Top 5 storylines entering 49ers training camp
Transition phase for 49ers
It is a time of transition for the 49ers. The organization is quick to point out that it is not going through a rebuilding phase. But there are more questions than ever with the departures of many notable players and personalities. Of course, former coach Jim Harbaugh is now in Michigan as part of his so-called “mutual parting” with the organization. The 49ers will also try to compensate for the losses of Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Michael Crabtree, Chris Culliver and others. The veterans report to training camp in Santa Clara on Friday, with the first full-squad practice slated for Saturday. Here’s a look at the top storylines for 49ers training camp...
5) Corner the market
The 49ers did not retain free agents Chris Culliver or Perrish Cox, who started a combined 28 games last season. Tramaine Brock is back. He opened last season as a starter, but he was rarely healthy enough to play. The 49ers’ pass defense was fifth-best in yards allowed, led the league in interceptions and their opponent passer rating of 79.5 was fourth – ranking one spot better than the Seattle Seahawks. Free-agent pickup Shareece Wright is the favorite to win the other spot, but Chris Cook, Dontae Johnson and Keith Reaser figure to be in the competition, too. And the 49ers also need a strong season from presumptive nickel back Jimmie Ward.
4) Offensive line shuffle
As camp opens, the 49ers know Joe Staley will start at left tackle. There is uncertainty at each of the other positions on the offensive line. Alex Boone will start somewhere, but the 49ers have to decide whether to keep him at right guard, switch him to left guard to take over for Mike Iupati, or bump him to right tackle in place of recently retired Anthony Davis. Boone, Erik Pears and rookie Trent Brown are the options to replace Davis, whose inability to remain healthy proved disastrous for the offensive line last season. Daniel Kilgore, Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas and Joe Looney also figure to compete for starting jobs at the interior line positions.
3) Bow is back
With all the talk about the 49ers’ losses of Patrick Willis and Justin Smith due to retirements, let’s not overlook that the team is getting back an All-Pro player. NaVorro Bowman will try to return to his former self this season after sitting out all of last year as he rehabbed from a January 2014 knee injury he sustained in the NFC Championship game in Seattle. If Bowman is able to be the same kind of player he was before the injury, it should provide a major boost to the team’s quest to make sure the defense does not sustain a large drop-off. Michael Wilhoite is slated to take over for Willis, so Bowman will be relied upon to make plays sideline-to-sideline.
2) Tomsula in charge
While the outside world views the promotion of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula as a sign of organizational dysfunction, the view in the locker room and inside the building is the exact opposite. Tomsula’s appointment as head coach was met with approval from the players. And the front office envisions Tomsula bringing a lot more stability and good vibes to the team. Tomsula was regarded as a strong defensive line coach. But everyone agrees that moving to a role in charge of the entire team will be an extraordinary challenge. Tomsula assembled an experienced coaching staff, including former head coaches Tony Sparano and Eric Mangini, to provide him with much-needed support.
Kap aims to improve
Colin Kaepernick spent 10 weeks before the start of the 49ers’ offseason program working in Arizona with a private quarterbacks coach, while also receiving instruction from Kurt Warner. Kaepernick tightened up his mechanics in hopes of quickening his release and becoming more accurate, especially in the short-passing game. Kaepernick’s development will be a constant theme of the season. The addition of speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith should help, and the 49ers also need tight end Vernon Davis to bounce back. As much as most people will focus on the coaching change, the fact is that Kaepernick will be the one person who will have the greatest impact on the 49ers’ fate this season.