As players walked off the field this past Tuesday, I overheard one reporter describe the session to another as “about as boring a practice as I’ve seen.”
That summed it up pretty perfectly.
I personally haven’t attended practice—outside of the public one on August 5th—since 2014, when Harbaugh drama was reaching its climax, so I don’t have a recent comparison, but Tuesday was a snoozer at team headquarters. Maybe it was because they started joint practices with Denver the following day. Maybe they were taking it easy given the uptick in injuries. I’m not sure the reason.
Kyle Shanahan was asked after practice who the vocal leaders are on the team, to which he responded, “Umm, I’m not sure.” He noted that the media would probably have a better idea than he does, and that he “sees better than he hears.” He also said that it didn’t really matter much to him.
This is an area of concern.
San Francisco is coming off a 2-14 season. They have a rookie head coach and defensive coordinator, and an overhauled roster with limited talent. Shanahan is a top offensive mind but, admittedly, he’s not the most vocal or fiery guy—he’s X’s and O’s. He mostly patrols the sidelines—walkie-talkie to mouth—as he directs, observes, and analyzes. That’s completely fine. Bill Belichick isn’t a ball of energy and many felt that Jim Harbaugh’s intensity began to wear on players.
But if it’s not coming from the sideline, then it has to come from the field; it has to come from somewhere. Tom Brady fills that role for the Pats. The 49ers don’t have anybody right now. NaVorro Bowman leads by example but he’s a quieter guy. Many other players are newly acquired and/or young, so they lack the leadership qualities of a successful veteran who’s been with the team for some time. This franchise needs someone to rally behind this season; an outspoken, galvanizing force that can help light a fire under them during what will likely be a bumpy season; a motivator. Reuben Foster may fill that role eventually, but not this year.
The quarterback is usually a popular candidate for team leader. Maybe Brian Hoyer becomes “the guy.”
He has a strong command of Shanahan’s offense and has looked very sharp throughout camp. He even organized additional voluntary workouts with receivers earlier in the offseason. Once again on Tuesday, he was quick and accurate, throwing into tight windows on crossing routes and completing a couple nice deeper throws, including a corner route to Pierre Garçon in 11-on-11 work.
Time will tell, but the sooner someone emerges, the better.