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Preparing for the 2017 Football Voyage: Take Any Path You Please

Bret Rumbeck
Jul 7, 2017 at 5:47 AM

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We are, Gentle Fan, but mere weeks away from the actual start of the 2017 NFL season. Right now, we all trudge through the hot doldrums of July; bored with baseball, overheated from summer backyard projects and skin slathered in thick 110 SPF sunscreen.

And Canadian football? Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the person who allowed forward motion, enlarged the field and cut the downs from four to three.

All of us, starting well before the final gun of week 17, began an intense analysis of the upcoming season for the San Francisco 49ers. As we grow grim under the scorching July sun, it is high time to return to the chalked green fields as soon as we can. There are no more numbers to crunch and the endless speculation is a well-worn debate.

But, we can review what we know and what we do not before training camp.

The skeleton of the whale furnishes but little clue to the shape of his fully invested body. ('The Fossil Whale' - Moby Dick)

Our Christmas Day surprise is seeing Robert Saleh's defense on the field for the first time. We know he's going to run a 4-3 defense, but we don't know what the first team defense may look like, let alone how he calls a full game. Does he get aggressive in long situations? What happens on a third-and-short? Has he figured out that Russell Wilson only rolls right?

The 49ers have quietly built a formidable defensive line through draft choices and the free agent market. According to Eli Harold, "It's one man. Everybody has a gap. It allows everyone to play fast. I know we tend to say that every year, but this really does allow us to play fast. You've got guys like Arik (Armstead), DeForest (Buckner) and Tank (Carradine) who are playing the positions that they were built to play."

Delight to me is Reuben Foster and NaVorro Bowman lining up inside and simultaneously stunting both A-gaps. As Wilson drops back to look for help, Foster de-cleats the helpless Wilson. At the end of the game, the Seattle Faithful carry Saleh off the field as a conquering hero.

But here is an artist. What is the chief element he employs? ('Loomings' - Moby Dick)

Not a week went by this offseason without a story or an in-depth analysis of Kyle Shanahan's offense. With nine seasons as an offensive coordinator, writers, fans, and so-called experts have plenty of history to sink their teeth into. As a coordinator, Shanahan pushed great players to further success, namely Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Andre Johnson. He directed a team of below average players – the 2014 Cleveland Browns – to a 7-9 overall record. Scoff if you must, but seven wins with Andrew Hawkins leading the team with 63 catches reveals a lot about coaching ability.

Shanahan loves his play-action-bootleg passes, both to help build confidence in his quarterback and to break a big play. Also, keep eyes open for route combinations that isolate one receiver, or the infamous flanker-drive route lurking behind the linebackers.

Success in this offense depends on a top-ten net yards per passing attempt average. In seasons where Shanahan's offense finishes outside the top ten in this category, his teams have finished below .500. During the 2012 season, Washington ranked third overall in net yards per attempt and finished with a 10-6 record. However, in 2013, that statistic dropped to 23rd overall – despite Pierre Garcon's league-leading 113 catches – and the team finished 3-13.

Whoever ends up playing tight end for the 49ers this season better enjoy motioning across the formation or into the backfield. Additionally, there's something in the run game to please each of the 49ers backs: a little zone, a dash of power, a few inside leads, a handful of stretch runs.

Thus, then, in our hearts' honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg — a cosy, loving pair. ('A Bosom Friend' - Moby Dick)

From the outside, the John Lynch and Shanahan marriage has completely changed the face of the franchise. For too long, the 49ers executive suite operated like a seventh-grade clique; rumors and whispers traveled around the group, frequently finding a path to Trent Dilfer's, Jay Glazer's or Tim Ryan's talking points. Once the season was deemed unfit to win, the executive office spread more misinformation to hang the chains of a losing season on a coach or player.

Today, it appears all that's changed. Lynch and Shanahan seem to be in lockstep on a new direction for the team. Flushing the 2016 roster of talentless players was a huge accomplishment for the 49ers. In years past, I have no doubt the general manager would have resigned Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder and then held a press conference to sell the greatness of a quarterback with nine career wins.

For all of the whispers and rumors, it brought the 49ers no closer to a championship, let alone a winning record. What we need to hope for, beyond a .500 season, is the organization staying on this positive track if the team struggles through a few games.

And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt? ('The Whiteness of The Whale' - Moby Dick)

Above everything, the 49ers need to find small wins and successes in any form possible this season.

The fans are dying for a blow-out victory, especially if we could demolish Seattle in its home stadium by 40 or more points, and watch Wilson's nanobubble tears mix with the Seattle gloom. Regardless of the opponent, we've earned seeing a huge win by a cosmic point differential.

More than a blowout victory, the coaching staff needs a healthy roster. The 49ers had 20 players on injured reserve last season, which was one of many factors for last season's Hindenburg-like outcome. Brian Hoyer needs to remain healthy, as Matt Barkley is not a serviceable back-up. Defensively, players like Bowman, Malcolm Smith, and Eric Reid need to stay far away from the IR list. A consistent lineup, like the team had in 2012, is going to be a key driver for success.

The drama's done. Why then here does any one step forth? — Because one did survive the wreck. ('Epilogue' - Moby Dick)

Too often, I have Seattle fans say to me, "I miss when the 49ers were good. We had better games." Frankly, the universe vibrates differently when the 49ers are a bottom-feeder team. Give it time, but the ivory leg that propels the team will ultimately bring this organization back to its rightful place atop the NFL.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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