49ers

Kyle Shanahan keeps Panthers guessing: 'I don’t mean to be a d**k'

Kyle Shanahan keeps Panthers guessing: 'I don’t mean to be a d**k'

SANTA CLARA -- Kyle Shanahan does not mean to be, uh, difficult.

Well, actually, yes . . . yes, he does.

The first-year coach of the 49ers goes into the season opener on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers with the advantage of the unknown. He knows all about the Panthers, based on preparing to face that veteran defense four times over the past two seasons while offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.

And while the Panthers know all about Shanahan’s style of offense from his time in the NFC South, things are bound to change with him running the 49ers' offense. After all, Matt Ryan is no longer his quarterback; Julio Jones is no longer his receiver; and he does not have running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

That is why Shanahan, who was more forthright than most coaches during training camp, is not going to divulge how the 49ers are going to feature their personnel on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.

“Brian Hoyer’s starting, I promise you guys that,” Shanahan said of the 49ers’ quarterback. "(Joe) Staley’s starting. Everyone else, we’ll find out on Sunday. I don’t mean to be a d---.

“It’s the season now, if there’s any gray area we’ll figure it out on Sunday.”

Of course, the 49ers have already figured it out. It’s the rest of us – and that includes the Panthers -- who will figure out on Sunday how the 49ers will deploy their personnel.

And, yes, there are still plenty of questions:

Who starts at free safety?
Jimmie Ward does not figure to be available for Sunday’s game. After all, Ward sustained a hamstring injury during the team’s conditioning test on the eve of the team’s first practice and has not taken part in a full practice this entire summer.

Undrafted rookie Lorenzo Jerome started the first two exhibition games in place of Ward. But Jaquiski Tartt is the likely pick to start against Cam Newton and the Panthers.

Tartt is a third-year player with 14 career starts. Jerome earned his place on the roster, but the 49ers need more experience on a snap-to-snap basis.

The 49ers will feature an eight-man front on base downs. Tartt and Eric Reid are interchangeable with each possessing the size and strength to hold up in the run game.

But this does not mean that Jerome will be a mere bystander. In passing situations, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has the option of bringing in Jerome as a sixth defensive back and replacing linebacker NaVorro Bowman. That is how the 49ers approached it during the third exhibition game, which is the closest approximation to the regular season.

Will Hyde and Breida share the load?
This is a huge season for running back Carlos Hyde. This is his contract year and his future is unsettled.

The 49ers have plenty of money to spend on extensions, and Hyde has a chance to prove the organization’s future is in better hands with his hands on the football.

To Hyde’s credit, he was magnanimous when talking about how rookie backup Matt Breida will be incorporated into the 49ers’ offense this season.

“He’s going to be used just as much as I’ll be used,” Hyde said. “So it’ll be good for us. We keep each other fresh and tear this season up.”

But it is difficult to believe Breida will be used as much as Hyde, who came to camp in tremendous physical condition and should thrive in Shanahan’s zone scheme. More than likely, the 49ers will give Breida a smaller package of plays and find a specific role for him to be used in spot duty.

Will Thomas take over as a starter?
The 49ers had Solomon Thomas rated as the No. 2 prospect in the draft behind Myles Garrett. By no means has Thomas been a disappointment. But Thomas got off to a slow start because of the restrictions on when he could join the 49ers’ offseason program.

Look for Tank Carradine to serve as the 49ers’ starter at the “big end” position. Why? Carradine has not done much in his four seasons with the club but Saleh has found something that Carradine does better than just about anyone in the league.

“With Tank, when I say ‘elite,’ I’m talking as a run-down, six-technique, someone who just can really dominate his edge and own the line of scrimmage,” said Saleh, referring to run downs when Carradine is lined up over the opposing tight end.

Thomas will see plenty of action, and he might even be on the field to start the game, depending on the personnel group the Panthers send onto the field for the first snap of the game. Thomas can be expected to play a significant role in the 49ers’ defense on third downs.

Kilgore: All of 49ers on same page 'for the first time in a long time'

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USATSI

Kilgore: All of 49ers on same page 'for the first time in a long time'

The 49ers’ coaching staff made its feelings known to center Daniel Kilgore throughout the season.

But, in the past, that would not have necessarily meant everyone in the organization had the same thoughts about Kilgore, who was scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

“The whole season, coaches and I had a good relationship,” Kilgore said Wednesday on conference call with Bay Area reporters. “Just talking and having one-on-ones with various coaches, I had a positive outlook for the future.

“But that’s just one thing. The coaches have an opinion of you, but then there’s also the front office. That’s two totally different things. And I think for the first time in a long time, our coaches and the front office are on the same page.”

Kilgore was working out back home in Tennessee on Wednesday when he signed a three-year contract to avoid hitting the free-agent market. Kilgore, 30, a seven-year NFL veteran, described the contract as a team-friendly deal.

The 49ers presented Kilgore with a contract offer during the season but negotiations did not get serious until just recently. While the 49ers expressed interest in retaining Kilgore, he said he did not know what the future held for him when he packed his belongings from the locker room on the day after the season ended.

“It kind of makes you nervous because in this profession, people like the younger guys,” Kilgore said. “You just never know what will happen at any time, any given day, in the NFL. So toward the end, that last day of clearing out the locker, I didn’t know if I’d be back. I didn’t know if the Niners would want me back.”

Kilgore was named the winner of the organization’s top honor for an offensive lineman. Kilgore won the Bobb McKittrick Award for best exemplifying the dedication, excellence and commitment of the long-time 49ers offensive line coach. Kilgore started all 29 games in which he appeared the past two seasons, including a career-high 16 games last season.

"I've been here seven years and I consider the Bay Area my second home,” Kilgore said. “To be able to extend my career wearing the 49ers jersey was special to me. This team is heading in the right direction, I wanted to be a part of it."

Why the 49ers did not hesitate to pay Garoppolo big money

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Matt Maiocco

Why the 49ers did not hesitate to pay Garoppolo big money

When Jimmy Garoppolo signed a contract that could pay him up to $137.5 million over the next five years, he was asked what convinced him during his nine weeks with the organization that he wanted to be with the 49ers for the long term.

“I think it was a number of things,” Garoppolo said last week. “The team, the acceptance that they had of me when I first got here from the get-go, the coaching staff, Kyle and Rich. It was a very welcoming environment, and I really liked that. We had some success down the stretch, and you could see that pieces were falling into place. We've got a long way to go, but I think we're moving in the right direction.”

Kyle, of course, is head coach Kyle Shanahan. Rich Scagarello is the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach, and the person from whom Garoppolo spent the most time after arriving in Santa Clara on Oct. 31 after a trade with the New England Patriots.

Garoppolo earned $3.5 million in his first four NFL seasons. His new contract makes him the NFL’s highest-paid player, making an average of $27.5 million per season, with $48.7 million fully guaranteed.

Scangarello, appearing this week on The 49ers Insider Podcast, talked about what he learned about Garoppolo from working so closely with him to teach him Shanahan's offense. Scangarello said there is no question in his mind the money will not change Garoppolo’s approach to his work.

“That’s why it was easy for the organization and everyone to invest in somebody like Jimmy Garoppolo,” Scangarello said. “I just think that’s not the kind of person he is. If you met his family, you know where he comes from, what he’s about. His brothers, his parents, are just good, solid people people. He’s made of the right stuff and I just don’t see that affecting him in that way.

“It’s just not who he is. That’s the fun part of working with somebody like that every day. When they’re really talented and they appreciate everything and they work at it, you have a chance to be a successful organization and they can be a great player. And I don’t think those things will ever affect him.”