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On the eve of the 49ers first regular season game of 2016, the team faces more questions than it has answers. We can only hope that this season will prove those answers.
This season will be different for the 49ers - that's what we're telling ourselves. It can't be worse than last year's debacle. The team went 5-11 last year but was clearly worse than their record showed. There were 2 missed field goals by (the now unemployed) Robbie Gould and Greg Zuerlein, as well as a very curious decision by Falcons coach Dan Quinn to kick a field goal when down by 4 from the 1 yard line late in the 4th quarter that contributed to those 5 wins.
This year, there are some big questions surrounding the team. How will the quarterback situation pan out? Which one of the wide receivers will step up? Has Chip Kelly changed his ways? That being said, the Niners still have much more talent than they did last year. Is it enough to get the 49ers to the playoffs for the first time since 2013? Probably not, but it could be an important year for building the franchise up to a contender again.
It's a make or break year for General Manager Trent Baalke. His draft failures and inactivity in free agency year after year have cost the 49ers dearly, and will probably cost him his job. I truly believe that in order for the team to grow, they're going to have to move on from Baalke. Tom Gamble is already waiting in the wings to take the reigns and is somebody who head coach Chip Kelly feels comfortable with. My prediction is that Baalke will be fired at some point this season, whether it's the middle of the season or after the 49ers season ends, it'll happen.
Along with Baalke, several players are facing make-or-break seasons. Tank Carradine is now in his 4th season and is 27 years old. Carradine just signed a 1-year extension after a solid preseason. The hope is that he can capitalize on that momentum and live up to his draft status. Thus far, the former second round pick has only 4 sacks in 23 career games. He's going to have to improve on that in order to stay on the team next year.
Backup center Marcus Martin is also in that group of players. He's struggled mightily, bouncing in and out of the lineup because of ineffective play. Zane Beadles had been practicing at center during Training Camp, so the writing may already be on the wall for Martin. Other players such as Quinton Patton, (the injured and out for the season) Bruce Ellington and Vance McDonald share the same sort of situation with regard to needing break out years...and we all know what's going on with the quarterback situation.
There are questions about Chip Kelly and his system. Has he learned from his mistakes in Philadelphia? Will the team respond to him as well as they are now if they have their backs against the wall? How will Kelly interact with the front office when the going gets tough? All indications are that he's not the same guy that he was in Philadelphia. The biggest thing I can say about his time there is that "Chip Kelly the GM" got "Chip Kelly the head coach" fired. He can now be free to put all of his energy towards the team on Sundays, which is a good thing. After all, he can't possibly be any worse than Jim Tomsula was last year.
Yesterday, we heard reports of guard Anthony Davis contemplating retirement. This just adds to a season that will be full of intrigue for 49ers fans.
It's clearly a rebuilding year for the 49ers, but that doesn't mean that they can't make progress. If the team can show progress on the offensive line, figure out the quarterback situation and find some solid starters out of recent rookie classes, then all will not be lost this year. The end goal is always to win championships, but right now the 49ers need to keep moving in the right direction. It will be a process to get this team back to its winning ways, but they can get a jump start on that this year with a successful campaign.