Kyle Shanahan believes 2019 is first season 49ers can overcome injuries

Kyle Shanahan believes 2019 is first season 49ers can overcome injuries

After spending the past nine weeks with the majority of the 49ers’ 90-man roster, coach Kyle Shanahan arrived at one major conclusion.

Approximately one-quarter of the team’s roster was held out of offseason practices due to injuries or surgeries resulting from the 2018 season, so he got a good look at a lot of different players. Shanahan said he believes the team is better equipped to win games in 2019 even if the organization experiences another injury-filled season.

“You always want to keep improving, so we’ll never say, ‘All right, we made it,’” Shanahan said. “This is the first year going into a year that -- I want to say this truthfully, but it is -- it’s the first year that we can overcome injuries.

“We expect to have injuries. That’s part of football. But I’m definitely a lot more confident going into this year if that does happen, we have guys who have experience. And we also have guys who have some talent who can step in and help us out.”

A year ago, the 49ers lost a significant amount of contributions to starters, most notably quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Jerick McKinnon, and safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt.

Like most NFL teams, the 49ers would have a difficult time overcoming a long-term absence of Garoppolo, but C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens also appear to be improved as they compete for the backup role.

Another position where the 49ers could be hard-pressed to keep it together is at offensive tackle.

Behind Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey is projected swing tackle Shon Coleman, who started all 16 games at right tackle for the Cleveland Browns in 2017. Coleman was working at left tackle, while rookie Justin Skule saw action at right tackle with the 49ers’ No. 1 offensive line.

The 49ers believe they have acceptable depth in the defensive backfield.

Jimmy Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are the team’s presumptive starting safeties with Adrian Colbert, Marcell Harris, Tarvarius Moore, Antone Exum and D.J. Reed in reserve.

Richard Sherman is slated to start at one cornerback spot, and Ahkello Witherspoon placed himself into the front-runner spot at the other position. Jason Verrett, a Pro Bowl selection in his only healthy NFL season, is expected to challenge Witherspoon. K’Waun Williams is set to play the nickel spot. Greg Mabin, Dontae Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley and draft pick Tim Harris will compete for backup roles.

Despite a large number of players who sat out organized team activities, Shanahan was encouraged that there were no injuries sustained during the workouts that will have a carryover impact once training camp opens in late-July. Tight end Garrett Celek is expected to miss significant time in training camp after undergoing back surgery. All the other players are expected to be cleared at or near the beginning of camp.

“I think we were pretty fortunate with OTA injuries,” Shanahan said.

When the 49ers began practices, they knew they would hold out more than a dozen players from participation. The lower numbers of available players placed more stress on the healthy players, Shanahan said.

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“But then if one guy gets a little tight and stuff, you want to take care of him, which is good for that guy,” Shanahan said. “But then that next guy has to take a lot more reps and it becomes a trickle-down effect. When you get to this week, that’s why you decide to cut back a couple periods and take care of the guys.”

In keeping with his actions of his first two offseason, Shanahan canceled the final practice of the team’s mandatory three-day minicamp on Thursday to have a family day with nose tackle D.J. Jones’ father handling the BBQ duties for approximately 200 people.

NFL preview 2019: How 49ers' offense stacks up against NFC West rivals

NFL preview 2019: How 49ers' offense stacks up against NFC West rivals

Despite losing their starting quarterback before the end of Week 3, the 49ers still managed to finish last season with a league-average offense, ranking 16th out of 32 teams with an average of 360.6 yards per game.

Jimmy Garoppolo says he's "good to go" and has zero restrictions. Head coach Kyle Shanahan remains one of the brightest offensive minds in the league, and he has several new weapons at his disposal in the form of running back Tevin Coleman and receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, among others.

All of this is to say that if -- and that's a big 'if' -- the 49ers manage to stay relatively healthy next season, the offense should take one or more steps forward, into the upper echelon of the NFL.

But will it be enough to vault them to the top offensive attack in the NFC West? There are three other teams banking on their own offensive progressions, including the reigning Super Bowl runner-up.

Based on the changes the teams have made since last season, here's how the NFC West offenses rank as training camp nears:

1. Los Angeles Rams

As good as Shanahan is, he might not be the best play-caller in the division.

If he isn't, that honor falls on Sean McVay, who in two seasons as the Rams' head coach has won 24 of 32 regular-season games and has led a top-two ranked scoring offense each time. It doesn't hurt that he has quite the offensive arsenal to utilize.

Behind center, Jared Goff has taken several steps forward in his development as an NFL quarterback under McVay, throwing 60 touchdowns to 19 interceptions over the last two seasons combined. At running back, no one has been more prolific in recent seasons than Todd Gurley, although the reports of arthritis in his knee give cause for concern. The Rams used a third-round draft pick on Darrell Henderson, a change-of-pace back that averaged 8.2 yards per carry over three years at Memphis, who should provide Los Angeles with some insurance and Gurley with the occasional breather.

The Rams lack a bonafide playmaker at the tight end position, but they more than make up for it with their talented receiving corps. Between Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, it might be the best receiver group in the entire league.

2. San Francisco 49ers

Again, health will be a determining factor, but the 49ers' offense is set up to leap forward this coming season.

Yes, Garoppolo is coming off a torn ACL, and yes, he's started only 10 games in his career, but there's a reason Shanahan identified him as his guy. He's a great intermediate passer who has shown an ability to make plays while improvising. His deep ball still needs work, but with the weapons at his disposal, he should be able to spread the ball around a ton.

At running back, the 49ers have the fastest group in the league. Coleman, Matt Breida and Jerrick McKinnon are all blurs in human form, and all have the ability to split out wide.

San Francisco used two draft picks to beef up its receiving corps, using second and third-round selections on Samuel and Hurd, respectively. They'll join Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis and others to present opposing defenses with nightmarish matchup problems.

[RELATED: Jimmy G has high praise for 'tremendous talent' Pettis]

Oh, and then there's George Kittle, who just set the NFL's single-season yardage record by a tight end. He might not reach 88 receptions and 1,377 receiving yards again, but given the improved options around him, it's going to be difficult for opposing defenses to throw any extra attention his way.

3. Seattle Seahawks

Outside of Russell Wilson, there's not a whole lot on Seattle's offense that is bound to keep defensive coordinators up at night. That said, Wilson is obviously quite good.

Entering next season, Wilson will have the second-highest career passer rating (100.3) in NFL history, behind only Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (103.1). He led the Seahawks to a 10-6 record in 2018, throwing a career-high 35 touchdowns to a career-low seven interceptions.

Unfortunately for Wilson, he's losing his most dependable target. Doug Baldwin has retired, leaving Tyler Lockett to lead an otherwise unproven receiving corps, featuring the likes of David Moore, Jaron Brown, Amara Darboh and second-round draft pick DK Metcalf.

At running back, Chris Carson was a pleasant surprise last season, but he overshadowed Rashaad Penny, who Seattle selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Only the Ravens ran the ball more times than the Seahawks last season, and with several straight-line deep threats at receiver, expect more of the same to set up play-action.

4. Arizona Cardinals

Out of all the offenses in the division, the Cardinals' is the most difficult to predict, simply due to the number of unknowns at critical positions.

At head coach, Arizona brought in Kliff Kingsbury, he of the 35-40 career coaching record at the collegiate level. Still, Kingsbury is widely regarded as an offensive savant, and the Cardinals are counting on him to develop No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray into one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the league.

Speaking of Murray, he's the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but while he was playing behind an NFL-level offensive line at Oklahoma -- seriously, go look at the roster -- he wasn't consistently going up against NFL-caliber defenses. That will change, obviously.

He's not entirely without help, though. He's got one of the most dependable receivers in NFL history in Larry Fitzgerald. Christian Kirk looks to build off a productive rookie season, and the Cardinals selected three promising receivers in the draft. One could make the case, however, they should have invested more in the offensive line, which allowed 52 sacks and 109 quarterback hits last season.

It remains to be seen if running back David Johnson can regain his 2016 form. But if the offensive line doesn't take a big step forward, it won't matter what he, Murray or Kingsbury does.

Why Kyle Shanahan had to abort rep with Jimmy Garoppolo at 49ers minicamp


Why Kyle Shanahan had to abort rep with Jimmy Garoppolo at 49ers minicamp

49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo has been moving along in his rehab from the torn ACL he suffered in Week 3 of the 2018 season.

So, toward the end of minicamp, head coach Kyle Shanahan wanted to get his quarterback a rep or two in 11-on-11s. Shanahan's instructions to his defensive line were to stand still with their hands up and to not touch the franchise quarterback.

Shanahan's orders were heard, but the instincts of his defense took over and the head coach had to jump in to avoid catastrophe. 

"The animals that they are, why we love them, they couldn't help it," Shanahan told ESPN's Nick Wagoner about his defensive line during the drill. "I saw it, so I stopped it. I wasn't going to mess with it."

After the minor heart attack, Shanahan was able to laugh it off. 

"I liked it, after I got over it," Shanahan said.

Exhale, Niners fans.

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Garoppolo has proclaimed himself "good to go" as training camp approaches, but hopefully, the 49ers' defensive line gets the memo during the next drill.