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Niners Nation Mailbag: Assessing the 49ers’ rebuild, the loss to Green Bay and more

Addressing your questions and concerns after the San Francisco 49ers’ Week 6 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers fell to 1-5 Sunday after a heart-breaking 33-30 loss to the Green Bay Packers under the primetime lights of Lambeau Field. As one of five teams with just one win, Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are once again in the running for the draft’s top pick come April.

The 49ers’ current status as one of the league’s worst through a third of the season provides appropriate context for us to begin this week’s mailbag with an assessment of the new regime’s rebuilding efforts.

“How do you see the current state of our rebuild? Taking into account the injuries to Jimmy and Jet, but also the inexperience/low talent of the rest of the team…where are we really at? And what do you expect to see next year?” Bay Area Blessed

It’s important to remember that, after Jimmy Garoppolo’s five-game winning streak to close last season, many felt the 49ers’ efforts to create a winning roster were coming to fruition much faster than expected. Losing running back Jerick McKinnon before the season and Garoppolo in Week 3 drastically altered the 49ers’ trajectory.

At this point, 2018 should be seen as an opportunity for a very young roster to gain experience while the front office continue’s to evaluate their on-field product. Younger starters in question like defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, and safety Adrian Colbert should be given ample opportunity to prove they belong in the team’s long-term plans moving forward.

Next year, the 49ers should go into training camp with a healthy backfield of Garoppolo and McKinnon, a strong rookie draft class, and a roster with another season under Shanahan. Pending anymore twists and turns, the expectations for San Francisco in 2019 should be just as high as they were entering this season.

“Any possibility we see Solomon Thomas moved inside to better fit his skill set by seasons end?” Chedda

There is no easy answer when it comes to Thomas, the 49ers’ No. 3 pick in 2017. He’s being constricted by a combination of his own limitations and the strong play of those around him. Thomas made his name at Stanford as an interior disruption, but defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has given him most of his snaps along the edges of the defensive line. The results have been what you’d expect from a player out of position.

On the other hand, Thomas is among a defensive line stacked with talent. DeForest Buckner is playing at an All-Pro level. Arik Armstead hasn’t flashed to the same degree but he’s been very reliable, along with veteran Earl Mitchell. 2017 waiver acquisition Sheldon Day has outperformed expectations, and out-snapped Thomas nearly 2-to-1 Sunday. Ronald Blair had his coming out party against the Packers, totaling four tackles, one sack, two quarterback hits and two tackles for loss.

Thomas has an uphill battle to earn a more prominent role in the 49ers’ defensive front.

“Top three needs for the offseason” Mike Boito

The 49ers’ most glaring need is an EDGE rusher to complement the interior dominance of DeForest Buckner. Think the Smith brothers in Justin and Aldon, before the unraveling. This is the quickest and surest way to alleviate some of the pain felt by the secondary.

Next, cornerback. If Witherspoon can’t regain the encouraging form we saw last season, the 49ers are going to need a young option to complement and eventually replace veteran Richard Sherman.

Lastly, a receiver capable of taking over for Pierre Garçon, who’s due an inflated $8.4 million in 2019.

It also wouldn’t surprise me if an offensive tackle is again in the cards for the 49ers. Rookie Mike McGlinchey has been outstanding on the right side. It may be wiser to have an option behind veteran Joe Staley rather than consider a move for McGlinchey to the left side.

“Raheem made the Mostert of his opportunities in Week 6. Do you see him having a legit shot at staying the No. 2 49ers runner?” Peter Panacy

That’s a high quality pun, Pete. Appropriate for running back Raheem Mostert’s encouraging outing against the Packers. Matt Breida’s nagging ankle injury opened up reps for Mostert in practice during the week, earning him an increased role Sunday that resulted in 12 rushes for a team-best 87 yards. It’s fair to assume the 49ers’ special teams standout will be in the No. 2 mix moving forward if he can continue to produce like he did Sunday. We already know that Shanahan favors a two-back approach, making Mostert’s opportunity to pull snaps from fellow back Alfred Morris all the more real.

“Our first 4 CBs on the depth chart on the injury report. With Mabin embarrassing himself last week, who’s next to step up at corner?” Tom Werlau

The 49ers have an unsavory cornerback rotation opposite Sherman, most of which have found themselves on the injury report following Week 6. Witherspoon (concussion), Jimmie Ward (hamstring), and K’Waun Williams (shoulder) didn’t participate in Wednesday’s practice. Currently, Greg Mabin would be the starter, despite a rough outing Sunday. Rookie cornerback D.J Reed would likely start in Williams’ place if he can’t go. Rookie third-round pick Tarvarius Moore may enter the fray if injuries continue to take their toll.

“Should I be upset that we lose heartbreakers like GB or happy we showed glimpses and still improved our chance at Nick Bosa.” Tony Di Lorio

Both. Fans should always feel for their team when they don’t win. Coaches, players and staff and all work incredibly hard for that goal. It’s important to keep that in mind. On the other hand, the team without its franchise quarterback showed much more fight than they were expected to against a Packers team fighting for contention within their division. For those looking for the deep silver lining, the team’s loss officially earned them the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft — for now. An elite EDGE rusher like Nick Bosa would be an admirable consolation prize for what’s began as a disappointing season.

Shanahan after the loss Monday night stated he believes in Saleh in running the defense. What if Lynch doesn’t feel the same way. Would that begin to rupture their relationship? Let’s be honest Saleh appears to be headed out the door, the defense has not improved. Your take? Sergio

Shanahan wasn’t the only one to come to Saleh’s defense. Even Sherman cited a lack of execution from players as the primary reason behind the defense’s struggles. It’s also worth noting that the defense, after halftime adjustments, was firing on all cylinders until late in the fourth quarter. The coaching staff is Shanahan’s responsibility, and while Lynch may be vocal behind the scenes, it’s more likely they’d respect each others’ opinions than let them come between their relationship. The pair has always seemed in lock-step.

“Why is d-tackle Earl Mitchell still starting?” Mr. Forty Niner

Mitchell is the 49ers’ interior-most defensive lineman in the team’s base downs, which is usually utilized about one-third of the defensive snaps. He’s still a starter, but only on the field roughly half the time, depending on the formation. Still, Michell’s been reliable. He’s also one of team’s most veteran players that anchors a young corps of rotating defensive lineman. Mitchell hasn’t given the 49ers a reason not to start him.

“My 10 year old asked a great question: Why didn’t Shanny try to ice Crosby on the game winner?” Kiran Belur

Your 10-year old is wise beyond his/her years. Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed a whopping five field goals in Green Bay’s Week 5 loss to the Detroit Lions. It goes without saying that his confidence was waning. It’s unclear why Shanahan wouldn’t use any remaining timeouts to throw Crosby off his concentration for what would be the game-winning 27-yard field goal. That may come down to a personal preference for the 49ers coach. Not everyone believes in the effectiveness of icing the kicker. After all, what if he misses the first attempt?

“Is Buckner still better than Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh like you suggested after Week 1?” Big EZK

Aaron Donald: 17 total tackles, four sacks, four tackles for loss, eight quarterback hits
Ndamukong Suh: 18 total tackles, three sacks, three tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits
DeForest Buckner: 23 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, six tackles for loss, nine quarterback hits

Stats definitely don’t tell the story, especially for players like Donald and Buckner that are the unrivaled focus for opposing offensive lines. Buckner’s done enough to enter the conversation of elite defensive lineman. That being said, Donald’s in a league of his own. So is Week 1 sarcasm.