Behind Enemies Lines: A Pre-Training Camp look at the San Francisco 49ers


Training camp will be here before we know it. While our Seattle Seahawks are getting themselves ready for another big season, so are their division rivals.

The Seahawks and the 49ers have been the NFL’s top rivalry for the last few seasons. A coaching change and some major roster turnover in San Francisco will make the rivalry feel diminished this year. Perhaps this is where we move beyond the hatred aspect of the rivalry and into the mutual respect phase. Ya, probably not…

Douglas Totten from Niner Noise graciously agreed to answer a few questions. I have to admit that I share his optimism that San Francisco won’t be as bad as everyone thinks they will be.

Following the departures and retirements of so many important and talented players, expectations appear fairly low for the 49ers despite considerable talent still on the roster. Do you think the 49ers will be better than what is expected of them nationally, or do you expect a serious decline?

I think the 49ers will be significantly better than what people are expecting. They just happened to go from an aging roster to a relatively young one. That being said, I’m not expecting a ton. Look for them to be competing for a wild card spot towards the end of the season.

What can you tell us about new head coach Jim Tomsula and his staff? Do we know yet if the offensive and defensive schemes will be noticeably different under the new regime.

This is a really intriguing question, as Geep Chryst, the new OC, has been the QB coach, and Eric Mangini has been on the offensive side of the ball for the past couple of seasons, though he will naturally be influenced by longtime 49er Tomsula.

The offense will likely be simplified and cater more to quicker reads for Kaepernick. There will probably be more passing, too, with Gore gone and the return of Kendall Hunter and arrival of Reggie Bush, both of whom are good in the flat. The defense will likely have to shift more based on personnel than coaching style, as there has been a good amount of turnover.

Colin Kaepernick was once thought of as a potential top-tier NFL quarterback, but after last season that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. How is he viewed by the fanbase? Do fans still believe he’s the future at quarterback for the 49ers?

I think most 49ers fans are willing to give him one more chance. All the news coming out of camp this offseason is that he has improved significantly. With the fact that, for the first time, he spent an offseason seriously working on his quarterbacking skills, there seems to be a reason to be hopeful. But if he doesn’t show improvement on the field, it may be time to start scouting collegiate QBs.

The Baalke-Harbaugh divorce was a fairly messy one. Given his success in San Francisco, it is tough to imagine 49er fans are happy to see Harbaugh gone. Now that the dust has settled a bit, how is Harbaugh viewed by the fanbase? What about Trent Baalke?

Harbaugh is undoubtedly a phenomenal coach. He also clearly has an abrasive personality. Some people love that, others don’t. Baalke, obviously, didn’t.

Baalke has had a fairly solid track record as GM (2012 notwithstanding…that draft was pathetic). And generally speaking the GM is the most important job, as making the roster is the first step towards winning with one. In Seattle, you’ve been fortunate to have great cooperation between GM and Head Coach, and it’s shown results.

Maybe that will happen for the 49ers. On the other hand, Baalke did offer the head coaching job to Adam Gase before making a request Gase couldn’t live with. He and Jed York clearly have all the power right now. With how little 49ers fans care for the Yorks, if things don’t turn around, Baalke will be heavily disliked soon as well.

While it is impossible to know before the players take the field, it appears that the 49ers has themselves a really nice draft. Can Armstead replace Justin Smith? Is there any of the late-round guys you’re particularly excited about?

Justin Smith is pretty much irreplaceable, and it would not be fair to place that burden on Armstead (though he will have to live with it like it or not). Armstead is really talented, but also fairly raw. Expect him to be good at the beginning of the season but to gradually increase his level of play. In a couple years he could be near a Justin Smith level.

Bradley Pinion will take over punting duties from Andy Lee, so it will be interesting to see how he does out f the gate.

DeAndre Smelter has the potential to be a great receiver. If he hadn’t torn his ACL he wouldn’t been taken much higher. Baalke loves these value picks. Smelter could be a superb one.

Blake Bell, the TE out of Oklahoma, is a giant (6’6″) who will be a safety valve for Kaepernick in the red zone. He should see a lot of action, especially if the 49ers maintain their love for 2 and 3 tight end sets.

Finally, Give me a prediction for the 49ers this season. How many wins do you think they’ll end up with in 2015?

The 49ers won’t be winning the the Super Bowl they host, but they won’t be awful either. I see them going 9-7 and potentially sneaking into the playoffs as a 6 seed. There is still plenty of talent on the 49ers, and more than enough to compete week in week out.

Next: Behind enemy line: Arizona Cardinals

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