Everyone who follows the NFL knows that San Francisco’s head coach Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius when it comes to running or throwing the pigskin.
He isn’t re-teaching algebra to his players, he’s creating calculus.
So what should the fans expect from the 49ers’ offense their first preseason game this Friday? One thing everyone can probably expect is a watered down approach. There is still a lot of learning time between now and when the gold and red compete against their horned foes up in Minnesota.
Don’t expect Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon, Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Joe Staley, and the rest of your big-name offensive starters to play more than one series. Beyond injury scares, most NFL teams aren’t going to show much of what they are going to do in the regular season. Preseason is as much a smoke screen as it is an evaluation process. The first game this season will be dominated by the back-ups.
Even with Garoppolo only playing one series, don’t expect his back-up, C.J. Beathard, to play a ton of snaps either. This is primarily because he was in Canton for multiple days celebrating his grandfather’s induction to the Hall of Fame. Shanahan expressing his surprise that Beathard was at practice on Monday shows how little of the game plan is for him.
This means the fans will see a lot of Nick Mullens, a second year quarterback out of Southern Mississippi who signed with the Forty-Niners last year as a rookie and spent the season on the practice squad, and Jack Heneghan, a rookie free agent signing this year. One of these two quarterbacks will probably be spending the next year on the practice squad, and could possibly be Beathard’s replacement in a couple years if he gets traded à la Patriot back-up quarterbacks.
With the starting duo of Garçon and Goodwin only playing a series, we should expect a big game from at least one of the following three wide receivers: Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, or Richie James. Also look for heavy reps for Aldrick Robinson and Aaron Burbridge. Moving forward, if those two don’t put enough film on record this preseason, they could be out of the league in four weeks.
The Raheem Mostert versus Joe Williams battle begins. Both of these players will dominate the rep departments. They both also have to show special-teams value if they want to make the teams. Mostert has already proven his special-teams value in his career; Williams must now do the same this preseason.
The same goes for rookie Jeffrey Wilson and second-year practice squad back Jeremy McNichols. For them, showing enough promise to stick around on the practice squad is probably more realistic.
Who starts at right guard? Looking at practice reps I would not be surprised to see Mike Person starting there. Joshua Garnett, someone who people thought might be starting in Week 1, is day-to-day due to injury. Expect to see Jonathan Cooper to get a lot of reps as well.
Overall, the OL will be fluid and ever-changing from series to series. Outside of Joe Staley, the rest of the starters will probably play more than one series, giving Shanahan the ability to evaluate players between the starting center and starting right tackle.
With all of the above taken into account, fans should expect a somewhat watered-down game plan. With the simplified game plan, expect to see a turnover or two from the offense, whether that is a Mullen interception or a Williams fumble.
Spectators should also expect to see two or three field goals. Unless some of the younger splash-play type players like James creates some late game excitement, which is totally possible, expect this game to be dominated by the legs of the 49ers’ kickers.
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