For everything we do know, there exponentially are more things we don’t know about the 2021 49ers.
As the team and staff prepare for the start of organized team activities (OTAs) on May 24th, there are several questions about the team that could be clarified before the summer break. It will be the first time that rookies and veterans will convene in Santa Clara for on-field work.
The 49ers were able to keep most of their roster in tact but as with the start of every season, there are new faces that will attempt to prove they are indispensable. The veterans of the locker room will have an advantage, but as the season nears, the competition will intensify.
Here are the most compelling storylines as the 49ers head into phase three:
Nick Bosa’s health
The 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year could be looking for another title in the coming season. If Nick Bosa can return to the level of play he showed prior to the ACL injury he suffered in Week 2 of the 2020 season, Comeback Player of the Year would not be a stretch.
Bosa posted videos of his offseason workouts on social media in which he appears to be back to his old form. If the defensive end returns with the same physical speed and agility, he has the ability to take the 49ers' defense to another level.
If opposing offenses are required to double team the third-year defender, it opens up opportunities for the likes of Arik Armstead, Javon Kinlaw and D.J. Jones. A watchful eye will be on Bosa throughout the offseason workout programs to gauge his recovery.
Running back standouts
Kyle Shanahan is known for his outside zone run scheme and the team drafted two running backs to help set it in motion. Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson and JaMychal Hasty are set to return to the field while Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell learn the ropes.
How quickly the rookies adjust to the playbook will be on display during OTAs. Not only will they have to adjust to the timing of the offensive line, but their ability to run routes will be closely monitored by the staff.
Mostert and Wilson will likely get the lion's share of the reps once the season starts, but evaluation of the next man up starts in OTAs. After an injury-plagued 2020 season, it is clear the 49ers need to solidify quality depth in the backfield.
Offensive line chemistry
The 49ers awarded Trent Williams a monster contract during the offseason, anchoring the 49ers offensive line for years to come. The club also signed veteran and long-time outside-zone center Alex Mack to direct traffic. Mike McGlinchey’s fifth-year option was picked up by the team, and Laken Tomlinson, who has been a mainstay at left guard, remains under contract.
The club continued to upgrade the protection for Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance by drafting former Notre Dame guard Aaron Banks in the second round, and tackle Jaylon Moore out of Western Michigan in the fifth. How the pieces all fit together will start to be tested during OTAs.
More than likely Banks will take his spot on the right next to McGlinchey but how the 6-foot-five, 325-pound guard adapts to Shanahan’s system could play a factor. The rookie will compete with Daniel Brunskill, who has been reliable at all positions up and down the line.
Moore will likely get reps on both sides at tackle and could end up as the club’s swing tackle heading to the season. The coaching staff is bound to try several combinations throughout OTAs and training camp.
DeMeco Ryans' new role
There is no doubt that the newly anointed 49ers defensive coordinator is appreciated and respected by his players. Members of the offense and defense alike easily relate to Ryans not only because of his 10-year NFL career, but because of his enthusiasm and knowledge of the game.
Shortly after the team announced Ryans’ promotion, Shanahan shared that there are no plans for the defensive scheme to change. Considering the level of experience of the players returning to the defense, the group is set up for success.
During OTAs, we will see our first glimpse of Ryans in his new role. Known for being a hands-on coach, especially with linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw during practice, it will be interesting to see how he spends his time on the field. Will he be as hands-on as we have seen in the past, or more supervisory from a distance?
There’s a new kid in town and everyone is waiting to see how he will fit in. The 49ers traded up to select Trey Lance with the No. 3 overall pick of the NFL Draft, while at the same time promising that Jimmy Garoppolo will remain on the team as the starting quarterback.
Of the top five quarterbacks available in the draft, Lance was tapped as the one with the most potential, while at the same time being the most raw. How will he adapt to his new surroundings and Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system?
Eyes will be on both quarterbacks throughout OTAs, counting reps and keeping track of who has more completions between Lance and Garoppolo. Which quarterback is on the field with the ones could hint at how Shanahan and the staff are seeing the competition play out.
Can Garoppolo stay healthy enough to play through the entire season? Will Lance supplant him as the starter? How each plays through OTAs could give the first clues at how the season could play out in regards to the quarterback position.
The first 49ers workouts of phase three of the offseason might be more interesting than in the past with so many compelling storylines that are set to start unfolding when the team hits the field on May 24th. The first practice open to media will be on May 25th.