By Brian Jones
2015 record: 5-11 (under former head coach Jim Tomsula)
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (26-21 in 3 seasons with Philadelphia; 0-1 playoff record)
Notable Additions: Zane Beadles, Anthony Davis
Notable Subtractions: Jim Tomsula, Anquan Boldin
Notable Draft Picks: DeForest Buckner, Joshua Garnett, Jeff Driskel
Offseason: Obviously, the big offseason story surrounding the Niners was the hiring of former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. Kelly replaces Jim Tomsula, who was fired after one season at the helm. Kelly is thought to be an offensive mastermind but struggled at times in Philadelphia offensively. Kelly is thought to bring his genius to San Francisco to revive both the offensive and defensive units. He has his work cut out for him this season as he inherits one of the most talent-poor rosters in the league.
Key Training Camp Battle(s): QB and RT: Obviously, the quarterback position sticks out as an important one to watch. Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert will battle it out to see who will be named the starter for this season. That doesn’t mean that the loser of this battle won’t see playing time this season, however. In Kelly’s offensive scheme it calls for a multifunctional quarterback to play in it and both fit the profile needed for the offense to succeed. With Kaepernick recovering from offseason surgeries it wouldn’t all be a surprise if Gabbert took the reins to start the season until Kaepernick fully recovers and is ready to roll.
Another battle to pay attention to is the tackle position. Former first round pick Anthony Davis came out of retirement this offseason and has reported to training camp. It is currently unknown if Davis will become the presumed starter, even with all his time away from football. Davis’ replacement Erik Pears started 14 games a season ago and comes into camp as the presumed starter at right tackle but backup Trent Brown did enough in 2 starts late last season (Pears started at guard for those 2 games) to garner consideration for this season. Brown has had conditioning issues during OTAs and the early stretches of training camp, opening the door for 2016 5th round pick John Theus to possibly slide in and take Brown’s spot. Davis is the wild card in all of this. If he can come back and show the form that made him one of the best offensive linemen in football, then this competition will be over before it starts. If he is unable to do so then that opens the door for Theus and Pears to take snaps and possibly a roster spot away from Davis.
Both position battles are fluid and are worth keeping an eye on as the season approaches.
Schedule: Not a particularly easy one in 2016. Carolina, Dallas, New England and the New York Jets are on the slate along with the divisional matchups against Arizona, Seattle and Los Angeles. Wins will be hard to come by this season.
Best Case Scenario: The QB position gets resolved one way or another, Carlos Hyde has a career year, the offensive line shows some solidarity and the defense plays to an acceptable level as the team acclimates to Kelly and his style of play.
Worst Case Scenario: The QB position remains a game of musical chairs, the running game continues to be non-existent, the offensive line remains a work in progress, the defense regresses from last season and Kelly continues not to live up to his hype.
Season Prediction: There don’t appear to be a lot of bright spots for San Francisco this season, especially with the quarterback position up in the air. There isn’t a lot of overall talent on the roster and that’s needed to make Kelly’s scheme work. Add in a hard schedule and a 2-14 or 3-13 record isn’t hard to fathom for them this season. This team is a work in progress and it’ll take a lot of work to compete and to win games in 2016 for the Niners.
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