I was recently talking with a friend recently who happened to play football in high school and college, and I made the grave mistake of saying that preseason football doesn’t matter. The following exchange took place:
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter, Josh? You just don’t understand - you’ve never played football in a competitive environment.”
“Ok but what I meant to say is that you can look back every year and find teams who have had success early in the preseason and then follow it up by going 6-10 during the regular season.”
“Yeah but there still are things that can be learned. It’s not like players aren’t trying.”
I bring this up because the pass rush displayed (or lack thereof) may not be that big of a deal. Robert Saleh may be able to, in fact, scrounge up enough from the talent on the line and make something of it. DeForest Buckner, for starters, is developing into a potential All Pro who is widely thought to be one of the best up-and-coming talents in the NFL. Solomon Thomas, the third overall selection in last year’s NFL Draft, is continuing to grow and those who are both within and outside of the 49ers’ organization hope that he turns the corner soon and begins to flourish into the player everyone thinks he can be.
The defense that San Francisco trots out in 2018 may just muster up enough pressure the quarterback and get some sacks without having a legitimate “go-to” rusher on the edge.
Or it won’t.
What we’ve seen through the first two games or the preseason suggests that the lack of a bonafide rusher along the edge will end up hurting the Niners’ chances at making a push for the playoff. The needle is pointing in the right direction, but just as the rate at which offenses score increases across the league, so does the need to acquire defensive players who can help disrupt opposing offensive production.
It’s possible that John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan could look to the free agent market to get some help on the edge before the season starts. On Sunday, Shanahan was asked if the team has reached out to one-time 49er Elvis Dumervil as a potential upgrade, and if there had been any talk at all about adding some help.
“We want to upgrade everything. If there is something at the end of this situation that we feel will help us and make us better and it makes sense contractually to where we think it helps our team this year and going forward in the future, that’s something that we won’t hesitate to do at every position. We have a responsibility to do that at every position, not just pass rusher. Elvis is a guy I have a lot of confidence in. He did a great job for us last year. If we felt that was the right opportunity at the end of this, Elvis is a guy [general manager] John [Lynch] and I wouldn’t hesitate to reach out to.”
Anything helps at this point, but you still have the likes of Buckner, Thomas, and Arik Armstead who can still make an impact. Cassius Marsh showed flashes last year. Jeremiah Attaochu was acquired this offseason but is still an unknown.
Yes, the 49ers are smack-dab in the middle of a rebuild. Heck, they may even be a tad bit ahead of schedule. All things considered, though, there are still needs on both sides of the ball and the one that currently looms large — and may continue to do so as the season progresses — may be the same one that potentially keeps San Francisco on the outside looking in come playoff time.