The San Francisco 49ers report for training camp on Saturday, and MMQB put together a look at ten things about the team. Andy Benoit has been putting together “10 things I think I think” about all 32 teams, and he is wrapping it up with the 49ers. It hits on a lot of the usual topics, but looks at them through more emphasis on film and scheme than on the gut feelings and “eye test” we see from a lot of national media. There will be plenty of disagreements, but I like that it at least considers things from a different angle.
Benoit opens with the quarterback position, and he is a big proponent of Blaine Gabbert over Colin Kaepernick in the Chip Kelly offense. It’s not so much that he is wildly enamored with Gabbert as he is very much down on Kap. You might not agree, but his comparison certainly explains how different he sees them:
Starting Gabbert is like choosing to eat a charred, misshapen hamburger. But starting Kaepernick is like choosing to eat a totally uncooked one. He’s raw enough to give Chip Kelly’s offense E. coli.
Benoit is down on Kaepernick because of question marks about his decisiveness. He thinks Kaepernick has “never shown the field-reading skills” to have success in a Kelly offense that is up-tempo and uses intertwined route combinations requiring a quarterback get the ball out promptly.
Benoit talks about how huge an opportunity this is for the 49ers new defensive coordinator. With Chip Kelly focused on the offense, O’Neil is essentially the “czar” of the defense. The defense has infused talent, but it is a lot of young talent, raising questions about how quickly it can come together. When O’Neil was the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine got credit for the successes, while O’Neil got blamed for failures. It sounds like O’Neil was getting more responsibility when things started going south, so the blame might have been somewhat merited. That being said, there would seemingly be no question heading into 2016 that this is his defense.
One area that is potentially a little off is point No. 10. Benoit talks about Jimmie Ward moving outside, and thinks that “diminish[es] his contributions in blitz packages, open-field run support and zone coverage.” He then says the coaches must really like Chris Davis. The 49ers had Davis practicing in the slot with the first team nickel defense during OTAs and minicamp. They drafted Will Redmond as the long-term option in the slot, but he was still rehabbing his torn ACL. It remains to be seen when he’ll be ready. Trent Baalke has said he’ll be ready in training camp, but until we actually see him on the practice field, it is hard to say anything with certainty. Additionally, given Ward’s experience as the slot corner, the 49ers could still decide he’s the option there for now, but are willing to give other people preseason experience since Ward is used to it.
Point No. 7 is pretty simple, the 49ers need to force more turnovers. During their strong years from 2011 to 2013, that was a big part of the defense. They did more than just force turnovers, but getting the ball back for the offense can be so huge. Forcing turnovers deep in the opponent’s territory is big, but even just ending a drive in your own territory with a turnover can be deflating. There’s the value of getting another possession and forcing the opposing defense back on the field, but there is also the psychological aspect of it. The 49ers need to improve on that.
You can read the full 10 things I think I think here.