SANTA CLARA -- In going back to something the organization did in the past, the 49ers are showing the St. Louis Rams' outstanding inside linebacker James Laurinaitis something he has never before seen.While speaking with the Bay Area media on a conference call this week, Laurinaitis talked about the variety of run plays the 49ers have shown over the past two seasons."They run some weird running plays now," he said. "You'll see some running plays I don't think I've seen since Tecmo Super Bowl, that video game. They throw the house at you."He explained what the Rams have to prepare to face."They'll do the two backs flat with the double sweep, the wide sweep," Laurinaitis said. "Now they'll do two-back trap schemes and stuff like that you ' see a lot of teams doing any more. Teams will get in the one-back trap and do that, but the Niners will do little triple-trap kind of stuff."It's actually been quite successful for them. You don't really see a formation anymore where you have two backs lined up at the same depth, side by side. It's good stuff and they have the personnel to do it because their offensive line can pull and get out there, and when they want to they can just come up and maul you."Offensive coordinator Greg Roman draws up the 49ers' run game, and many of his ideas originate from three seasons (1999-2001) in which worked as an offensive assistant under coach George Seifert."I worked for George in Carolina and he had a tremendous impact on me as a football coach," Roman said. "I was privy to all that stuff back then, and got to watch all the films and what not and learned about it."The 49ers used a lot of split-back formations in the 1980s and '90s under Bill Walsh and, later, Seifert. Roman spent a lot of time during the lockout of 2011 watching Walsh installation videos."That used to be the norm a long time ago and then it kind of evolved in the 80's to I-Backs," Roman said. "I think certain types of backs can run that stuff and certain types of backs you really wouldn't want to run that stuff with. And we have backs that are multi-dimensional that can run that stuff. So, it's good."DOUBLE DUTY: The 49ers one rookie wide receiver (A.J. Jenkins) who does not play in games and another receiver on the practice squad (Ricardo Lockette). So when the 49ers need other receivers to run routes against the 49ers' first-team offense, they enlist the help of a couple rookie defensive backs.Safeties Trenton Robinson and Michael Thomas (practice squad) both see action as wide receivers in practice. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he believes that experience can make them better defenders."I think it helps them understand a receiver's perspective in running routes," Fangio said. "The more you understand what the offense is doing when you're a defensive player, the better off you are."Fangio was clear that neither is destined to play offense."Neither one of them has a future as a receiver, if that's what you're alluding to," he said.INJURY REPORT: The 49ers list nine players on their injury report, but each went through a full practice on Thursday.The players on the injury report are QB Alex Smith (right finger), WR Michael Crabtree (illness), RB Frank Gore (hand), LB Patrick Willis (shoulder), LB Tavares Gooden (elbow), G Daniel Kilgore (concussion), P Andy Lee (hand), WR Mario Manningham (shoulder), DT Will Tukuafu (wrist).
The 49ers enter their first training camp under head coach Kyle Shanahan Thursday with plenty of questions to be answered.
But don't worry, one of the hardest-hitting questions already has its answer. On Monday, ratings for every first-round rookie were revealed for "Madden NFL 18."
Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who the 49ers traded back and took with the third pick in the draft, comes in at 79 overall. Thomas is tied with two others as the fourth-highest rated rookie in the game.
Over two seasons with Stanford, Thomas recorded 98 tackles, 24.5 for loss, and 12 sacks.
San Francisco traded back into the first round to add another piece to their defense in linebacker Reuben Foster with the No. 31 overall pick. The former Alabama star starts off his Madden career with a 76 overall rating. He is tied with five other rookies for the seventh-best rating.
In three years at Alabama, Foster racked up 211 tackles, 23 for loss, and seven sacks.
The 49ers report to training camp Thursday with 51 of the 90 players on their offseason roster coming to the organization since the arrivals of general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan.
So, yes, there are a lot of questions surrounding the 49ers, who finished last season 2-14 and the second-worst team in the league behind the Cleveland Browns.
Here are ten questions from followers on Facebook that seem to be most on the minds of 49ers fans on the eve of reporting day:
1. How much better is the coaching staff compared to last season's coaching staff? (Raymond Robles)
That remains to be seen, but there is little doubt Kyle Shanahan has in place a proven NFL offensive system. General manager Trent Baalke did not give Chip Kelly much talent with which to work last season, but there is plenty of doubt whether Kelly’s scheme can sustain success in the NFL.
Shanahan has installed a traditional NFL offense. The fullback position will be a key component. Long-time running backs coach Bobby Turner has routinely produced exceptional results.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was not Shanahan’s first choice. Shanahan wanted an experienced coach on that side of the ball, but could not land Gus Bradley or Vic Fangio. Saleh got high marks from players after the offseason program, but the true indication will be the results of the 49ers’ defense during the regular season.
2. Hoyer is the presumptive starter, but what chance do you think Beathard beats out Barkley for the backup spot? (James Bramow)
There has never been a question since the moment the 49ers signed Brian Hoyer that he steps in as the starting quarterback. After the 49ers could not land Matt Schaub, the 49ers lined up Matt Barkely as the backup.
Hoyer and Barkley open camp as the solid Nos. 1 and 2 on the roster. C.J. Beathard, whom the 49ers selected late in the third round, will likely remain as the No. 3. The plan is to bring him along slowly, so it seems unlikely he has much of a chance to move up the depth chart unless an injury forces some shuffling.
3. What's the future looking like for Carlos Hyde with San Francisco 49ers? (Steven James)
Hyde is the best running back on the 49ers’ roster. The only question is whether he is the best running back for the 49ers’ new scheme. Hyde enters the final year of his contract. The 49ers made the moves in the offseason to build more depth and line up his replacement for the 2018 season. Shanahan and Turner really wanted Joe Williams, and they convinced Lynch to draft him in the fourth round. The future of Hyde with the 49ers depends on how he performs once the pads go on. His physical style of play is what distinguishes him from the others.
4. Will Carlos Hyde and Vance McDonald open camp as the starters? (Joe Ruckus Marsh)
Hyde will certainly open camp as the starter. I’d assume McDonald will enter the first huddle of training camp with the No. 1 offense, too. But there is no question McDonald will face stiff challenges to maintain his role on the team.
5. Is George Kittle the real deal? (Israel Vasquez)
We will see when things start getting serious. But the first indication from Kittle during the offseason program is that he has a chance to be a significant contributor as a rookie. He was very active in the passing game, especially as a red-zone target. He also has good speed, which he showed to get down the field and make some plays. If his blocking holds up, he could easily win a starting job.
6. Who are gonna be the starting WRs? (John Tinsley)
Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin appear to be clear favorites to win the starting jobs on the outside. The 49ers have three solid starting options at slot receiver, led by veteran Jeremy Kerley, whom the new regime re-signed after he led the club in receptions and receiving yards last season. Draft pick Trent Taylor had a strong camp. Bruce Ellington is talented but he has been unable to remain healthy enough to show anything.
7. Who do you think has the inside track to start at center: Zuttah or Kilgore? (D.j. Byrd)
Jeremy Zuttah made the Pro Bowl last season with the Baltimore Ravens. Daniel Kilgore has played well – when healthy – since taking over as the starter in 2014. Zuttah might actually be competing for two spots. There’s a decent chance that Kilgore assumes the starting role at center and Zuttah is moved to one of the guard spots. This way, they’re both winners.
8. The new 4-3 front seven with all the new faces, how's the rotation going to look like? (Eric Page)
The favorites to win the starting jobs along the line are big end Solomon Thomas, nose tackle Earl Mitchell, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and “Leo” Arik Armstead. Quinton Dial faces a stiff challenge to learn the new scheme, as he must develop the movement skills to play a one-gap scheme. Elvis Dumervil and Aaron Lynch will compete to work their way into pass-rush specialist roles. Chris Jones enters camp in good position to serve behind Buckner in a backup role. Tank Carradine and Ronald Blair will compete for spot duty behind Thomas.
9. Who will start along side NaVorro Bowman? (Daniel Velazquez)
The 49ers signed Malcolm Smith because of his knowledge and production within the new defensive system. Smith looked good in the offseason program. But the 49ers also fell in love with Reuben Foster and traded up to get him at the back of the first round.
When the 49ers last saw Foster, they expected him to be medically cleared for the opening of training camp. (Foster underwent offseason shoulder surgery that was widely reported as a condition that scared off some NFL teams.)
There is no rush to get Foster onto the field. But he is such a talent that it will be difficult to keep him on the sideline. My guess is that Smith opens as the starter and they add more and more to Foster’s plate until he is deemed ready for an every-down role. His understanding and execution of the defense will determine when he takes over on a full-time basis.
10. How much of a learning curve will there be for the defense going from a 3-4 to a 4-3? (David Hartless)
The 49ers plan to play a much more aggressive style of defense. The defensive linemen will be responsible for one gap, and they will be asked to charge up the field to disrupt plays in the backfield.
That sounds great, but it also leaves the defense susceptible to more big plays. Strong safety Eric Reid, stationed closer to the line of scrimmage, will have a key role in the run game. Free safety Jimmie Ward will be asked to make plays in the passing game.
Saleh’s defense, however, will be simple. Because of the limited number of calls, the defense should be more comfortable doing fewer things. The 49ers will likely have fewer blown assignments and gives them a chance to make a significant improvement over last season, when the club was the worst defense in the NFL.