On Friday, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers will square off in the third preseason game for each teams, which should feature the starters playing most if not all of the first half.
For the 49ers, however, there is one starting job that remains up for grabs, and it’s a pretty important one: quarterback. In preparation for Friday, we spoke with David Fucillo of Niners Nation and asked him about what’s going on with Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. Fooch also gives us some insight on the 49ers’ rookie class, their new head coach, and a few other topics.
Don’t forget to head over to Niners Nation to check out our answers to their questions as well and to get up to speed on everything 49ers-related before Friday’s late kickoff. Thanks as always to Fooch for the great insight!
APC: It seemed that the 49ers made a conscious effort to improve both lines through the draft, spending two first-round picks and 5 of 11 selections overall on linemen. How do those rookies slot into the depth chart and how have they performed so far in camp?
The San Francisco 49ers have looked to build on the line the last two years, and it is hopefully going to pay off. The team drafted Oregon defensive tackle DeForest Buckner in the first round. He will slot in as at least a nickel defensive tackle, and could move into the base 3-4 defensive lineup. He missed last week's preseason game with a leg injury, but was back at practice this week. He's not getting the counting stats, but he's impressing with his size and speed.
The 49ers also traded up into the first round to select Stanford guard Joshua Garnett. He played left guard in school. He missed most of the the offseason workout program because of Stanford's final exam schedule. He started working at right guard in minicamp and the start of training camp, but has started getting more left guard work in camp. He has gotten first team work, alternating with Zane Beadles. He might not start right away, but it seems like an inevitability.
The notable other notable line pick is fifth round pick defensive tackle Ronald Blair. He is playing all along the line, and has had two strong games. He won't be starting, but he could be the second lineman off the bench behind Buckner if the latter is the nickel tackle off the bench.
APC: What are your initial impressions of Chip Kelly as a head coach and what are your realistic expectations for him this year?
He is getting along well with folks, and considering how things went down in Philadelphia, that's a nice start. The players like him thus far, which obviously is somewhat due to the honeymoon period. The practices were all moved to 10:30 a.m. PT, which gets players home a bit earlier in the evening. Last year practices and meetings were all over the place, so some consistency is nice. Honestly, it comes down to the fact that he's just inherently better than Jim Tomsula. That's it.
As for expectations? The 49ers face a tougher schedule this season. They could perform better and still finish with a poor record. The big thing is just seeing improvement on the roster. Given Kelly's offensive knowledge, the quarterback position is going to be a huge thing to follow. I don't think expectations are particularly high for the group, but if they can show improvement, that bodes well for Kelly's future.
APC: Can you explain just what in the hell is going on at quarterback in San Francisco? Who is actually going to start in week one?
Good timing on this. Blaine Gabbert got the bulk of the first team reps in the offseason workout program because Colin Kaepernick was rehabbing a shoulder injury. In training camp, they split first team reps down the middle. However, the Thursday before their first preseason game, Colin Kaepernick was shut down due to shoulder fatigue. The thought is he was throwing too much coming off the surgery given Chip's up tempo offense, and it tired him out.
Kaepernick returned on Monday after preseason Week 2, and has been a full participant. My guess is he starts on Friday to get some first team reps because Chip Kelly has said they won't decide on the QB position until they see both players out there. And so, 49ers fans are waiting to see who does what this weekend.
My guess is Gabbert starts Week 1, but that could change with a big Kaepernick performance this weekend against his old friends, the Packers. If Kaepernick does not stand out, Gabbert is likely to be named the starter for Week 1. But this has been a really weird quarterback competition given the injuries and Kaepernick's trade request earlier this year. All around weird times.
APC: Which under-the-radar players should we be looking for in the second half to make an impact against the Packers' backups?
Outside linebacker Marcus Rush had three sacks last week against the Broncos. I think you might actually see him getting some first half playing time further up the depth chart. He was signed as a UDFA last year, and spent 2015 on the practice squad. He's kind of a one-trick pass rushing pony, but he can do some things with it. Watch for him off the edge.
On offense, Dres Anderson has two solid games under his belt, including a 30-yard touchdown reception this past week. He is the son of former Rams great Flipper Anderson. He suffered an MCL tear in college, signed as a UDFA a year ago, and then spent his rookie season on IR. He is healthy now, and his confidence is building.
APC: The defense has been this team's calling card in past years, but after surprise retirements and departures, what do you expect from that unit in 2016?
This is likely going to be the better unit, compared to the offense. The 49ers spent their 2015 first round pick on Arik Armstead, and a 2016 first on DeForest Buckner. The hulking Oregon defensive linemen could combine with Quinton Dial to form a 3-4 defensive line that averages 6'6 1/2" tall. That's kind of ridiculous.
The secondary could also be taking a step forward. 2014 first round pick Jimmie Ward is moving from nickel back to outside cornerback. He is having a strong camp, and the team invested a third and fourth round pick on the position. With Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea at safety, and second-year Jaquiski Tartt playing a hybrid safety/linebacker role, there's a lot of depth.
The big question is the pass rush. Aaron Lynch is the most talented of the group, but will open the 2016 season sitting with a four-game suspension. Tank Carradine was drafted in 2013 as an edge rusher out of college, but the team tried to turn him into a 300+ pound defensive tackle. He is back to an OLB role and back at his college weight. He is feeling faster, which hopefully bodes well for the pass rush this year.