With the 2019 regular season coming closer and hype from fans, the San Francisco 49ers have a lot to overcome. After a year in which many of their biggest names were dealing with injuries and a 4-12 record after high expectations, the team will need to perform better.
The team has plenty to work with after their 2018 season and an offseason of change. Tight end George Kittle is coming off of one of the best seasons ever by a player at his position and a great deal of improvement to the pass rush with the trade of Dee Ford and the selection of Nick Bosa. However, they’re still dealing with many issues from both 2018 and this offseason.
The team still has time to remedy these situations before September comes around, but these storylines will be at the height of what fans of the franchise will talking about all season.
Here are the five storylines for the San Francisco 49ers.
5. The Running Back Conundrum
It’s a product of too many cooks in San Francisco’s backfield. With Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman all fighting for playing time, there’s going to be plenty of competition for touches.
The 49ers have a diverse grouping of different backs with unique traits. With McKinnon being a dual-threat nightmare for defenders given his exceptional receiving skills, Matt Breida coming off of a strong second season in the league after going for 1,075 total offensive yards (814 on the ground) and five total touchdowns, and Tevin Coleman, a Kyle Shanahan disciple, who’s coming off of his best season after reaching career-highs in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage.
And with the possibility of featuring someone like rookie Jalen Hurd in the backfield at times, the 49ers have a lot of guys that will be carrying the ball.
The 49ers are in a good situation, having so many good backs for themselves. But it’s going to be difficult getting all of them equal chances to perform.
4. Solomon Thomas Getting Rid of the Bust Label
If there is one player on the defense with something to prove, it’s Solomon Thomas.
The Stanford product has yet to live up to the expectations of being a number three overall selection in the 2017 draft. He only has four sacks to his credit and only 13 tackles for a loss. Last season was a massive step back as he only came away with one sack and three tackles for a loss.
As much as this would be because of lack of play, Thomas played in every game and started 13 of them. Unfortunately, his play wasn’t there. But a lot of this lack of productivity isn’t because of his play, it’s because of the loss of his sister to suicide.
It was a terrible period in his life that the pass rusher went through. However, the team is seeing that Thomas is learning to get through that awful point in his life, and is starting to play up to the standards of a top draft pick.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan praised Thomas’ improved play during OTA’s.
“You can see it in his eyes, you can feel his energy a little bit better, and it definitely seems like he’s in a better place. We all know grieving can be as hard as it gets and takes people a long time, but you can see he’s doing better.”
Let’s hope that this translates to the regular season.
3. The Secondary Situation
Possibly the team’s most significant liability going into the new season, the secondary position needs to be better than they were in 2018. After a record-low two interceptions last season, they were second-worst in both passing touchdowns allowed (35) and passer rating allowed (105.4).
Even worse, many of the 49ers defenders in the secondary were injured during 2018. Sherman was the highest-graded cornerback at 68.9 while playing after coming off of an injured Achilles tendon. Their two best corners opposite of Sherman are Jason Verrett (has played five games over three years because of injuries) and Ahkello Witherspoon (ranked as the 112th cornerback in the league according to PFF).
The 49ers also chose to not sign or draft a new free safety to replace Jimmie Ward, but instead re-signed him. The 2014 first-rounder recently suffered a broken collarbone — his fifth broken bone since being a part of the 49ers.
The team is hoping that the improved pass rush will help overcome the play of the secondary or that this unit will improve in the third year of the new defensive scheme.
2. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan in a Make-0r-Break
To say that year three for Lynch and Shanahan is going to be an important one is an understatement.
After two years, the San Francisco 49ers regime is 10-22 after so much optimism going into the second season. However, some would give the duo a mulligan after all the setbacks that they went through in 2018.
As the general manager and head coach enter 2019 with high expectations once again, this will be a situation where both will be tested to a great extent. During the Draft, there were reports of “friction” between the two. But both have stopped any more of the rumors that the team had anything like that going on, which will give fans relief being four years removed from the Jim Harbaugh fiasco with the front office.
It’s a crucial time for the two of them in their first attempts at being the general manager and head coach, respectively.
1. Jimmy Garoppolo’s Redemption Season
Is there any other storyline that’s more important to 49ers fans than this one? Garoppolo went through the worst case scenario in his first season as a starting quarterback for the first time in his career. He suffered a torn ACL in Week 3 and had to have his season cut short because of it.
It’s not the best thing for a quarterback that’s gotten so much praise after so little experience as a starter. Not to mention with his not so impressive stat line before his injury. He completed just under 60 percent of his passes (53-of-89) for 718 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. It worked out to a QBR of 26.9 and resulted in his first two losses of his career.
The San Francisco 49ers signed the Eastern Illinois product to a five-year, $137.5 million deal in the 2018 offseason. They are also paying him $17.95 million in the 2019 season. San Francisco is hoping to see better from the 27-year-old signal caller.
It’s going to be Garoppolo’s time to show why he was worth that trade back in the middle of the 2017 season. Fans are hoping to see the Garoppolo that they got after that trade that gave them a five-win stretch to end the 2017 season. And if Garoppolo can get back to that form, then he will be getting Comeback Player of the Year consideration and taking the 49ers to serious playoff contention.