New season brings higher expectations for 49ers
SANTA CLARA — No more pingpong in the 49ers locker room. They finally got rid of the table that symbolized their indifference to losing the past few seasons. That’s how you know this season is different.
Since 2015, the 49ers played pingpong as a mental escape from misery. They didn’t expect to win football games — they were rebuilding — so they distracted themselves from the pain of defeat by playing a different game midweek.
Now, the 49ers expect to make the postseason. If they don’t make it, people could lose their jobs, including general manager John Lynch, head coach Kyle Shanahan, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and even quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Time to focus on football.
This offseason, The Press Democrat ran a series called “Focus on the 49ers,” which posed 10 questions that could determine the success of the upcoming season. Let’s revisit those questions and examine where the 49ers stand.
Question No. 1: Will the new Wide 9 alignment improve the defense?
The 49ers tweaked their defensive alignment by moving their defensive ends farther outside the offensive tackles. This alignment will give the D-ends more space to rush the quarterback, but also will give the opposing offense more space to run the ball up the middle.
Will this change compromise a run defense which ranked a praiseworthy seventh best in the NFL last season?
So far, the answer is, “No.” The Wide 9 alignment stifled the 49ers’ running game throughout training camp sessions. And during the preseason dress rehearsal, the 49ers’ defense held the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-string offense to just 2.7 yards per carry. And the 49ers didn’t even have their top two defensive ends: Nick Bosa and Dee Ford.
“I just like how aggressive the defensive linemen are,” linebacker Fred Warner said.
The defense has a chance to be special.
Question No. 2: Will Nick Bosa play a full season?
Bosa suffered a high-ankle sprain on the eighth day of camp and missed the entire preseason. Before that, he also tore a bilateral core muscle and missed most of his final season at Ohio State, then pulled his hamstring and missed all of OTAs and minicamp with the 49ers.
Bosa’s high-ankle sprain doesn’t seem serious. But he still hasn’t decided if he will play in the regular season opener. “It feels really good right now, but sometimes soreness comes in later on,” he said. “I’ll hit it with ice and anti-inflammatories and see what happens. We’re going day by day. Still ramping it up. Taking it slow.”
Nick’s older brother, Joey, who plays for the Los Angeles Chargers, has a reputation for “taking it slow” with injuries. Last season, Joey missed nine games with a mere foot sprain. The Niners can’t afford Nick Bosa to miss nine games this season. They need him to play through an acceptable amount of pain without jeopardizing his career.
Question No. 3: Can Dee Ford repeat his pass-rush production from 2018?
Last season, Ford had incentive to play through injury. He was in the final year of his contract with the Kansas City Chiefs and needed a new deal. So, he played 16 games and recorded 13 sacks.
Now, Ford has a new deal — the 49ers traded for him and gave him $19.75 million guaranteed. And now, he has less incentive to play through injury. He shut himself down after just three days of camp and missed the entire preseason with knee tendinitis, which he has had for years.