The 5 Biggest Issues Facing San Francisco 49ers with OTAs Wrapped

Grant Cohn@@grantcohnFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2015

The 5 Biggest Issues Facing San Francisco 49ers with OTAs Wrapped

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    The San Francisco 49ers are facing major issues.

    Minor ones too. Like Jimmie Ward’s foot.

    It was broken when the Niners spent a first-round draft pick on him in 2014, and it’s broken now. He rebroke it last season and spent the final seven games on injured reserve. He’s still rehabbing that puppy.

    “Ward I think right now is scheduled to be ready (for training camp),” 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula said Thursday after practice. And if he isn’t ready—no big deal. The Niners have other slot corners, such as Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser; even starting outside corner Tramaine Brock can play the slot. He did so Thursday.

    Ward’s foot is small potatoes compared the Niners’ major issues. Here are their five biggest in ascending order.

5. Colin Kaepernick’s Evolution

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Colin Kaepernick is a good quarterback.

    He wants to become a great one. So he went to EXOS training facility in Phoenix this offseason to improve his weaknesses: pocket proficiency, footwork, accuracy and touch. He also shortened his throwing motion.

    When you watch him warm up, you can see the improvements. His base is wider when he drops back. His knees are bent. His motion is compact. And his passes have more touch—especially the deep ones.

    But when you watch him during the competitive portions of practice, the improvements come and go. Sometimes he looks like the new Kaepernick. Most of the time he looks like the old Kaepernick.

    How long will it take before the new Kaepernick is the only Kaepernick?

4. Cornerback Depth

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    This offseason the 49ers lost both of their starting cornerbacks—Chris Culliver signed with the Washington Redskins, and Perrish Cox signed with the Tennessee Titans.

    Culliver’s replacement, 28-year old Shareece Wright, missed the entire offseason training program with an undisclosed injury. Cox’s replacement, 26-year old Tramaine Brock, missed all but one day of the offseason training program with a hamstring injury.

    The first-team corners through most of OTAs and minicamp were Marcus Cromartie and Chris Cook. No joke. The second-team corners were Dontae Johnson and Kenneth Acker. All four corners struggled during team drills, even while covering undrafted free agents such as DeAndrew White and DiAndre Campbell.

    Brock and Wright better be healthy when the regular season rolls around, or else the Niners will have some of the worst corners in the NFL.

3. Eric Reid’s Brain

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Twenty-three-year-old free safety Eric Reid suffered three concussions the first two seasons of his career.

    “Everybody evaluates their own situation,” he told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I’ve evaluated mine and I’ve decided I still want to play.”

    What if he suffers concussion No. 4? Will he retire? “I’m not putting a number on it,” Reid told Branch. “I will continue to evaluate my own situation. If I have another and I don’t feel like I can play anymore, then I won’t.”

    It’s impossible to know how Reid’s brain would respond to a potential fourth concussion. One thing seems certain—the Niners prepared for the worst by drafting free safety Jaquiski Tartt in Round 2 this year. If Reid suffers another concussion and it forces him to retire, Tartt will take his place.

2. NaVorro Bowman’s Knee

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    NaVorro Bowman used to be one of the quickest inside linebackers in the NFL. He could cover any running back out of the backfield, even the electric ones like Darren Sproles. And Bowman could chase down the quickest quarterbacks, such as Michael Vick and Russell Wilson.

    Bowman tore his ACL and MCL in the 2014 NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks and didn’t play last season. He practiced during OTAs and minicamp, but he had to wear a big, clunky brace on his surgically repaired knee.

    Wednesday during team drills, he had to cover backup running back Kendall Hunter man to man. Hunter made a hard cut to the outside, and Bowman couldn’t stay with him. Hunter was wide-open and caught the ball.

    Bowman seems far less quick than he used to be. Fortunately for him, he has three months to strengthen his knee before the regular season begins.

1. Offensive Line

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    Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    The 49ers gave up 52 sacks last season.

    And when starting right tackle Anthony Davis didn’t play—he missed nine games—the Niners averaged only 3.9 yards per carry.

    Next season the Niners won’t have Anthony Davis, who retired, or Mike Iupati, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals for five years and $40 million. The Niners offensive line seems to have gotten worse this offseason.

    But there’s hope for these guys as long as they stay healthy. An offensive line with continuity, meaning the same five guys all season, can outperform the talent level of the individual players. Continuity is key.

    And the Niners offensive line didn’t have it last season. It had several different combinations of offensive linemen. Maybe that’s why it was so bad in 2014.

    All quotes and practice observations obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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