Adjust to New Sights: Three 49ers With Room for Improvement


Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann

“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

- Dr. Johnson

The pain of a Super Bowl loss must gnaw slowly at the defeated team. It should provide enough motivation to endlessly train and improve throughout the offseason to prove to the world what a team is capable of achieving.

Hopefully, even in a world flipped on its collective head by a microscopic virus, the San Francisco 49ers enter the 2020 season illness-free and better than they were in 2019.

Indeed, there are throws and reads quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo needs to make this fall. Of course, defensive lineman Solomon Thomas has burned through his grace period and needs to have a breakout season in 2020. And who could forget linebacker Fred Warner? Tackles and sideline-to-sideline mean nothing when he’s only notched three career sacks. Let’s hope he works to double or triple that in the regular season.

At least three other 49ers have room for improvement this fall and can play critical roles in the team’s overall success.

Nick Bosa

Nick Bosa is one of the more gifted athletes the 49ers have had on the roster in years. He certainly took the NFL by storm last season, earning AP Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. Bosa is still nowhere near his potential, but like any second-year player, there is always a danger of the dreaded sophomore slump.

Unfortunately for Bosa, teams now have his film and can study his habits.

Fortunately for Bosa, he was more than just a one-move player. He is a V-10 engine that runs on high octane rocket fuel and is rarely stopped.

In Bosa’s third defensive series as a professional, Tampa Bay made the mistake of leaving left tackle Donovan Smith one-on-one with the rookie. Bosa blew right by the veteran, leaving Smith confused and flat-footed.

Hopefully, Bosa has been sharpening the skills already in his possession and working on a few new tricks to bring to the defensive line this year.

Deebo Samuel – Err, Kendrick Bourne

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel’s sophomore season was going to be something you’d share with your grandkids. I could feel the universe’s intentions for Samuel until the whims of the Great Magnet had other ideas.

Indeed, Samuel might come back from his broken foot, as there is a lot of time between now and opening weekend. But something gives me a bad vibration that he won’t make it to an active roster this year if the NFL even has a viable season.

What Samuel brought to the wide receivers – reliability, explosiveness, and a player that could shift momentum – is now up for grabs among the remaining men.

Fourth-year wide receiver Kendrick Bourne now has a golden opportunity to step up and impact the receiver roster.

Bourne’s problem in 2019 wasn’t dropped passes – he only had four – but just general inconsistency. In the Week 2 win over Cincinnati, for example, Bourne finished the game with one catch for four yards.

Bourne might not be the receiver to run a mid-game end-around for 30 yards, but he can become the intermediate threat that Samuel was on Shanahan’s “dagger” concept.

Week 2: 3rd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (15:00)

“Dagger” is nothing more than a two-man route combination. The inside receiver runs a “deep thru” while the outside receiver runs a “dover” route.

The “deep thru” is the first read on the play and sets the tone for the play’s success. The receiver must choose the angle at the near-high safety, roughly at 14 yards.

If there are two safeties, he takes a softer angle toward the middle. Against one safety, the receiver cuts sharply toward the post.

But first, Bourne needs to establish himself as the leader on the practice field. That starts on the first day of camp, becoming the man who will go over the middle or take a short slant and turn it into a significant gain.

Laken Tomlinson

The 49ers enter the 2020 season with one of the weakest interior offensive linemen in professional football. Though Shanahan has proven time and again, he doesn’t need a strong set of guards to have a successful offense.

When the 49ers acquired Tomlinson, it felt as if they were trying to quickly fill a gap in the roster rather than upgrade at the position. Over time, Tomlinson showed that it wasn’t his dominance in the trenches that made him a starter; it was his ability to stay healthy. Further, he could work in Shanahan’s outside zone system, which took the pressure off him, making a run block on each rush.

Throughout Tomlinson’s career, he allows 30.2 pressures, 22.2 hurries, and 3.6 sacks per season. His average career pass-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus is 71.2.

What hurts the 49ers more than dropped passes is Tomlinson’s fundamental breakdowns during crucial moments in games.

Super Bowl: 4th Quarter - 2nd and 5 at the SF 25 (5:27)

While not to beat the Super Bowl loss into oblivion, not every error or play failure should be on Garoppolo or Shanahan’s shoulders. Shanahan made the right call, and Garoppolo made the right read on the “Bluff Slants” call with just over five minutes left in the game.

The play above was a run-pass option that instructed the 49ers’ pass protection to move left. Tomlinson kept Chiefs defensive lineman Chris Jones away from Garoppolo until Tomlinson’s poor hand placement shoved Jones’ arm into the air, allowing Jones to swat the pass into the turf.

Week 14: 2nd Quarter – 1st and Goal at the NO 10 (:45)

The 49ers scored on the play below, but if the team wants to improve, it needs to look at successful plays and find where players can make essential corrections.

Tomlinson had two errors on the play: one as the line went into their stances and the other when he contacted the defender.

First, when he lined up, he made it abundantly clear he was going to pull. Alignment issues like this are something made by high school or junior college tackles to try and gain an edge. Starting guards in the NFL should not cheat the stance to try and be faster off the line.

Second, look at his position as running back Raheem Mostert turned upfield toward the end zone.

Pulling guards need to flatten defenders, not merely push and shove a defender away from the designated hole. Tomlinson’s shoulders should have been perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, not facing toward the end zone.

Tomlinson’s pull block sums up his hot-and-cold run-blocking skill set. Sometimes, he looks great while other times, he’s in a lousy position, using the wrong technique.

Little things in football are the difference between a catch and a drop. Slightly changing the footwork at the top of a route can result in three immediate yards of separation, allowing an easier read for the quarterback and more open field for the receiver.

Shanahan’s proven that he does many of the little things right, and hopefully, his players still have the sting of the Super Bowl loss coursing through their veins – enough to continue to work to make the little changes needed to bring home a trophy in February.

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