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.
CHICAGO -- Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.
It's the largest update on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a debilitating brain disease that can cause a range of symptoms including memory loss.
The report doesn't confirm that the condition is common in all football players; it reflects high occurrence in samples at a Boston brain bank that studies CTE. Many donors or their families contributed because of the players' repeated concussions and troubling symptoms before they died.
"There are many questions that remain unanswered," said lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. "How common is this" in the general population and all football players?
"How many years of football is too many?" and "What is the genetic risk? Some players do not have evidence of this disease despite long playing years," she noted.
It's also uncertain if some players' lifestyle habits - alcohol, drugs, steroids, diet - might somehow contribute, McKee said.
Dr. Munro Cullum, a neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, emphasized that the report is based on a selective sample of men who were not necessarily representative of all football players. He said problems other than CTE might explain some of their most common symptoms before death - depression, impulsivity and behavior changes. He was not involved in the report.
McKee said research from the brain bank may lead to answers and an understanding of how to detect the disease in life, "while there's still a chance to do something about it." Currently, there's no known treatment.
The strongest scientific evidence says CTE can only be diagnosed by examining brains after death, although some researchers are experimenting with tests performed on the living. Many scientists believe that repeated blows to the head increase risks for developing CTE, leading to progressive loss of normal brain matter and an abnormal buildup of a protein called tau. Combat veterans and athletes in rough contact sports like football and boxing are among those thought to be most at risk.
The new report was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
CTE was diagnosed in 177 former players or nearly 90 percent of brains studied. That includes 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players, seven of eight Canadian Football league players and three of 14 high school players. The disease was not found in brains from two younger players.
A panel of neuropathologists made the diagnosis by examining brain tissue, using recent criteria from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, McKee said.
The NFL issued a statement saying these reports are important for advancing science related to head trauma and said the league "will continue to work with a wide range of experts to improve the health of current and former NFL athletes."
After years of denials, the NFL acknowledged a link between head blows and brain disease and agreed in a $1 billion settlement to compensate former players who had accused the league of hiding the risks.
The journal update includes many previously reported cases, including former NFL players Bubba Smith, Ken Stabler, Dave Duerson and Ralph Wenzel.
New ones include retired tight end Frank Wainright, whose 10-year NFL career included stints with the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens. Wainright died in April 2016 at age 48 from a heart attack triggered by bleeding in the brain, said his wife, Stacie. She said he had struggled almost eight years with frightening symptoms including confusion, memory loss and behavior changes.
Wainright played before the league adopted stricter safety rules and had many concussions, she said. He feared CTE and was adamant about donating his brain, she said.
"A lot of families are really tragically affected by it - not even mentioning what these men are going through and they're really not sure what is happening to them. It's like a storm that you can't quite get out of," his wife said.
Frank Wycheck, another former NFL tight end, said he worries that concussions during his nine-year career - the last seven with the Tennessee Titans - have left him with CTE and he plans to donate his brain to research.
"Some people have heads made of concrete, and it doesn't really affect some of those guys," he said. "But CTE is real."
"I know I'm suffering through it, and it's been a struggle and I feel for all the guys out there that are going through this," said Wycheck, 45.
In the new report, McKee and colleagues found the most severe disease in former professional players; mild disease was found in all three former high school players diagnosed with the disease. Brain bank researchers previously reported that the earliest known evidence of CTE was found in a high school athlete who played football and other sports who died at age 18. He was not included in the current report.
The average age of death among all players studied was 66. There were 18 suicides among the 177 diagnosed.