49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is gearing up for Day 2 of his sixth training camp with the team. The Trey Lance era kicked off July 28th after Shanahan announced, “We have moved on to Trey.” As a result, San Francisco’s core is a tad different from last year’s team.
A new quarterback, a stronger cornerback group, possibly three new starters on the offensive line, and the biggest question may be who will replace Jaquiski Tartt. Nevertheless, the future is bright for the 49ers, who can do some extraordinary things this year.
#1) How often will Shanahan run Trey Lance this season?
Shanahan has repeated that Lance’s throwing abilities are what can take this offense to the next level. In addition, his legs are a plus and can undoubtedly put defenses in a bind if it’s not overly predictable.
“If number one’s covered and there’s a lane wide open, and he just doesn’t hesitate and hits it and moves the chains, then I hope he does that. There’s that element, and when you have that skill asset of moving the ball with your feet, it’s a great bonus, and anytime something happens, you want him to do that” -Shanahan on Lance making the right decision.
Lance was fresh to the league last season, leaving defenses unbalanced when Lance rarely touched the field. Now, defenses will have their ears peeled back with anticipation of Lance making a big play. Hopefully, Lance has done a QB sliding course by now to avoid taking hits every time he runs the ball. Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes mastered it because of their baseball background.
I complained about Shanahan’s game plan in Lance’s first NFL start after he looked like a battering ram. In reality, it could have boiled down to QB power being most comfortable for Lance. Around 70-80 rushing attempts will be ideal for Lance’s first year as a starter, but that could increase if he shows he can protect his body.
#2) Can the offensive line protect Lance?
Training Camp is essential for camaraderie and particularly for the Offensive line. The battle for the starting center spot will be one of the biggest battles throughout camp. The interior offensive line struggled last year, which looks to linger this year.
I agree with Akash, that musical chairs could be the best solution for this offensive line. The competition will bring out whoever wants it most. Pass protection is more than just blocking the guy in front of you. Failing to communicate pre-snap was the cause for most sacks last year. There will always be plays where the defender wins that rep, but we want to keep Lance clean.
#3) Will DT be the most challenging position to trim down?
The defensive tackle group will be hard to trim when it comes to final cuts. San Francisco’s defensive line has remained deep for years, but it feels like there may be too many tweener players this season. Drake Jackson could be Nick Bosa’s wrecking mate, but the 21-year-old rookie must come out strong to become an immediate starter.
Arik Armstead’s move to inside last season could be pivotal for his career. Armstead has shown versatility down the defensive line but playing DT helps the Niner’s defense the most. Javon Kinlaw is healed from reconstructive surgery on his right knee and is destined for his best season.
The three free agency signings of Hassan Ridgeway, Robert Nkemdiche, and Kerry Hyder have intensified the rotation. Hyder has end versatility, but I’d imagine him getting more interior reps.
Kevin Givens has seen the logjam on the interior of the 49ers’ defensive line over the years, and this one is no different. Givens is a run-stuffing disruptor who could earn a spot on the 53-man if he can consistently get pressure on the QB.
We didn’t see what Maurice Hurst could bring to the table last year. Unfortunately, Hurst’s season is over before it began as he tore his bicep last week during practice. Hurst’s injury opens up the door for a player who was on the bubble.
The defensive line could also feature playoff hero Charles Omenihu inside on passing downs. Omenihu has filled in for Armstead as he’s out for a few weeks. Shanahan, Ryans, and the front office will be pulling teeth when it comes down to final cuts with this much talent on the defensive line.
#4) Is the strong safety position a concern?
I was in the middle of whining about the strong safeties before my wife’s water broke to deliver my third and FINAL child. More important things came. However, the thought of quickly replacing Jaquiski Tartt baffles me.
Talanoa Hufanga made some exceptional plays down the stretch last year, but his coverage abilities worry me. Tarvarius Moore showed versatility before the injury and could be a contender for the strong safety spot. DeMeco Ryans has shown he’s comfortable running Cover 1 regardless of the down and distance, and, thankfully, none of the candidates shy away from the running game.
#5) Will DeMeco Ryans be more aggressive on defense in 2022?
If Jason Verrett’s health can hold up, Ryans may have San Francisco’s best set of cornerbacks in the last ten years. The nickel cornerback position worried me at first, but if Ryan’s can find a willing tackler with man coverage ability, they will be fine. Having quality corners allows Ryans to be more aggressive.
The defense has relied on both safeties to save plays, but now I think it’s up to the cornerback group to make the game-changing plays. San Francisco’s defense is built to get more exotic and aggressive defense, while the Niners’ front-seven will give QBs nightmares.
Hopefully, I haven’t ruffled any feathers because it feels fantastic to have football back. No need to question my fandom; I think this team can go all the way. However, there are things to iron out, which is precisely why camp and the preseason are incredibly useful.
Shanahan and Lance will have the bright lights on them all season.