• Bret Rumbeck

RebuildWatch 2018: Finding Season Trends, Important Offseason Tasks

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

A long time ago, in a university in warm Southern California, I decided that an abnormal psychology class would be in my best interest. The course didn’t fulfill a single prerequisite or help me complete my major or minor faster. At the time, it sounded critical to my overall well-being.

During one class, we watched a video of a patient suffering from severe bipolar disorder. In one session, she spoke about how awesome her life was. She’d just blown a few grand on new clothes and was looking forward to a weekend out of town with her friends.

Her next session was a horrible display of sadness and anger. She’d been burning cigarettes in her arm to “feel something,” she shouted vulgarities at her therapist and had been crying for two days.

I thought a lot about that woman when I watched the 2018 San Francisco 49ers. Entering the season, we were all riding the hype train and ready to see the team compete against the NFL’s best.

By Week 3, Faithful across the universe were digging into their own knees and ready to offer our square-jawed savior Jimmy Garoppolo any part of a knee necessary. We were prepared to do what was required to feel victory again, even if it meant losing a lower limb to a ghastly infection.

Two losses to Arizona were enough to drive any man to drink lighter fluid, but embarrassing the Oakland Raiders on national television felt like riding a large butterfly through a land of tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

Don’t let the uneducated masses bring you down though. The 49ers made improvements from last season, but these are buried beneath glaring failures and injuries.

Defensive Improvements

The 49ers finished the 2017 season ranked 22nd overall in rush defense. This year, the 49ers had the 14th best rush defense in the NFL, just behind Frank Clark’s defense in Seattle.

It certainly felt like the 49ers’ secondary played most of the year in a fog of confusion, but somehow defensive coordinator Robert Saleh coached the 11th best pass defense in the NFL. In fact, the team jumped 11 spots from 2017 when it finished 22nd overall.

The 49ers generated only 7 takeaways and gave up the second worst quarterback passer rating in 2018. Even with the lack of talent in the secondary, Saleh’s scheme worked. Though, don’t bother trying to explain that to anyone sitting in the stands.

Offensive Improvements

Take every frustration you had with the 49ers’ offense and focus on one thing: an undrafted quarterback from Southern Mississippi won three games and helped a second-year player break the single-season yardage record for a tight end.

I don’t like moral victories, but what quarterback Nick Mullens was able to do in the last half of the season was incredible. I felt like the 49ers could win any game with him behind center, a feeling I didn’t have with C.J. Beathard.

Tight end George Kittle earned his salary and is now the best player at his position. Kittle finished as Pro Football Focus’ best tight end with a grade of 89.8. He also led the NFL in yards after the catch with 873.

Rookie tackle Mike McGlinchey had a few rough outings but proved to be a stellar choice during the 2018 draft. He finished as the second-best run-blocking tackle in the NFL, with a 78.2 grade from Pro Football Focus. Of course, he needs to improve in pass blocking; however, he and Kittle are going to be cornerstones of the 49ers for years to come.

The 2019 Honey-Do List

On February 4, 2019, the waiver system begins, and over the next month, teams may sign players whose 2019 CFL contracts have expired. Teams franchise players, scout prospects and then in March can start negotiating with players who will become unrestricted free agents.

In between, teams are scouting college talent before the 2019 NFL draft, which begins on April 25, 2019.

One does not need the Eye of Agamotto to envision the infinite scenarios for each team, including the 49ers.

Yes, the 49ers need an edge rusher. The team also needs upgrades in the secondary, a new right guard, an inside linebacker, and a few new wide receivers.

No light or dark magic conjures up a winning roster. It’s filling needs at particular positions with the best player available. And that’s the 49ers’ strategy according to head coach and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.

Now you've got two years of young guys that are going into an offseason to compete with each other. We plan on bringing in some veterans. We plan on drafting a whole new group of young guys.” (December 31, 2018)

Of course. Old guys, new guys. Winning roster. What a bore.

If it’s controversy you seek, here’s what Shanahan had to say about the injuries the 49ers have suffered over the last two seasons.

Q: You mentioned the injuries a little earlier. There were a lot last year as well. Is that just randomness or do you take a step back and evaluate that and see if there's anything--?

Shanahan: It's been too big of a deal for two years. Injuries are pretty random, but it's also affected us huge. So, that's something that we definitely have to sit back and really look at it from all angles and put a lot of time into. Just try to find a better perspective at it.

Play any sport long enough, and an athlete is bound to suffer a few nicks and bruises. Injuries are often freak accidents, a result of bad luck or a trickster deity. But Shanahan has a point. It certainly feels as if the 49ers have had more injuries than other teams.

Short of blaming a higher power, it could be as simple as a poor offseason and in-season training program. I wouldn’t be shocked to see head strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright fired in the coming weeks.

The offseason is long and dreary, and the 49ers have work to do. But, I’d encourage you to take what they do or don’t do in small pieces. There are 207 days to go until training camp, and roughly 237 days until a final 53-man roster is finalized.

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