The San Francisco 49ers head into the 2015 season with plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball. The questions arise due to free agency departures, retirements, injury returns, and of course the changes to the coaching staff. However, as with any team, there are questions about whether players can bounce back following relatively poor performances in 2015.
The 49ers have several players that struggled for one reason or another in 2014, and will be counted on to bounce back in 2015. We can point to potential reasons for their struggles, but we don't know anything for certain. The only thing we do know is the 49ers need improved play from them in 2015. I am not including guys like NaVorro Bowman, Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Tramaine Brock and Anthony who dealt with clear-cut injuries (as compared to Vernon Davis, see below).
Aldon Smith: He actually did a good job in accruing quarterback hurries, but he struggled closing the deal and grabbing sacks. Missing the first nine games was likely a significant part of the problem. Losing Justin Smith in front of him will be something to track in 2015. He has the physical tools to remain a dominant pass rusher, but there will be plenty of questions this coming season. The 49ers pass rush has some intriguing depth with the development of Aaron Lynch and the addition of Eli Harold, but they need Aldon Smith to return to his dominant form.
Alex Boone: He held out for much of the offseason, and upon returning got off to a really poor start. PFF actually graded him out fairly positive the second half of the season, but his struggles at times matched the 49ers struggles. He is skipping voluntary workouts, but it sounds like he will be in for mandatory minicamp and then all of training camp. It is critical that he is at training camp to develop some kind of chemistry with the rest of the offensive line. If he is, I think we can expect an improved 2015.
Vernon Davis : He claims he was not injured, but Davis struggled mightily after an early injury. My guess is the injury affected him all year, even if he claimed otherwise. The 49ers added Torrey Smith to help stretch the field, but getting back a more effective Davis would be huge for opening up the field. When healthy, Davis can be deadly on that seam route. Mix that in with Torrey Smith down the side, Anquan Boldin underneath, and the running backs out of the backfield, and you suddenly add a whole lot of intrigue to this offense.
Colin Kaepernick: Improved play from the quarterback is always critical, and given his less than stellar 2014, we have to include him on this list. He worked with Kurt Warner and a pair of quarterback coaches, leading to some alterations in his throwing mechanics. It remains to be seen if he can maintain those mechanics in the face of regular season pass rush, but it will be something that keeps 49ers fans watching close. All the weapons in the world will not matter if Kap cannot show improvement in 2015.
Ahmad Brooks: The season got off to a slow start for Brooks when he showed up for camp a bit out of shape. Then defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said it was not about being overweight, but just not being in shape. Brooks had some solid moments in 2014, but for the most part it was a poor year for a guy who had grown into a really solid overall presence at outside linebacker. Things got particularly bad when he went off on defensive line coach Jim Tomsula on the sideline during the Giants game. He was benched for the rest of that game, and later benched in Week 14. I don't normally like the idea of complaining about attitude, but Brooks seemed to have some problems last year. Hopefully he gets it together in what could very well be his final year with the 49ers.
How would you rank out these players in terms of importance for bouncing back in 2015? I'd imagine Colin Kaepernick and Aldon Smith will rank high for most people. Alex Boone and Vernon Davis are up there as well, but their potential individual impacts are probably not quite the same level as Kap and Smith. Are there other players you would add to the list? I did not include players that were clearly dealing with injuries, but you are welcome to add them in if you have other reasons to include them.