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How much will 49ers' top draft pick Nick Bosa contribute this season?

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FOCUS ON 49ERS

This article is part of a series leading up to the start of 49ers training camp, which opens July 26. Grant Cohn will address 10 topics that will be telltale signs for the team’s success not only going into camp, but once the season begins. The topics covered in this series:

1. The Wide 9 defense: What is it? (June 20)

2. TE George Kittle: Can he improve? (June 22)

3. The red zone offense: Improving on NFL-worst 2018. (June 26)

4. The secondary: Mostly intact after rough ’18. (June 28)

5. Pass protection: Can the same group protect the QB better? (July 4)

6. Pass rush: Can Dee Ford help turn up pressure on QBs? (July 5)

7. Injuries: Do 49ers now have enough depth to overcome them? (July 13)

8. Rookie year: What will Nick Bosa contribute this year?

Grant Cohn's Inside the 49ers blog

SANTA CLARA — Nick Bosa can redeem the disaster of 2018.

The 49ers expected to make the playoffs last season until Jimmy Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3. After he went down, the 49ers won only three more games. But they got something they wouldn’t have had if Garoppolo were healthy. They got the second pick in the draft, and they took Bosa, an edge rusher.

“Obviously, they had the injury last year which allowed them to pick that high,” Bosa said after being selected by the 49ers. “It’s pretty awesome that I’m joining a team that’s already assembled a pretty darn good squad.”

The 49ers believe Bosa can make their defense dominant and become a cornerstone of the team for the next decade. But how much can he help the 49ers as a rookie next season, considering he hasn’t played football since last September, when he tore a core muscle? Next season is vital for the 49ers. If they miss the playoffs yet again, people could lose their jobs.

Here are four questions Bosa must answer as he heads into training camp:

1. When will Bosa sign his contract?

Bosa tweaked his hamstring on the first day of OTAs and missed the rest of the offseason training program. He might miss the start of training camp, too, but not because of the hamstring.

Bosa is one of five rookie first-round picks around the league who have yet to sign contracts. He still can sign his deal before July 26, the date the 49ers report to training camp. First-round picks often wait to finalize their deals. Solomon Thomas waited until the first day of camp in 2017 to sign.

But Bosa’s older brother, Joey, the third pick of the 2016 draft, waited until Aug. 29 to sign with the Chargers. He held himself out of training camp and the preseason altogether.

When he finally joined the team, he wasn’t in football shape, so he promptly pulled his hamstring and missed the first four games of the regular season.

Nick Bosa can’t afford to miss all of training camp and preseason — he already missed OTAs and minicamp. For him to make the biggest impact possible, the 49ers need him to sign on the dotted line pronto.

2. How many games will Bosa play next season?

Bosa played only three games in 2018 for Ohio State before tearing a core muscle and shutting himself down. He missed the next 11 games and left Ohio State to prepare for the NFL draft.

He also tore his ACL as a senior in high school.

Bosa keeps himself in great shape. He weighs 266 pounds and appears to have less than 5% body fat. He is a tremendously hard-working weightlifter who has maxed out the muscle on his body. But his body may be breaking down, which might explain why he pulled his hamstring on the first day of OTAs.

“Injuries come out of nowhere,” Bosa said. “I think I prepared pretty well. It’s just you can’t really simulate what football does to your body. For me to jump in after almost a year of not playing, my body was kind of like, ‘Whoa, slow down.’ It forced me to slow down a bit.”

FOCUS ON 49ERS

This article is part of a series leading up to the start of 49ers training camp, which opens July 26. Grant Cohn will address 10 topics that will be telltale signs for the team’s success not only going into camp, but once the season begins. The topics covered in this series:

1. The Wide 9 defense: What is it? (June 20)

2. TE George Kittle: Can he improve? (June 22)

3. The red zone offense: Improving on NFL-worst 2018. (June 26)

4. The secondary: Mostly intact after rough ’18. (June 28)

5. Pass protection: Can the same group protect the QB better? (July 4)

6. Pass rush: Can Dee Ford help turn up pressure on QBs? (July 5)

7. Injuries: Do 49ers now have enough depth to overcome them? (July 13)

8. Rookie year: What will Nick Bosa contribute this year?

Grant Cohn's Inside the 49ers blog

How many more times will Bosa’s body beg him to slow down? How many more nagging injuries will he suffer? Will he be healthy, or will he go down with another big injury next season?

The 49ers should be happy if he can play more than 12 games.

3. How will Bosa fit the defensive scheme?

At Ohio State, Bosa played “five-technique” defensive end, meaning he was breathing down the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. They were extremely close together before the snap. This alignment benefited Bosa, because he’s not fast and has short arms for his position. He excels in close quarters because he’s strong and uses his hands like a judo master.

The 49ers plan to move him farther away from the offensive tackle before the snap next season. Instead of asking Bosa to engage with his hands, which is his specialty, the 49ers will ask him to line up a couple feet away from the offensive tackle and simply run into the tackle’s outside shoulder when the play starts.

“A lot of stuff in college was me reading the player in front of me,” Bosa explained. “Now, it’s just me getting on an aiming point and going. Learning how to trust that is the biggest thing.”

Bosa needs to master new mechanics and techniques, which may or may not fit his skill set. He has a major learning curve for his rookie season.

4. Will Bosa be a starter?

Bosa was a starter at Ohio State, but not a full-time player. He played every other drive and came on the field for most third downs. Ohio State didn’t want to overwork Bosa, because of his serious injury history.

In three years of college football, Bosa played only 1,009 snaps. In the NFL, a full-time starting defensive player routinely exceeds 1,000 snaps in just one season. Do the 49ers intend to make Bosa a full-time starter as a rookie?

Maybe not. He currently is behind former first-round pick Arik Armstead on the depth chart.

“(Armstead) is probably having the best camp of anyone I have noticed,” Bosa said of Armstead during minicamp. “He is just playing out of his mind right now.”

Armstead is a four-season veteran entering the final season of his rookie contract, and he will be the fourth-highest-paid player on the 49ers’ defense next season. He will have a role, potentially as a starter.

Starting Armstead would allow Bosa to save his energy for third downs. Then, he can replace Armstead when it’s time to rush the quarterback. This platoon could benefit Bosa and increase his sack production. If he records 10 or more sacks, the 49ers could have their first winning season since 2013.

So much depends on a young pass rusher.

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