Out of Their Depth: Positions of Need for the 49ers as Season Ramps Up
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
As the country continues to slowly open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is looking increasingly likely that the San Francisco 49ers will have at least some form of a training camp this summer. While that may not occur in the state of California, head coach Kyle Shanahan will be preparing for whatever type of preseason activities are to come. After cruising through the NFC last season, the 49ers enter 2020 will one of the best top-to-bottom rosters in the league. That said, it is not without its weaknesses. As it stands now, these are the position groups that are the thinnest:
Interior Offensive Line
Depending on who you ask about the Super Bowl loss, almost everyone will have different opinions on which player(s) should shoulder the most blame. One of the groups that will be mentioned is the interior offensive line, which was absolutely bullied by Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones. Coming into the 2020 season, not many moves have been made to shore up that depth. Starting right guard Mike Person was released early in the free agency process and was replaced by veteran guard Tom Compton. Backup center Ben Garland filled in for the injured Weston Richburg admirably but neither has proven to be an entirely reliable player. The stalwart on the interior has been left guard Laken Tomlinson, who has started 47 of 48 regular-season games in a 49ers uniform. Second-year lineman Daniel Brunskill should push Compton for the starting role at right guard, but any injuries among this group could leave the team in a tough spot.
Richard Sherman is a year older. Young cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley have both seen ups and downs to start their careers. After that, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is relying on Jason Verrett to break tendency and stay healthy, second-year pro Tim Harris to have used his redshirt rookie season wisely and veteran Dontae Johnson to be more than the punchline that 49ers’ fans have turned him into. For another group that took a beating from the media following the Super Bowl loss, general manager John Lynch could be regretting not adding any depth through the 2020 draft.
Let us make one thing very clear. Any team trotting out Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander and Dre Greenlaw as their starting linebackers is in a great spot. Those three may represent the best starting trio in the entire NFL. However, after them, there is not much to be impressed with. Mark Nzeocha is still hanging around as a special-teams ace and Joe Walker was signed after 11 games for a lackluster Arizona Cardinals defense last season. The only thing keeping this from being higher on the list is the fact that last year, Saleh was able to withstand Alexander’s torn pectoral muscle, but with the position being such a physically demanding one, injuries are bound to happen.
Kick and Punt Returner
Wide receiver Dante Pettis left the University of Washington as one of the most prolific kick returners in college history. Since being drafted in 2018, he has returned 9 punts for 27 yards. Wide receiver Richie James was boom-or-bust for special-teams coordinator Richard Hightower over the course of the 2019 season. Cornerback D.J. Reed has suffered from an inability to hold onto the ball during his limited time as a kick returner. All three have shown flashes of brilliance at some point in their football careers but none have been able to put it together consistently. Having a player who can flip t field position with dynamic returns could take the pressure off of Kyle Shanahan and his offense immensely.
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