49ers defense: A summer suspense thriller

In football, roster turnovers are a standard practice with new regimes. And that’s exactly what the new San Francisco 49ers’ head coach/general manager duo of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch have done this off-season.

With Shanahan implementing his own system, and Lynch bring his philosophy, it’s no surprise that a large portion of players from the old regimes are being replaced with new, hand-picked players.

In fact, according to Over The Cap, the 49ers currently have the sixth highest roster turnover this off-season. Their rank will likely move up as soon as Colin Kaepernick is signed by a new team.

It’s no surprise that offensive personnel has been shuffled around this offseason. Shanahan is attempting to find players that fit into the offensive system that made Matt Ryan into an MVP, as well as allowing the entire Atlanta Falcons offense to have a historic season.

However, on the defensive side of the ball, things are getting a little interesting.

Despite cycling through a number of coaches in relatively short amount of time, the 49ers have not strayed away from their 3-4 base defense. For the first time in years, Shanahan, Lynch, and defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh have decided to switch to a 4-3 base defense.

This isn’t the only change being made on defense. Some familiar faces on defense have been switched out for new blood, as is par for the course with a regime change.

Fans have gotten used to seeing players like Antoine Bethea, Michael Wilhoite, and Tramaine Brock on the field for them. None of these players are on the team anymore. But a player doesn’t need to be cut to lose their spot on the field.

There are interesting roster battles at every level on the defense this offseason. Longtime starters such as Ahmad Brooks might see his number of snaps diminish significantly because of all the new and young talent that the 49ers have accumulated.

Every team has roster battles every single off-season. What makes the 49ers’ battles so interesting is that just about every single spot on the defense is up for grabs. Yes, there are favorites to win each spot, but that doesn’t mean I’d be willing to place any bets on them.


Before Brock was cut, he was practically penciled in as a starter. That meant a lot of guys were competing for one starting outside corner position. With his release, now both spots are open, along with the nickel spot.

Rashard Robinson and 3rd round draft pick Ahkello Witherspoon are the favorites to win the two outside corner spots, with Keith Reaser taking the nickel position. But nothing is written in stone, and guys like Dontae Johnson, Will Redmond, and K’Waun Williams have a good spot at winning a starting spot as well.

With Jimmie Ward moving to free safety and Eric Reid rotating to strong safety, the two safety positions are somewhat set. However, there’s no guarantee that Ward can make the switch to safety. Reid also hasn’t lived up to his pro bowl rookie season, so there are openings for someone like Jaquiski Tartt to come down and swoop in ahead of one of these guys.


The 49ers believe that Reuben Foster can fill the hole that was left by the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland. However, they aren’t just handing him a starting job. There is another fierce competition for all of the linebacker spots. Foster joins NaVorro Bowman, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Malcolm Smith, Eli Harold, and Brooks, who are all vying for a spot on the field.

Bowman has been the 49ers’ star linebacker for a few years, but he is coming off an Achilles injury that he suffered last season. The 49ers gave Smith a 5-year $25.6 million contract this offseason, and they definitely wouldn’t want to pay him that much to sit on the bench. Brooks is the veteran of the group, and he has always been solid and has the experience that makes him tough to beat out.

Defensive Line:

The competition that everyone has their eyes on is on the defensive line. This is where changing to a 4-3 will have the biggest impact. There are tons of speculation for who is going to line up where on the line.

The 49ers have used their last three first round picks on a defensive lineman. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, and Solomon Thomas all have the talent to start on the line. However, just because a player was picked early in the draft doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed a spot on the field. But it does mean they were picked early for a reason, and coaches and fans don’t want to see their picks wasted.

Many fans and analysts have been lamenting the idea that drafting three guys who can all play the same position is redundant. Others are worried that someone like Armstead, who is 6’8, won’t fit in a 4-3 defense. No one except the coaches know for sure how they fit these three guys along with guys like Aaron Lynch, Elvis Dumervil Ronald Blair, Tank Carradine, and Earl Mitchell, one the line. All of these players have the talent to start, but there’s only so many spots on the line and so many snaps to go around.

The plan is reportedly to have a steady rotation to keep guys fresh and keep offenses on their toes. Sure, it might be cooler to call yourself a starter than rotation player for some of these guys, but it might be what helps the team win.

Think of it as a similar concept as a 6th man in basketball. The 6th man might not start, but he is extremely important to the success to the team. It’s not really who starts the game, it’s who finishes it. And if any of these guys are having a good game, they’ll be getting snaps during crunch time.

Most of the draw that comes from football obviously happens during the season, but watching the roster slowly develop is exciting in its own right. The uncertainty makes for great suspenseful entertainment while we wait impatiently for the season to start.

The coaches have a lot of tough decisions to make before the season starts, but after the last couple seasons, having too much talent is a problem that the coaches and fans would love to have.


Anthony Davis Announces Retirement…Again

For the second time in just 15 months, Anthony Davis has retired from football, the 49ers announced today.

Davis retired for the first time in June 2015 for what he cited as health reasons. He missed the entire 2015 season before returning to the team in August.


Anthony Davis

He returned to become the starting right guard for the 49ers, but was beaten out by second-year player Trent Brown.

This kicked off a bizarre saga in which Davis agreed to play guard, and then later changing his mind.

Two days before the season stared rumors of Davis retiring for a second time began swirling. Both he and head coach Chip Kelly denied the rumors after a near meltdown from fans occurred. Fast forward a couple weeks later, and the rumors were proven true.

Davis suffered a concussion the first week of the season at practice and hasn’t fully recovered now, even three weeks later. For this reason, he decided to retire again.

My Thoughts:

No one can truly blame Davis for deciding to walk away from the game to preserve his health. However, fans are upset because of how much they’ve been jerked around by him.

After continuous slights at the team after suddenly retiring, it rubbed fans the wrong way. Couple that with the continuous tease of returning to the team, fans just about had enough.

He proved a lot of people wrong by returning, but then again he proved them right as he walked away for the second time.

Davis was beat fair and square by Brown and would have been sitting on the bench the last two games even he was healthy, so there isn’t much of a loss with his retirement.

The 49ers will probably use his roster spot to bring back Aaron Lynch in a week, so a hard decision was made for them anyways.

He deserves to make the best decision for him, but the constant back and forth has left a bad taste in the mouths of 49er fans.

More Links:

49ers offensive lineman Anthony Davis retires for second time

49ers announce Anthony Davis retirement redux

Anthony Davis announces retirement from NFL

The 49ers Quarterback Controversy Part 2

The 49er Quarterback Controversy Part 2

For the second time in four years, Colin Kaepernick is primed to steal the starting quarterback job from someone who already has it. However the circumstances are slightly different the second time around.


Blaine Gabbert

In 2012 the starting quarterback of the 49ers was Alex Smith. He suffered a concussion halfway through the season, and was forced to sit out a game. His backup, Colin Kaepernick, came in and played absolutely lights out. Eventually, head coach Jim Harbaugh made the controversial decision to keep Kaepernick as his starter.

The unpopularity of the decision stemmed from the fact that the 49ers were winning. Smith had led the 49ers to the NFC Championship the year before, and were 6-2 at the time of his injury.

In 2016 the starting quarterback of the 49ers is Blaine Gabbert. He’s started 11 games for the 49ers and has gone 4-7. After another disastrous outing against the Seattle Seahawks, Gabbert’s days as the starter may be numbered.

However, even if head coach Chip Kelly wanted to make a change, he may not be physically able to.

Kelly is singing a different tune this week than he was last week.

Last week, Kelly gave a vote of confidence in Gabbert as the starting quarterback.

Now a sliver of doubt is beginning to creep in.

Before anyone crucifies Kelly for not making the switch at quarterback quickly, it’s important to understand the consequences of each route.


Colin Kaepernick

Kelly has fans whispering in one ear and 49er management in the other.

Kaepernick reportedly requested a trade during the off-season, and it went as far as a sit down dinner with John Elway to try to work out a trade.

The 49ers may want to keep the trade doors open to tryand get his contract off their books. To do that, they need to keep his trade value up.

If Kaepernick goes out and plays how he did in 2015, his value will plummet.

More than trade value, the 49ers are worried about Kaepernick’s injury settlement. If he plays and gets injured, the team will owe him $14.5 million.

The situation isn’t black and white, and it’s not an easy decision for anyone.

My Thoughts

Regardless of who starts for the team, the 49ers are going to lose games. The fact of the matter is that they aren’t a good team. Just like in 2015, the first game of the season was fool’s gold.

All of the internet, 49er fans are clamoring for Kaepernick just because of how bad Gabbert has been. They’re displaying the trademark short memory of sport fans.

Reading some of these things fans are saying is surreal. It’s as if they don’t remember how Kaepernick looked just a year ago. And now he’s coming off surgery and a lengthy hiatus from football. Hell, he didn’t even look good against second and third stringers in the preseason.

The main argument being thrown out is that Kaepernick had Jim Tomsula and Geep Chryst dragging him down while Eric Pears, Marcus Martin, and Jordan Devey blocking for him.

It is true that Kaepernick wasn’t put in the greatest situation to be successful, but it this isn’t a sudden decline. Even in 2014 when he still had Harbaugh and a decently talented team around him, the 49ers went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

Playing Kaepernick will not deviate the 49ers from the path they’re on. They’re going to be terrible either way.

This isn’t an argument for Blaine Gabbert. He’s just as bad as Kaepernick, maybe even worse. They’re somewhat polar opposites. If there was a way to combine them, they would probably be a great quarterback.

Kaepernick struggles with reading defenses pre-snap, going through his reads, and standing tall in the pocket. Gabbert can make all the reads, but he just doesn’t have the arm talent to make the throws.

With Gabbert you get a 5-yard throw on 3rd and 6. With Kaepernick you get a 3-yard scramble.

It’s a tough situation for the 49ers, and it’s tough for fans to watch. No matter what Trent Baalke wants to say, the team is rebuilding. They’re making progress with hiring the right coach and finding some good talent in the trenches, but without a quarterback, it’s an uphill battle to win.

More Links

Kelly: Kaepernick not fully healthy, strong enough to be No. 2

49ers snap counts: Tartt, Carradine, Reaser log season-high snaps

Carlos Hyde wanted to stay in the game and compete