2015 Season Preview: San Francisco 49ers

It was a wild ride for the San Francisco 49ers in 2014. There was disharmony between head coach Jim Harbaugh and the front office, and the team did not play up to expectations. Following the season, Harbaugh was dismissed and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was elevated to the head coaching position. This did not sit well with many fans and now the pressure is on both Tomsula and General Manager Trent Balke to win this year. Quarterback Two years ago, it looked as if Colin Kaepernick was going to be one of the bright young quarterbacks in the NFL. That hasn’t happened. In fact, Kaepernick’s play has fallen off, and he needs to improve just to get back where he was. He spent the off-season working on fundamentals, and he goes into camp feeling the best is yet to come. We shall see. If Kaepernick falters, there isn’t much behind him. The backup job is in the hands of former Jacksonville first rounder Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert is one of the huge quarterback disappointments of the 2000’s. While Gabbert has the necessary physical tools, instincts, toughness, and leadership elude him. Running Back The 49ers let Frank Gore walk during free agency, but the running back position still should be in good hands. Carlos Hyde, last year’s second round draft choice, is ready to fill in. Behind Hyde, there is rookie Mike Davis from South Carolina, who has a similar style to Hyde. The 49ers also signed former Lion Reggie Bush who will be used in a variety of ways. He still has big play ability. When the 49ers utilize a fullback, the job is in the hands of veteran Bruce Miller. Miller is one of the better all-around fullbacks in the league. Wide Receiver and Tight End Oft injured Michael Crabtree left during free agency, and he will be replaced by former Baltimore Raven Torrey Smith. Smith gives the 49ers more speed than they have had in recent years. Opposite Smith will be reliable Anquan Boldin, in his 13th year but with gas still in the tank. It’s important to know that Boldin and Smith have worked together. Both were on the Ravens roster in 2012. When the 49ers go to three wides, the slot should be second year man Bruce Ellington. Ellington had a sub-par rookie season but looked good in off season workouts. The fourth receiver may be Jerome Simpson. Simpson has excellent talent and will help if he can keep out of trouble. At the tight end position, San Francisco has one of the best in the business in Vernon Davis. Davis had a down year in 2014 but should be able to bounce back strongly. Blake Bell is an interesting rookie. He is a quarterback-turned-tight end and is still in the developmental stage of his game. Offensive Line The offensive line took a huge hit during the offseason when right tackle Anthony Davis decided to retire. The 49ers also lost starting guard Mike Iupati to free agency. Going into camp, Erik Pears looks to be the replacement for Davis. Pears struggled in Buffalo and is more of a backup. The replacement for Iupati looks to be second year man Marcus Martin. Martin was drafted as a center but has experience at guard. The other guard will be veteran Alex Boone, but he’s looking for his contract to be redone and missed most of the offseason. At left tackle is veteran Joe Staley, a nine year vet and, still, one of the better left tackles in the NFC. The center position is in the hands of Dan Kilgore, who played well last year until he was downed by a leg injury. Look for the 49ers to either sign or trade for a veteran sometime between now and the opening of camp. Defensive Line Just like the offensive line, the San Francisco defensive line took some hits during the offseason. Both of last year’s starters are gone. Justin Smith retired and Ray McDonald is currently out of football because of off-field issues. Going into camp, their replacements look to be Tank Carradine and Tony Jerod-Eddie. Those two aren’t locks to start as free agent Darnell Dockett and Glenn Dorsey will also be in the mix. The nose tackle position will be either Ian Williams or Quinten Dial. Williams has played well when healthy but has missed games in each of the last two years. First round pick Arik Armstead will also be in the mix, but he is raw and might not be ready for full-time duty. Armstead has freaky athletic traits but has never lived up to his outstanding athletic potential. Linebacker Gone from last year’s group are the starting inside linebackers. Both Chris Borland, who had an outstanding rookie season, and All-Pro Patrick Willis retired. The good news is former starter Navarro Bowman is back from an ACL injury and is ready to pick up where he left off. Michael Wilhoite is also back, and he played very well when he had to step in as a starter last year. The former undrafted free agent finished the season with 87 total tackles. San Francisco is strong at the outside linebacker position with Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith lining up. There is great depth there with last year’s rookie sensation Aaron Lynch ready to step in when needed. Also available is rookie Eli Harold. Harold has outstanding physical traits and just has to develop consistency. Secondary The two starting corners from last year are no longer with the club. Both Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox left during free agency. Replacing them will be Tramaine Brock and Sharice Wright, who started 14 games for San Diego a year ago. Neither Wright nor Brock is very tall, and they could have trouble when lined up versus the taller receivers in the league. At safety, the 49ers seem to be in good hands. Antoine Bethea had a very strong 2014, while Eric Reid is very consistent at free safety. Last year’s top draft choice is coming off a foot injury but should be ready to go. He will play a lot on the sub package. Outlook The 49ers finished 8-8 last year, and I think they will be hard-pressed to do the same this year. In the NFL, a club has to be strong on both lines and at quarterback in order to win. All those areas carry a question mark going into training camp. If the 49ers compete for a playoff spot, then both Tomsula and Balke deserve to be coach and executive of the year respectively. Personally, I feel it will be a long year on the Bay in 2015. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

Upcoming Games