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49ers overreactions: Shanahan innovative with QB platoon

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Kyle Shanahan Jimmy Garoppolo Trey Lance

Finally, game week has arrived.

After the mandatory three-day break, NFL teams around the league report back to work Monday to get tested and -- for those who test negative -- begin preparations for their Week 1 opponents.

The 49ers kick off the season Sunday against the Detroit Lions. They do so with the optimism surrounding the team probably even higher than it was a year ago when they were coming off a Super Bowl loss.

Here is our first installment of 49ers overreactions for the 2021 season:

Overreaction? No.

From the man who brought us the first true quarterback dual threat and read option with Robert Griffin in 2012, now comes a potential two-QB platoon ...

Coach Kyle Shanahan has never had a situation quite like this. And as general manager John Lynch previously said, Shanahan began scribbling plays for Trey Lance after he had just watched Justin Fields at his pro day.

So, yes, there are possibilities for Shanahan to create Jimmy Garoppolo-Lance game plans that unique skills of the quarterbacks to take advantage of weaknesses in each opponent through the course of the season.

And it all begins Sunday in Detroit.

Overreaction? Hmmmm, probably.

... But maybe not.

The design of the 49ers’ offense will make it as easy as possible for Garoppolo. The focus of the offense is the run game, so Garoppolo will have a lot of opportunities to make simple throws to wide-open targets.

 

Garoppolo had his best training camp. Perhaps he was feeling the heat from Lance breathing down his neck. Now, he must carry it over into the regular season. The top priority is to cut down on the giveaways.

Garoppolo does not have a long-term future with the 49ers. That was obvious from the moment the 49ers traded up to No. 3 overall to select a quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Garoppolo is going to need help from those around him. Tight end George Kittle is a given. Deebo Samuel must remain healthy, and Brandon Aiyuk has to flip the switch after what can only be described as a disappointing training camp.

One thing that could work against the potential for any postseason honors for Garoppolo, of course, is how much the team ends up utilizing Lance.

Overreaction? Yes.

With the acquisition of 33-year-old cornerback Josh Norman, the 49ers are hoping he can be their No. 3 cornerback. At this stage of his career, with no training camp under his belt, he is not a threat to Jason Verrett or Emmanuel Moseley to break into the starting lineup.

So unless an injury forces him onto the field early in the season, there will be no Pro Bowl in his immediate future. He is certainly not the same player he was six years ago when he was selected All-Pro, so keep your expectations at a reasonable level.

At the time of the agreement with Norman, the 49ers’ backup cornerbacks were Dontae Johnson, Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas.

At this stage, they probably have more confidence in Johnson to step in and play. But he has been bothered by an abductor strain, placing his availability for Week 1 in question. Among the rookies, Lenoir looked far better than Thomas during training camp and the exhibition games.

Overreaction? Yes and no.

Some positions are set up better than other spots, of course. For example, there would be a huge drop-off if the 49ers had to go from Trent Williams to Jaylon Moore at left tackle.

The impacts of an injury would not be as great at the guard spots. Veteran Tom Compton won the backup guard job over second-year player Colton McKivitz, and he can at least hold it together.

And with the NFL allowing teams to keep eight offensive linemen on their game-day roster, the 49ers have a true backup center with Jake Brendel behind veteran Alex Mack. The 49ers believe they're in a better spot with Brendel as the backup over Ben Garland or Hronis Grassu, the backups of the past.

I think every team in the league is struggling to piece together, not only starting offensive lines, but three quality backups. So although going to the backups is never an ideal situation, I think there are enough things Shanahan can do with the scheme to make sure the season does not fall apart with one injury on the O-line.

 

Overreactions? No.

My first thought was to say this is an overreaction. I hesitated because I got caught up on the word “substantially.” I’m going to ignore that part of it, and agree that this defensive line has a chance to exceed 48 -- the total number of sacks the 49ers registered in 2019.

Nick Bosa, although he has not played a game in nearly a year, looks really freakin’ good. And the combination of Samson Ebukam and Dee Ford on the other side in nickel situations should be better than the 49ers’ combination of edge rushers of 2019.

Arik Armstead will be hard-pressed to approach his ’19 sack total of 10. And, of course, the 49ers do not have an interior pass rusher anywhere near DeForest Buckner lining up next to him.

But the thing this defensive line has above the line of two seasons ago is depth.

D-line coach Kris Kocurek can rotate eight or nine guys into the mix throughout the course of a game to keep everyone fresh while those they’re matched up against are wearing down.

Overreaction? Yes and no.

I do not envision the 49ers losing multiple games because of special teams. I think the trio of kicker Robbie Gould, punter/holder Mitch Wishnowsky and long-snapper Taybor Pepper is very good.

The return game, however, is questionable. With Brandon Aiyuk handling those duties, the potential for more big plays is possible.

Teams lose games on special teams due to turnovers, as your hashtag reminds all of us. As long as Aiyuk can field punts cleanly, there’s no problem.

RELATED: Examining which 49ers could be inactive for Week 1 vs. Lions

I’m sure Shanahan would love to have a reliable, proven punt returner who is not a starting wide receiver. But he also does not want to have a punt returner on his team whose only value is returning punts. He did not consider Nsimba Webster or Travis Benjamin among the team's top six receivers, so that is why neither made the initial cut.

Right now, the thought is that Aiyuk will be the primary punt returner and Mohamed Sanu will be used for his hands, deep in 49ers territory when all they need is a fair catch. Benjamin remains on the practice squad and available for a call-up at any point.

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