After going 5-11 in 2015 The San Francisco 49ers welcome coach Chip Kelly who has just gone 7-9 with the Philadelphia Eagles. Having lost much of the team that went to the Superbowl in 2012 and the Championship game in 2013, as well as seeing the potential star quarterback suffer a monumental regression, the west coast team now turn to an unusual coach to try and change their fortunes.
San Francisco’s woes
49ers frailties start of offense, ranked 31st in the league last season and as you probably know resorting to Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. The Eagles on the other hand finished 12th on offence, as little as you know or understand about Chip Kelly you will be aware that this is his speciality.
On the open quarterback battle in California Chip Kelly stated “I believe you need to have at least two quarterbacks in this league, just because of the physicality that goes on at that position,” You have to wonder if the real battle between the 2 of them is over their abilities to look at a cue card showing them a snowman holding prawn and be able to understand what play is being run.
The 49ers scoring defence was 18th in the league last season, not too bad for a 5 and 11 team you may think. This was largely due to Navorro Bowman’s excellent return from injury, he would go on to be the top tackler in the league. The Eagles had differing form however sitting at 28th. You begin to wonder if the offensive focus of Kelly with mean deficiencies on the other side of the ball.
Believe it or not, San Francisco has drafted 10 defensive backs since 2013 and only four wide receivers in that span, none before the fourth round. This really shows given that Torrey Smith is their number 1, with the number 2 spot up for grabs between Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington.
On the positive end, 2 of the younger defensive linemen have been making a lot of noise in camp and are seemingly excellent prospects. Ironically both Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner were drafted from Chip Kelly’s old College team, if anyone if going to know how to utilise their talents best it’s likely to be him.
Anthony Davis a 2010 first-round pick who started every game in his NFL career has returned to the team and is quickly working his way back up the depth chart. Joe Staley said recently “He’s real eager to prove himself again, His commitment level has been amazing so far. He’s doing everything right. You see it in his work ethic out here on the practice field, He just seems like he’s in a real positive place.”
Davis’ return is most welcome given that the team lost Alex Boone in free agency, they will be expecting a lot having traded back into the first round of the draft to get guard Joshua Garnett from Stanford. One of the final first rounder’s to sign with their team, Garnett has been noted as keeping his head down and working hard so far.
The 49ers are widely thought to have one of the toughest schedules this season, not least because they are in one of the most competitive divisions in football. They open at home to the Rams, new quarterback in town and boasting a defence that includes DMVP candidate Aaron Donald, this is not the easiest start for Kelly’s new offence. The team then go on a road trip to opposite ends of the country to NFC Champions Carolina Panthers and followed by perennial favourites and big rivals the Seattle Seahawks. In week 5 the 49ers face a short week in a Thursday match up again the Arizona Cardinals. It will be a tough start for the new regime.
While there are reasons to be cheerful for the San Francisco 49ers – the return of key players, new blood which looks like being a success already, and a coach who looks likely to help the team focus on the weaker side of their game, the season will not be an easy one. With a tough start to the season they could conceivably be 0 and 5 and that would be a disaster in terms of being competitive this year, a good start is key to building up confidence in the side and winning back a fan base now asked to travel a long way out of town for their home fixtures. All in all the right noises are coming out of the team and you should expect some surprises and entertaining football.