers can really make a name for itself.