Although the 49ers have not beaten the Seattle Seahawks since Jim Harbaugh’s penultimate season with the organization, there is clearly a new team on which for San Francisco to set its sights.
The Los Angeles Rams won the NFC West last season. And they have loaded up on big-name defensive players this offseason, including cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. This week, the Rams signed defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to pair with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald along the interior of their offensive line.
“It’s going to be a challenge for both guards and our center,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.
“They’ve added some firepower this offseason. I think we have, too. I know they’re trying to get better, and they have. And, hopefully, we have, too.”
The 49ers will have at least two new starters on the offensive line this season. Weston Richburg was signed to replace center Daniel Kilgore. And right guard Brandon Fusco, a 16-game starter last season, is now with the Atlanta Falcons.
Laken Tomlinson will report to camp as the incumbent starter at left guard. Free-agent pickup Jonathan Cooper will initially line up at right guard, where he will compete with Joshua Garnett. All of the team's offensive guards will be asked to work on both sides, Shanahan said.
Garnett made good use of his time on injured reserve last season (he underwent minor knee surgery before the start of the regular season) to remake his body and put himself in position to compete for a job. Garnett was a first-round draft pick in 2016.
“Seeing him at the end of the year in December, it looked like he took advantage of his time off and got his body fat down and his weight down,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s in the best shape of his life, and he’s given himself a real chance to have an opportunity to help us this year.”
GAROPPOLO MADE 49ERS MOVE ON FROM COUSINS
The 49ers planned to acquire their franchise quarterback this offseason. But those plans turned out to be unnecessary when the New England Patriots called on Oct. 30 to offer Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round draft pick.
And, yes, former Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins was Shanahan’s top target.
“Everybody knows that. That was the plan,” Shanahan said. “I had a good relationship with him. He was a good quarterback that I’d been with.”
But all that changed when Garoppolo arrived.
"After we made that trade, we knew we’d be in position to have a really good quarterback,” Shanahan said. “One, we just traded for a talented one. Two, we knew there’s going to be a good one available in free agency, most likely. And, three, at that time, we hadn’t had a win, yet. We were thinking we might have the first pick in the draft. We were evaluating all these things and taking them all into account.
“The neat story about it all was how well (Garoppolo) played and how big of an affect he had on our building and how well he did on the field.”
McKINNON IS AN EVERY-DOWN BACK
In his four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, running back Jerick McKinnon was never counted upon to be an every-down player. That will change this season with the 49ers, though Shanahan said he will not carry the load by himself.
“People talk about him being a third-down back, which, he is,” Shanahan said. “He’s a very good third-down back. We plan on using him that way. I also think he’s a good first- and second-down back, too.”
McKinnon is listed at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds. Matt Breida is 5-10, 190. But Shanahan said he is not overly concerned about the sizes of his two top running backs.
“I feel like if you’re not 230 pounds, people say you can’t handle it for the whole year,” Shanahan said. “I personally think guys who are 230 pounds have a hard time handling it for the whole year. It’s hard to do that for 16 games in the NFL, no matter who you are.”
WILLIAMS MUST SHOW URGENCY
On film, running back Joe Williams showed Shanahan everything he wants to see from a running back in his system. That is why he was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft.
But, in person, Williams did not live up to Shanahan’s high expectations in Year 1. Williams had a shaky offseason and training camp before spending the season on injured reserve with a minor foot injury.
Williams faces a tough challenge this year to earn a spot on the roster.
“He’s got to beat guys out,” Shanahan said. “In order to beat guys out, you have to be better than them. And you got to be better than them at running the ball, better than them at protecting it. And if you’re not, you got to be better than them at special teams.”
In addition to McKinnon and Breida, the 49ers appear likely to keep Raheem Mostert on the 53-man roster due to his exceptional play on special teams. The 49ers could keep three or four running backs on their roster.
“I expect him to turn up his urgency level this year," Shanahan said of Williams. "I’ve talked to him about that. He said he has. I'm looking forward to seeing it.”
GOODWIN EARNED NEW CONTRACT
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin and his speed proved to be a good match for Shanahan’s offense. Goodwin, who had a pedestrian first four seasons with the Buffalo Bills, caught 56 passes for 962 yards in his first year with the 49ers.
But it was not just his performance on the field that compelled the 49ers to sign him to a three-year contract extension worth nearly $19 million. Goodwin was named the winner of the Len Eshmont Award for inspirational and courageous play. He provided the most inspirational moment of the season when he caught a long touchdown pass in the 49ers' first victory of the season just hours after his baby died due to complications in pregnancy.
“We were really happy with how ‘Quise played last year,” Shanahan said. “And I was kind of happy just watching him grow as a person throughout the year. He went though a lot of ups and downs, a lot of things happened to him, some tragic things. I think he grew as a man. Just watching how he handled himself. The way he practiced.
“He’s the type of guy that we want around here.”