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.

What 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan learned from his first football job


What 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan learned from his first football job

Kyle Shanahan is the son of two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Shanahan, and is widely considered one of the brightest young minds in football.

But before the younger Shanahan could help build some of the best offenses at the NFL, he got his start in coaching at UCLA as a Graduate Assistant at the ripe age of 23.

"Back then, I was right out of college, so everything I wanted to show, I would put cleats on and try to demonstrate it," Shanahan told ESPN's Nick Wagoner. "You are still wanting to play, and it's neat because you are close in age to all those guys, so you can relate with them a lot more. But you're learning so much more, so you can help bring stuff to the table to them that you don't always have that connection as you get a lot older."

During the 2003 season, Shanahan spent time around running back Maurice Jones-Drew, tight end Marcedes Lewis and quarterback Drew Olson.

But Shanahan only spent one season with the Bruins before being hired by Jon Gruden to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Offensive Quality Control coach in 2004.

"But I also didn't know as much then," Shanahan told Wagoner. "I was a GA and just getting into it. But I think you start to realize when you can help people and teach them stuff, and you can answer questions that help people, it doesn't matter whether you're a GA, a head coach, a quality control, a coordinator or whether you're talking to a walk-on or Maurice Jones-Drew or Marcedes Lewis. If you can say something that helps people and makes sense to them, they will respect you and listen to you.

"That's why I don't think appearance or age or whatever matters. It's if you know what you're talking about. That's why I don't think you have to be a guy who MFs people if you know what you're talking about. And I feel like I've always taken that from a young age and tried to be consistent with it."

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Before taking the 49ers head coaching job in 2017, Shanahan spent two seasons in Atlanta and built the Falcons into an offensive juggernaut. He hasn't been able to replicate that success in Santa Clara just yet, but the 49ers are trending upwards.

At just 39 years old, Shanahan has plenty of time left to leave his mark on the game of football.

New 49ers D-line coach Kris Kocurek might be right amount of crazy

New 49ers D-line coach Kris Kocurek might be right amount of crazy

During position drills at the beginning of each 49ers practice, defensive line coach Kris Kocurek’s gravelly voice can be heard from across the practice field. His antics may be seen as crazy to some, but to many of the players, it’s just the kind of crazy they need. 

At Arik Armstead’s Charity Gala in Sacramento during the offseason, several defensive players spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about Kocurek and what he brings to the defensive line room. DeForest Buckner explained that Kocurek’s brand of crazy meshes perfectly with their group.

“We all got to be crazy to play this game,” Buckner said. “I’m just going to say that. We all got to have that little crazy in us. He’s a perfect fit for our room.

“It’s about consistency. He’s the same guy every day. We all know he’s passionate in everything he does. All he wants is to see is us succeed, so we respect it, we love it, we feed off of it when we go out there and practice. We want to be the best that we can be every day. That’s what he expects from us, that’s the standard and he’s just an amazing coach.”  

Armstead is heading into his fifth NFL season and notes that Kocurek has brought a new energy into the room. 

“It’s been great,” Armstead said. “He’s an amazing coach. He’s really passionate about the game, he wants us to be successful. He does seem a little crazy, but in a good way. He’s really motivating and pushing us to reach our full potential and be the best we can be. We’re really excited to have him and have him leading us.”  

Fellow lineman Ronald Blair detailed that what Kocurek brings isn’t just about football. He is helping the group in all aspects of their lives. 

“It really just changes the outlook for all of us as young guys,” Blair said. “He’s bringing something different. It’s not just about football with him. It’s about outside life, it’s about dealing with your family, it’s about everything that you put in, to just get to this point. 

“I’m just grateful to have him as a coach. He’s already done numbers in just the month or two being here. I've got nothing but respect for him. I’m looking forward to the future with him.”  

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day explained how Kocurek's intensity has changed the mood of the 49ers' defense line.

“He’s changed our room completely,” Day said. “He’s made us be more competitive with each other than we ever have been before. Every day is a competition, everyday we want to be our best, every day we’ve got to be better than the day before. 

"He’s making sure we stay on task, he’s making sure that we detail our work. He’s just bringing the best out of us. We’re definitely grateful to have him in the room.”  

Richard Sherman might not be a defensive lineman, but he already has seen a change in the defensive line group since Kocurek arrived. Kocurek’s yelling might seem brash to outsiders, but Sherman believes it’s specific and purposeful. 

“I've never met a person great at anything who wasn’t a little crazy,” Sherman said. “People look at the yelling and screaming as a negative thing. It’s not like he’s just yelling and screaming at guys, and that’s the difference between him and a lot of coaches who kind of take that style. 

“He’s yelling techniques. He’s yelling 'get off.' He’s yelling run to the ball. He’s not yelling M.F. and cursing at guys for making mistakes, he’s just yelling effort. The effort he’s giving, the guys are just trying to match. And that’s something you can get behind and something you can go with. 

“He’s teaching incredible techniques and every one of the D-linemen is saying they are benefitting from it. So you can just appreciate the energy and the amount of time that he spends and amount of effort that he spends every day just to get his guys ready.” 

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The addition of edge rushers Dee Ford and Nick Bosa already has raised the expectations for the defense. Kocurek's ability to fit all of the moving pieces together will be tested once the season begins.