OK, 49ers fans, a little season preview test: All together now, tilt your heads back and take a big, deep breath. Take it in right up through the nostrils and down into the lungs. And don’t forget to exhale.
There now. Feel good? Smell good? Thought so. You may not have experienced that sweet sensation in a while, but that’s what is known as fresh air.
Fresh air is important to all living things, and at long last, the 49ers recognized just how important during the 2017 offseason. They performed a full-scale fumigation. They found the largest can of football Febreze available and sprayed the entire joint top to bottom.
Forget combines and drafts and free-agent debates for now. Clearing the air and starting fresh was the greatest thing the 49ers could have done these past six months. For three years, their operation had grown increasingly stagnant and many would say polluted. It started to get really bad in Jim Harbaugh’s final tumultuous year, and if the 2015 season under Trent Baalke and Jim Tomsula was like four consecutive months of a smoggy temperature inversion, 2016 under Baalke and Chip Kelly was like wrapping one’s lips around an exhaust pipe and turning the ignition.
Add to that the final two seasons of Colin Kaepernick’s inconsistent escapades as a quarterback and his noble but competitively distracting social injustice stand last year, and the objective was all too obvious, even for an owner who has made as many missteps as Jed York.
Disinfect. Decontaminate. Purify. To that, everyone’s sinuses say thank you. While it may not immediately translate into many more victories or a playoff berth in 2017, it’s going to do wonders for the general mood, not to mention proper fan mental and physical health, right away.
It’s tough to recall the last time any Bay Area sports franchise undertook such a radical makeover. Yes, the Warriors from Chris Cohan to Joe Lacob turned out to be a pretty majestic metamorphosis. But you may have to go all the way back to 1979, when a young Eddie DeBartolo brought in Bill Walsh and John McVay, and they in turn brought in Bobb McKittrick, Dennis Green, Sam Wyche, Bill McPherson and George Seifert, to find a transformation this all-encompassing.
The Faithful can only hope this clean-slate overhaul 38 years later works nearly as well. We won’t know for a while. But for now, just that new car aroma suffices as a most welcome first sniff of change for the better. There’s a new general manager (John Lynch) who’s never been a general manager before. There’s a new head coach (Kyle Shanahan) who’s never been a head coach. There’s a new defensive coordinator (Robert Saleh) who’s never been a defensive coordinator. There’s an almost entirely new coaching staff that has only four men who’ve worked for the 49ers.
There’s a new starting quarterback (Brian Hoyer) who’s been an NFL starting quarterback but has never created a national stir during the national anthem. There is a new backup quarterback (C.J. Beathard). Anchored by a proven veteran, Pierre Garcon, there are numerous new faces in the receiving corps looking to make a first down and a name. There’s even a new kicker (Robbie Gould), and get this — he’s actually under 40.
49ERS AT A GLANCE
2016 RECORD: 2-14
COACH: Kyle Shanahan (first season)
NEW FACES: QB Brian Hoyer, WR Pierre Garcon, WR Marquise Goodwin, WR Aldrick Robinson, DE Elvis Dumervil, DT Earl Mitchell, RB Kyle Juszczyk, OL Laken Tomlinson, K Robbie Gould, rookies DL Solomon Thomas, LB Reuben Foster, QB C.J. Beathard, TE George Kittle.
KEY LOSSES: QB Colin Kaepernick, QB Blaine Gabbert, WR Torrey Smith, WR Jeremy Kerley, WR Quinton Patton, S Antoine Bethea, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Tramaine Brock, TE Vance McDonald, DL Quinton Dial, LB Gerald Hodges.
STRENGTHS: Three consecutive first-round picks on defensive linemen make the foundation of team. Arik Armstead adjusting well to new role as outside rusher in third NFL season. Second-year pro DeForest Buckner shown signs of being dominant from interior. Team has high expectations for No. 3 overall pick Thomas. Also used first-round pick this season on Foster, who shined in preseason. Teams with NaVorro Bowman, who looks to regain All-Pro form after Achilles tendon injury cut last season short.
WEAKNESSES: Team coming off two-win season has plenty, but key could be running back. Carlos Hyde has failed to develop into back Niners hoped for when they drafted him in second round in 2014. Hyde missed nearly one-third of his games and rushed for just 1,791 yards in three seasons. Behind Hyde are undrafted rookie Matt Breida and journeyman Raheem Mostert.
EXPECTATIONS: Niners at start of what could be long rebuild after precipitous fall in recent years from team that made three consecutive trips to NFC title games from 2011-13 under coach Jim Harbaugh to one that won just two games in 2016. Shanahan is the team’s fourth coach in as many years, following one-year tenures by Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly. Shanahan given six-year deal along with new GM John Lynch in sign organization might finally show patience. That could lead to growing pains this season as San Francisco tries to lay foundation for future success. Hoyer will be QB but is likely little more than bridge to longer-term solution that could come next offseason, or from promising rookie Beathard. Few proven playmakers on offense with almost all of recent high draft picks having been used on defensive players or offensive line. Main goal this season will be improving on last year’s win total and identify some building blocks for better days ahead.
— Associated Press
Sunday Carolina 1:25 p.m. Fox
Sept. 17 at Seattle 1:25 p.m. Fox
Sept. 21 Los Angeles Rams 5:25 p.m. NFL Net
Oct. 1 at Arizona 1:05 p.m. Fox
Oct. 8 at Indianapolis 10 a.m. Fox
Oct. 15 at Washington 10 a.m. Fox
Oct. 22 Dallas 1:05 p.m. Fox
Oct. 29 at Philadelphia 10 a.m. Fox
Nov. 5 Arizona 1:05 p.m. Fox
Nov. 12 New York Giants 1:25 p.m. Fox
Nov. 19 Bye week
Nov. 26 Seattle 1:05 p.m. Fox
Dec. 3 at Chicago 10 a.m. CBS
Dec. 10 at Houston 10 a.m. Fox
Dec. 17 Tennessee 1:25 p.m. CBS
Dec. 24 Jacksonville 1:05 p.m. CBS
Dec. 31 at Los Angeles Rams 1:25 p.m. Fox