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NFL Preview 2019: Biggest NFC West questions as training camp nears

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USATSI

NFL Preview 2019: Biggest NFC West questions as training camp nears

Tick, tick, tick. With each passing second, we grow ever closer to the start of the 2019 NFL season.

Training camps will open in a matter of weeks. Mix in four preseason games and, voila, real football will be here before you know it.

It's been a lengthy, but busy offseason for each of the NFC West teams. In the case of the Rams, they've undoubtedly been chomping at the bit to get back on the field after losing in the Super Bowl last year. On the other hand, the 49ers and Cardinals want to get the bad taste of last season out of their mouths.

They are not equally talented, nor do the NFC West teams have the same expectations. However, they do all face significant questions heading into the upcoming season:

San Francisco 49ers 

Is Jimmy Garoppolo fully recovered -- mentally and physically -- from his torn ACL?

The 49ers' 2018 season went off the rails shortly after it got started. Jimmy Garoppolo's ill-conceived decision to cut back into the field away from the sideline in San Francisco's Week 3 loss to the Chiefs took the air out of the franchise, and the season as a whole.

Fast-forward 10 months, and Jimmy G says he's "good to go" for training camp and not suffering any restrictions.

That's all well and good to hear, but it will be difficult to know if Garoppolo is indeed completely recovered from his torn ACL until the real games start being played. It's one thing to do it in practice when wearing the don't-touch red jersey, but entirely another against 11 defenders doing their damnedest to put you into the turf.

Nick Mullens was a pleasant surprise in mop-up duty at the end of the season, but all of San Francisco's quarterback eggs are in the Garoppolo basket. If the 49ers are going to achieve the kind of success they hope to this coming season, Garoppolo can't be hampered by any lingering effects from the injury.

Arizona Cardinals

Is Kliff Kingsbury the real deal, or fool's gold?

You don't often see a college coach with a losing record get a head-coaching job in the NFL. Alas, Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals are here to break the mold.

As the head coach at Texas Tech, Kingsbury went 5-7 last year, his third consecutive losing season. Overall, he amassed a 35-40 career record as head coach of the Red Raiders before being fired at the end of the season.

Now he's the head coach of the worst team in the NFL, and will be tasked with turning No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Kingsbury's extensive reputation as an offensive genius played a major role in Arizona's decision to hire and pair him with Murray.

But ... the NFL isn't college. While Kingsbury's innovation was desired, his inexperience could leave him vulnerable to a faster game with bigger and stronger athletes.

It's imperative that Kingsbury develop a rapport with Murray and use the quarterback's rookie season to build a foundation for the team moving forward. If Kingsbury proves to be in over his head, the Cardinals could be drafting No. 1 overall again next April.

Los Angeles Rams

How much will Todd Gurley be limited by his knee?

He says his left knee is fine, but the developments going on around the Rams' star running back paint a different picture.

The Rams got off to a blistering start last season, and Todd Gurley was one of the biggest reasons why. He accounted for 1,831 total yards and 21 touchdowns over the first 14 weeks, over which Los Angeles went 11-3.

But then Gurley sat out the final two games of the regular season, and appeared severely limited in the playoffs. While he looked like his typical self while rushing for 115 yards on 16 carries against the Cowboys in the divisional round, Gurley then rushed for only 45 yards on 14 carries in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl combined.

As if that weren't suspicious enough, the Rams then spent 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. That's a high price to spend on a back-up running back if Gurley's knee is indeed "fine," and the fact that they did so actually suggests the exact opposite.

[RELATED: Which NFC West rookies will have the most impact in 2019?]

If Gurley misses any significant time, the Rams' offensive attack loses its scariest weapon.

Seattle Seahawks 

Who fills the Doug Baldwin role?

You've seen it countless times. Russell Wilson narrowly escapes the clenches of the defensive line, runs around in circles a few times, rolls out and finds an unbelievably wide-open Doug Baldwin for a 37-yard gain.

You won't see it again, though.

Baldwin called it quits in May, announcing his retirement on Twitter. It leaves a gigantic hole in Seattle's passing attack, one that won't be easy to fill.

The Seahawks have an abundance of straight-line speed at the wide receiver position. Tyler Lockett and second-round draft pick DK Metcalf fit that characteristic to a 'T' and will surely get behind the defense often, but neither is the possession receiver that Baldwin was. 

In fact, as you look at Seattle's roster, there doesn't appear to be an obvious replacement for Baldwin and the clutch catches he so frequently provided. Heading into training camp, it seems likely that David Moore will get the first opportunity after catching 26 passes for 445 yards last season.

Regardless of who fills in for Baldwin, though, it's highly unlikely they'll be able to replicate his consistent production. Seattle might be the most play-action heavy team in the league next year, but without a consistent intermediate presence, it gets considerably easier to anticipate and defend.

Nick Bosa believes Cardinals made correct call with Kyler Murray at No. 1

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AP

Nick Bosa believes Cardinals made correct call with Kyler Murray at No. 1

SANTA CLARA – The Arizona Cardinals did not tip their hand to Nick Bosa.

He met with team officials, including coach Kliff Kingsbury, on multiple occasions leading up to the draft and thought there was a slim chance he would be the No. 1 overall pick.

Bosa figured quarterback Kyler Murray was the likely No. 1 selection for Arizona. But he was not sure until he heard Murray’s family erupt in cheers in the green room at the NFL draft in Nashville when the Cardinals made it official.

The 49ers selected Bosa with the No. 2 overall pick. He is having a fine rookie season for the 49ers with seven sacks for a club that has the NFC’s best record at 9-1.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals fell to 3-7-1 with a 36-26 loss to the 49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Still, Bosa said it is obvious to him Arizona is moving in the right direction with the right person at quarterback. The Cardinals were 3-13 last season and were granted the No. 1 pick as the NFL's worst team.

“I’m impressed with how they’ve turned things around over there,” Bosa said of the Cardinals. “In the draft process, they sold me. I definitely saw the vision they had and how they were going to do it. I think they’re doing a really good job. And Kyler is a really good player, so they picked a good one.”

Bosa had Murray’s grass-stained jersey hanging in his locker after the game, as the top two picks in the draft met afterward to exchange uniforms.

Bosa registered three tackles, including one for a loss, and a quarterback hit on Sunday. In two games against the Cardinals, Bosa did not record a sack. Arizona’s offense exposed some issues in the 49ers’ run defense. Murray ran for 67 yards on eight attempts in Sunday's game.

The 49ers came up with the plays necessary on offense and defense to avoid back-to-back losses after opening the season on an eight-game win streak.

“I definitely think that was a big must-win for us, a division game,” Bosa said. “(We) just came off a loss, you don’t want to drop two in a row, that’s for sure.”

[RELATED: 49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 36-26 win over Cardinals]

The Cardinals appear to be a team on the rise, and the 49ers enter the final six games of this season with a one-game lead in the NFC West over the Seattle Seahawks. The stage could be set for a lot more epic 49ers-Cardinals games in the future with Bosa and Murray leading their respective units.

“The running game, we just have to figure out how to stop that,” Bosa said. “But we’ll wait ‘til next year for that.”

49ers snap count: Unlikely heroes show up in big win over Cardinals

49ers snap count: Unlikely heroes show up in big win over Cardinals

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers suited up six wide receivers for the second time this season due to the rash of injuries at other positions.

Five of the wideouts in uniform caught passes in the 49ers’ 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in a game that clinched the 49ers’ first winning season since 2013.

Rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel had eight receptions on the 10 passes Jimmy Garoppolo directed his way. Samuel had 134 yards receiving on the day.

Samuel (shoulder) and veteran Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) toughed it out while battling physical conditions throughout the game. Sanders caught three passes for 33 yards.

Wide receiver Richie James, running back Jeff Wilson and safety D.J. Reed made the most of their few opportunities.

James got the offense moving in the second quarter with a 57-yard run after catching a screen pass from Garoppolo. He played 10 offensive snaps in the game.

Wilson was on the field for one play, and he managed to beat an all-out blitz with a 25-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown for the go-ahead points with 31 seconds remaining.

[RELATED: 49ers' Wilson makes only offensive play count in win vs. Arizona]

And Reed played three defensive snaps, and had a 4-yard return for a touchdown after scooping up a fumble on the final play of the game.

Dante Pettis saw the least amount of playing time of any of the 49ers’ receivers. He was on the field for two offensive snaps, did not see any passes thrown his way, and saw no action on special teams.

Each of the 49ers’ eight active defensive linemen were on the field for 21 plays or more, including newly signed defensive end Damontre Moore. He played 23 snaps and contributed a forced fumble that clinched the game in the closing minute.

Here is a look at how much everyone on the 49ers played Sunday on offense, defense and special teams:

Offense

Total offensive snaps: 77
Quarterback – Jimmy Garoppolo 77
Running back – Kyle Juszczyk 41, Tevin Coleman 38, Raheem Mostert 38, Jeff Wilson 1
Wide receiver – Deebo Samuel 61, Kendrick Bourne 42, Emmanuel Sanders 36, Marquise Goodwin 23, Richie James 10, Dante Pettis 2
Tight end – Ross Dwelley 69, Garrett Celek 23, Levine Toilolo 1
Offensive line – Laken Tomlinson 77, Mike Person 77, Mike McGlinchey 77, Justin Skule 77, Weston Richburg 77
Did not play – QB Nick Mullens, Ben Garland

Defense

Total defensive snaps: 69
Defensive line – Nick Bosa 57, DeForest Buckner 52, Arik Armstead 48, Solomon Thomas 26, Damontre Moore 23, Sheldon Day 23, Jullian Taylor 21, Dee Ford 21
Linebacker – Fred Warner 69, Dre Greenlaw 67, Elijah Lee 25
Defensive back – Jimmie Ward 69, Jaquiski Tartt 69, Richard Sherman 69, Emmanuel Moseley 65, K’Waun Williams 42, Ahkello Witherspoon 6, D.J. Reed 3, Tarvarius Moore 2, Marcell Harris 2

Special teams

Total special teams plays: 26
Mark Nzeocha 22, Lee 22, Moore 22, Harris 17, James 15, Witherspoon 14, Wilson 13, Celek 12, Mitch Wishnowsky 11, Bourne 10, Ward 10, Moore 10, Buckner 9, Armstead 9, Reed 8, Toilolo 7, Kyle Nelson 6, Mostert 6, Tartt 6, Moseley 6, Warner 5, Thomas 5, Day 5, Daniel Brunskill 4, Chase McLaughlin 4, Person 4, Richburg 4, Tomlinson 4, McGlinchey 4, Skule 4, Goodwin 4, Juszczyk 2, Greenlaw 2

Not active

QB C.J. Beathard
K Robbie Gould
RB Matt Breida
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
LT Joe Staley
TE George Kittle
NT D.J. Jones