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Rumbeck: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings: 5 burning questions

August 22, 2017

“I learned to recognize the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.”  ― The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde


After two preseason games, the San Francisco 49ers are epitomizing the duality of man. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, they looked like a team ready to compete with the best the NFL had to offer. When the game clock ticked down to zeroes this past Saturday against the Denver Broncos, the 49ers looked as if they’d completely regressed to the 2016 version of themselves.


Granted, this is preseason football. Every team is still ironing out plays, problems, issues, and concerns. However, the 49ers have more questions than answers right now. Here are the top five burning questions you want answers to.


5. Should defensive coordinator Robert Saleh be concerned about CB Rashard Robinson?


The 49ers’ secondary was the weak link in a rebuilt defense. While safety Eric Reid has played well the last two games, cornerback Rashard Robinson has had a rough start to the season. He was beat deep twice against Kansas City, though one was called back due to offensive pass interference. Against Denver, he whiffed on an open field tackle in the flat and committed a poorly-timed pass interference in the end zone.


Defensive back is not an easy position to play as it is one of the most exposed positions on the field. Every fan, pundit, and announcer can easily spot defensive back’s excellent play or a blown coverage.


According to Pro Football Focus, last year Robinson “…allowed the third-fewest yards per coverage snap (1.07) and fourth-lowest quarterback rating (86.4) among rookie cornerbacks.”


He is expected to be a starter this year and heavily contribute to the team’s success. It’s hard to look a few bad plays and assume Robinson doesn’t pack the skillset to play in this defense. However, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh needs to quickly determine what mistakes Robinson is making and correct them over the next few weeks of practice and two remaining preseason games.


4. Is rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard the Week 1 starter?


There was a plethora of off-season talk about quarterback Brian Hoyer being the experienced player to run head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s offense. While Hoyer has only played six series this preseason, he’s only 9-for-15 passing, with 92 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.


Beathard, on the other hand, is 14-for-23, with 211 yards in the air, and three touchdown passes. Despite some rookie errors, Beathard looks more comfortable and in command of Shanahan’s offense than Hoyer.


However, short of a season ending injury to Hoyer, Beathard is not going to start Week 1, Hoyer’s statistics be damned. Beathard looks good playing against second and third team players, and that’s what he needs today to build his confidence as a professional quarterback.


Expect Hoyer to play the first half this week against the Minnesota Vikings, and Beathard and Matt Barkley to split second half duties. The battle for the second-string quarterback position is the most interesting of the preseason.


3. Do the 49ers finally have a return man in Victor Bolden Jr.?


In year’s past, many prospective 49ers played well in the preseason only to get cut in the last round of roster trimming. And, one big play does not necessarily mean a player makes the final roster.


But, wasn’t that an exciting play to watch? These plays are the type of explosive, momentum-shifting moments the 49ers have sorely missed over the last few years. The team is in dire need of a dedicated kick and punt return specialist who strikes fear into the opposition. Shanahan should want opposing teams to kick away from a player like Bolden Jr., as this can lead to better field position or a shanked kick.


If the 49ers do not keep Bolden Jr. on the final roster, I’ll bet a crisp dollar bill the Seattle Seahawks will find room on their roster for him.


2. How can head coach Kyle Shanahan cure penalty disease?


Any high school team that committed 28 penalties for 217 yards over two games wouldn’t be practicing much. Rather, the head coach would have the squad running wind sprints until America’s next total solar eclipse.


The 49ers are playing poor mental football, and Shanahan has to find a way to make it through this week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings as close to penalty-free as possible. Running a professional football team through intense physical training won’t solve this problem, so how Shanahan and Saleh find a way to fix the mental aspect of the game for the 49ers is a mystery.


1. Will the starting offense have a touchdown drive?


On the 49ers’ second offensive possession, the team was putting together a solid drive. They started at their 10-yard line with 6:53 left in the first quarter. On the tenth play, Hoyer dropped back to pass, and as he brought the ball back to throw, it politely slipped from his hand and onto the divots of the Levi’s Stadium turf.


As Hoyer said in his post-game press conference, “My quarterback coach asked me, 'When's the last time that's happened to you.' I think maybe a few years ago in practice it happened one time. I've never really had that happen in a game. So, it's like the worst feeling.”


Hoyer threw an interception on his third drive, and running back Tim Hightower fumbled on Hoyer’s fourth and final series. 


Obviously, I cannot speak for the coaching staff. But, I can speak for fans who want to see Hoyer orchestrate a touchdown drive or two this week against the Vikings. For too long the starting offense operates like an unreliable Dodge Dart in cold weather; it sputters and coughs, and finally gets running only to die at the corner stop sign.


Sunday night is most likely the last time the starters on either side of the ball will play before Week 1, and they have a lot of work to do, and problems to solve, before taking the field against the Carolina Panthers.


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