Life Under The Scope: San Francisco 49ers
Since the 80s, the 49ers have been one of the more quality franchises. In the mid 2000s, the franchise went through turbulent times though, missing the playoffs from 2003-2010. Then came Jim Harbaugh, who in 4 years took the Niners to 3 straight NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance; but new GM, Trent Balke, decided to part ways with the successful coach, rebuilding an entire new coaching staff.
Jim Tomsula welcome to the big leagues...sort of.
Tomsula has been apart of the NFL since 2007, starting as the Niners defensive line coach, but his journey is to the pros is a true testament to the term, Started from the bottom.
In 1997, Tomsula was living in his car, coaching at his Alma mater, Catawba College, as a volunteer assistant while his wife and kid lived with his in-laws. From there he would go spend 9-years in the NFL Europe development league, head coaching the Rhein Fire in 2006.
Mike Nolan would hire Tomsula in 2007 to be a defensive line coach for the 49ers. He has been apart of the franchise since then.
Even though he has a dream job, he is not walking into a dream situation.
Days after being named head coach, the heart and soul of the Niners decided to call it a career. Patrick Willis announced his shocking retirement, but even more shocking was the retirement of 24-year old Chris Boreland, followed by the 15-year veteran Justin Smith.
Before training camp, Tomsula lost two linebackers and a defensive end, all of whom were impact starters.
I think Harbaugh's departure made the decision to walk away from the game much easier for all three players, but the hiring of Tomsula should keep the culture of the Niners still in tact.
I like York's thinking on this one. Culture is very important when building a champion, which is the reason why Harbaugh was so loved. He changed the culture from the stringent dictatorship of Mike Singletary to a player friendly environment.
Hiring Tomsula who worked under both coaches was smart.
Tomsula filled the open defensive coordinator position, hiring former Jets head coach, Eric Mangini. Mangini will try not to destroy Vic Fangio's top-ten defense while implementing his own system.
Mangini's main philosophy will be flexibility. He will need players to know how to play multiple positions in order to build an aggressive, confusing defense.
Despite losing some key players, the Niners still have talent. They acquired Darnell Dockett, who can play anywhere on the defensive line, and used their first three draft picks on defensive players.
6'9 290lb, Arik Armstead was the Niners #1 pick, and I think he will make an instant impact for the Niners. Armstead has the height and athleticism to play defensive end but also played some defensive tackle in his years at Oregon. He should fit well in Mangini's defense.
Safety, Jaquiski Tartt from Stanford and outside linebacker Eli Harold from Virginia are the other two defensive picks.
Along with the newcomers, the Niners defensive will still have some old faces. Navarro Bowman will return sometime this year after missing the 2014 season because of that gruesome knee injury he suffered back in the NFC Championship game against the Seahawks. Bowman will replace Willis as the heart and soul of this team, and the team is already excited to see the linebacker back on the field and possibly in the Monday Night Opener against the Vikings.
Another vital piece for the Niners will be returning, Aldon Smith.
Smith only played 7 games last season due to serving a 9-game suspension, but he was nowhere close to the beast we saw in his first two seasons. Smith accumulated 33.5 sacks between 2011-12, but only 15.5 between 2013-14.
Justin Smith played a big part in Smith's success, but when injuries slowed down Justin, so did Aldon's production. As cliché as it may sound, the Niners success on defense depends on Smith. If he can return back to All-Pro form, the Niners won't miss a beat on the defensive side of the ball.
With all the questions that are on defense, the offensive side have just as many, and the main one is Colin Kaepernick.
Not many people are a fan of Kaepernick and I really don't understand why. I don't understand how one can say you can't win with Kaepernick, but he led a team to back-to-back trips to the NFC Championship. Granted, Jim Harbaugh was the mastermind behind Kaep's success, he broke the myth that you can't win with him.
The world wants Kaepernick to be a pocket passer but I say use his abilities to your advantage. Kaepernick will now be allowed to call plays in the huddle for the first time in his career which I think is a great transition for him.
Kaepernick will have some new weapons around him. Torrey Smith will replace Michael Crabtree and Reggie Bush will do his best to substitute Frank Gore. Anquan Boldin is still apart of the squad but one player in particular needs to have a great season in order for the Niners offense to flourish, Vernon Davis.
If you told me that Vernon Davis would play in 14 games and only post 26 catches, 245 yards, and 2 TDs I would look at you like you are crazy; unfortunately, I would end up being the one looking crazy.
Vernon was non-existent last season and I can't really explain why. A part of me wants to say that Kaep couldn't get him the ball but a part of me also thinks that it was just bad timing with everything swirling around the franchise.
This year it's no excuse for Kaep or Vernon.
They have the potential to be the best connection in the NFL with Kaep's arm strength and Vernon's freakish abilities that causes mismatches all over the field. The have to put it together though.