Matt Maiocco

Ten questions as 49ers open training camp

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AP

Ten questions as 49ers open training camp

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.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

Before starting six games as a rookie, Rashard Robinson had not played football since the 2014 season at LSU.

Yet, Robinson is the closest thing to a sure bet to win a starting job among 49ers cornerbacks.

Tramaine Brock was projected as the starting cornerback on the other side until his arrest on suspicion of a troubling domestic incident prompted the 49ers to release him more than three months ago.

The 49ers open training camp next week, and here are the top competitions for starting jobs on defense:

LEFT CORNERBACK
Keith Reaser has yet to make an NFL start while appearing in 28 games the past two seasons. The 49ers rotated cornerbacks with the first-team defense during the offseason program, and Reaser put himself in position to enter camp as the slight favorite to replace Brock.

Veterans Dontae Johnson and Will Davis will try to work their way into the picture. And the 49ers are hopeful talented rookie Ahkello Witherspoon will develop a willingness to play with more physicality. The 49ers selected Witherspoon in the third round. He has the size and all the tools to win the starting job, but there were times in college he showed an alarming lack of aggression as a tackler.

NICKELBACK
K'Waun Williams is healthy after missing last season due to an ankle injury and falling out of favor with the Cleveland Browns. Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley, one of the few holdovers from Chip Kelly’s staff, thinks highly of Williams after coaching him with the Browns. Hafley said he believes Williams can become one of the top covermen in the slot in the entire league.

Williams lined up with the first-team defense throughout the offseason program. His biggest competition could come from Will Redmond, whom the 49ers selected in the third round of the 2016 draft but did not play as a rookie due to a knee injury. Redmond has some rust to knock off, but he did not appear to show signs of the injury during the offseason program.

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END
Arik Armstead is not the prototypical player at the “Leo” position. At 6 foot 7, Armstead does not have the low center of gravity that is typically associated with that position. But Armstead is certainly not lacking for athleticism.

The 49ers need a more consistent pass rush to assist their unproven cornerbacks, and this spot will be counted upon to provide more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Veteran Elvis Dumervil, who believes he has regained his explosion off the edge after being hampered with Achilles injury, was added last month to do what he does best. Dumervil, 33, enters the season with 99 career sacks.

Aaron Lynch is on notice as he enters his fourth NFL season. He moves from outside linebacker to defensive end in the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme. Multiple competitions will be ongoing at this position, as the 49ers will look to determine the best fits for base downs, as well as passing situations.

WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER
The signing of free-agent Malcolm Smith raised a few eyebrows. It was just the offseason program, but Smith was as impressive as any player on the team during the non-padded practices. He is clearly comfortable in Robert Saleh’s scheme, which is based on the Seattle Seahawks’ defense.

The 49ers had Reuben Foster rated as their No. 3 prospect in the entire draft. They traded with the Seahawks to move up to select him at No. 31 overall. The 49ers seem thoroughly unconcerned with Foster’s shoulder. The club believes he will be medically cleared for the opening of training camp.

The 49ers might want to bring Foster along slowly, but it is clear they do not expect him to be a backup for very long.