The 49ers start their offseason program Monday, as veterans and newly-signed players will all meet for the first time as a group and start their conditioning program.
As tight end George Kittle explained, it’s like the first day of school.
Phase one of the offseason program lasts for two weeks and consists of eight four-hour days for the team. It is limited to strength and conditioning or “dead ball” exercises only.
The team can specify the plan for two of the four hours, with a maximum of 90 minutes on the field with only the strength and conditioning staff. The remaining two hours can be used for weight training and other activities.
These workouts are strictly voluntary but most of the players under contract are expected to be in attendance. Since the last time the team was assembled in January, a few things have changed.
Here are five things to watch as the 49ers unofficially open their 2019 season.
There will be several new faces in the ‘classroom’ this week. Defensive lineman Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander, receiver Jordan Matthews, cornerback Jason Verrett and running back Tevin Coleman will meet their new teammates for the first time since they signed.
Verrett, who is returning from a torn Achilles, can pick the brain of fellow cornerback Richard Sherman who has gone through the same process. Verrett has been rehabbing in Southern California during the offseason. The staff hopes he can return to the top caliber player he was when healthy.
GM John Lynch revealed that Alexander would be around the facility for a few weeks prior to organized team activities (OTAs) working on rehabbing from a torn ACL. Lynch added that Alexander’s return to the field will not be rushed as the plan for the linebacker is long-term.
New strength and conditioning staff
It’s not only the first day of school for the players, it is also the first offseason program in Santa Clara for the new health and performance/strength and conditioning staff. Rehabbing players have been able to work with the staff since they were hired, but many have been away from the facility since January.
The 49ers overhauled their strength and conditioning and medical staff after 17 players spent time on injured reserve in 2018 and 24 did so in 2017.
Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan looked to other professional sports like basketball and hockey to have a more cohesive union between the two staffs to hopefully prevent the same issues in the future.
Injuries like ACL and Achilles tears cannot be solely blamed on the S&C staffs but they do affect players returning from soft tissue injuries like hamstring strains. Lynch and Shanahan hope that better communication and a cohesive program will prevent, or at least expedite the return of players with those types of injuries.
Garoppolo and McKinnon on track to return
All reports regarding QB Jimmy Garoppolo and running back Jerrick McKinnon throughout the offseason have been positive. Both players have been at the facility during the time off, working with the medical and training staffs. They're both on schedule to be full-go for training camp in July.
Garoppolo will not participate in any 11-on-11 work through OTAs as a precautionary measure but will be allowed to throw in 7-on-7s starting in phase three of the program. Lynch, Shanahan and CEO Jed York reported that Garoppolo has been practicing drops and throws to trainers and appears to be looking very sharp.
McKinnon’s participation during that same time is uncertain, as movement for running backs is a much early need than for quarterbacks. He is still reported to be on schedule to participate during training camp.
Kicking game questions
The 49ers used the franchise tag on veteran kicker Robbie Gould, punter Bradley Pinion signed with the Buccaneers, and long-snapper Kyle Nelson will serve a 10-game suspension for the use of PEDs
Gould has still not signed his franchise tender and will not attend OTAs. He has been very vocal on social media about his love for Chicago, where his family remained for the last two seasons of his time with the 49ers. Gould could sign prior to the start of the season and remain with the team -- or he could hold out.
The 49ers signed long-snapper Colin Holba and punter Justin Vogel to the team during free agency but could still look to add options through the draft or with an undrafted free agent.
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New faces on the coaching staff
Although the 49ers finished the 2018 season with only four wins, much of the coaching staff was still poached -- to the surprise of Shanahan.
Shane Day is the team’s new quarterbacks coach and Wes Welker will be working with the wide receivers. Former defensive backs assistant Daniel Bullocks will oversee the safeties under secondary coach Joe Woods.
Kris Kocurek will look to improved the team’s pass rush, having taken over the defensive line coaching duties.