Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
For a season that looks farther and farther gone each week, the 49ers still have an important task at hand. Looking ahead to next season (which everybody already is), the team still needs to carve out its identity moving forward: What kind of team is this? What areas need filling for next season? Who should stick around, and who should go? These are all questions that can and will be answered in the remaining twelve weeks.
It's no secret that the Niners pass-rush is still horrendous. A glaring issue last season, it was almost ignored heading into this season. Small, depth piece additions were added in the offseason as Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch felt confident in the guys they had already. The hire of pass-rush specialist Chris Kiffin was not exactly the acquisition fans were excited about, but we held out hope that something would change. Lo and behold, nothing did. As we look forward to next year, we can almost certainly say that the answer at edge-rusher will have to be acquired in free agency or the draft. In terms of this season, it's important that the team continues to develop up front on the defensive line. Furthering the development of players like Solomon Thomas, DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead can put next year’s defense in good shape if the team can finally address the glaring hole at outside edge rusher.
For the rest of this season, it's important to continue to try new things up front and figure out a way to get creative and get after the quarterback. Even with the addition of a stud edge-rusher, it’s important that the rest of the line can find ways to apply pressure.
With early struggles from the Niners young defensive backs, it's clear that there are still question marks in the secondary. Guys who are not named Richard Sherman should not feel comfortable with their current jobs. Ahkello Witherspoon, Jimmie Ward, K’Waun Williams, and Adrian Colbert are all players the 49ers need to see take that next step and run away with their respective positions. The theme of this season has been injuries, and the secondary has been banged up as well. When healthy, these guys have not exactly played their best football, so it's important to see who can beat out who for certain positions. Depending on who plays the best, that will help determine what this team addresses in free agency and who they draft.
It’s extremely important to keep these guys rotating in and out throughout the year so that they all can show what they’re capable of, and who fits best at what position.
The Niners’ wide receivers have not lived up to expectations at all this season, partly due to injuries, but also due to lots of drops and the inability to get open. Aging veteran Pierre Garcon has not lived up to number one receiver status and has not been as reliable. Last year’s breakout star Marquise Goodwin has been injured most of this season and has not been able to get much action. On top of the lack of production from those two, rookie wideout Dante Pettis is also dealing with the injury bug. Aside from edge-rusher, it's become so clear that the Niners desperately need that true number one, stud receiver. It will almost certainly be addressed in the off-season, but for now the team needs to take inventory. For the rest of this season, the team needs to mix in as many guys as they can. From Dante Pettis to Richie James Jr, Kendrick Bourne, Victor Bolden Jr and Trent Taylor. It's very important that in a season where the team is going nowhere, that the young receiving core gets lots and lots of looks.
It might even be a good idea to give guys like Dante Pettis and Richie James more looks than aging vets like Pierre Garcon. Take advantage of the lack of pressure for this season and get creative.
We’re all disappointed with how this season has been blowing up in our faces. If you’re looking for a positive twist to a miserable season, it's that the 49ers can finish their rebuild this year and continue to develop solid talent on both sides of the ball. With no pressure on this once exciting team, Kyle Shanahan can get as creative as he wants. Every player on the roster should and will get an opportunity to lock down a job for next year. Next season is a long ways away, but until then we can look forward to watching this team get creative and use all the young weapons at their disposal.
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