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Five 49ers Entering Training Camp Under Pressure or With More to Prove

Bret Rumbeck
Jul 26, 2019 at 8:00 AM


The San Francisco 49ers have won a total of ten games and had flashes of success during the Kyle Shanahan era. No player, coach, or executive is hanging his helmet on these small accomplishments. Therefore, everyone in the organization comes to 2019 training camp under some pressure or with something more to prove.

I have no doubt quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo wants to prove to himself, the 49ers and the fans that he is a franchise quarterback.

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman played well last season but did not pick off a pass. He's not under pressure to make the team, but I have no doubt he's putting pressure on himself to improve his overall play from 2018.

Here are five 49ers heading to Santa Clara under pressure to perform or with something to prove.

Under Pressure: Guard Joshua Garnett


In a previous commentary, I noted Garnett would not make the 53-man roster. For a myriad of known and unknown reasons, Garnett has not transitioned from college football success to NFL stardom.

Garnett had a dismal rookie season. He played in 15 games, making 11 starts, leaving one dominant impression: he was one of the worst guards in the NFL.

Pro Football Focus gave Garnett a 42.4 grade in 2016, ranking him third from the bottom, while his pass blocking grade was 40.4, placing him dead last in all of football.

Unfortunately, Garnett hurt his knee at the start of the 2017 training camp and did not play a single down following arthroscopic surgery.

Last season, after two-and-a-half practices, Garnett hurt his knee again when he collided with a defensive lineman. He was unable to beat guard Mike Person for a starting role and saw minimal action in 2018.

Garnett has an uphill battle this year. He shared first-team snaps with Person during spring practices, but Person took the larger portion. Shanahan also brought in veteran guards Ben Garland and Wesley Johnson to compete for a role on the team. Garland played in Shanahan's offense during the 2016 season and has been active for 46 games over three seasons, making seven starts.

Garnett needs flawless and an injury-free training camp, along with an explosive performance during preseason games to retain his second-team spot. Though, I still believe he'll end up getting traded before Week 1.

Something to Prove: Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon


One could easily include every 49er defensive back or safety on this list and provide solid arguments as to why each is chasing his personal White Whale. A two-interception season, a new low in NFL history, is enough ivory leg to propel any secondary player to show the football world his real skill.

It certainly felt like veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's leadership and swagger was the right foundation for younger players like Ahkello Witherspoon.

Unfortunately, Witherspoon did not have a repeat performance from his rookie year; he also sprained his PCL late in the year, ending his 2018 season.

Witherspoon played better football in Weeks 13 and 14, allowing only three receptions for 63 yards, and two big defensive stops against Denver. Compare these numbers to his Week 2 performance against Detroit when Witherspoon allowed eight catches for 99 yards, or the 20-yard touchdown Odell Beckham scored on Witherspoon during Week 10.

I imagine each player in the secondary is hungry and has something to show 49er fans. Witherspoon strikes me as a player who can bounce back from a dismal season and minor injury.

Under Pressure: Quarterback C.J. Beathard


Second and third team battles always intrigue me, and nothing is better than a preseason battle for the second-string quarterback spot.

Beathard was a breath of fresh air during his rookie year. He was a tough, gritty rookie, bouncing back from bone-rattling hits and sacks, only to ask for more.

Last year, after taking over for the injured Garoppolo, he looked sluggish. Beathard's feet looked as if they were dancing in a molasses swamp. He stared down receivers and struggled under pressure, completing 44.4 percent of his passes and taking 18 sacks. Overall, he played more like a rookie than an experienced quarterback.

Included in the fallout of quarterback Nick Mullens' destruction of the Raiders was Beathard's starting role.

Nobody should question Beathard's determination; instead, it's his ability to play quarterback at a high level.

Beathard needs a perfect preseason to win the second-strong role, displaying a higher command of Shanahan's offense, faster decision making, and greater success when under pressure.

Something to Prove: Fred Warner


I want to make this very clear: Linebacker Fred Warner will once again start at linebacker for the 49ers. His challenge this year is finding a way to top his stellar rookie season.

At the start of last year's training camp, I thought Warner would see the field, but as a second-string situational linebacker. But a set of wild circumstances pushed him into a starting role.

Warner exceeded expectations, finishing with 124 combined tackles, a forced fumble, three tackles for loss and six passes defended.

New additions on the 49ers' defense – edge defenders Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, along with linebacker Kwon Alexander – should ease the defensive load Warner shouldered last season. I think we'll see Warner finish with at least five sacks and his first NFL interception.

Something to Prove: Robert Saleh


49ers' defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is not on the hot seat. I loathe phrases like that – everyone in professional sports is on a hot seat. If you fail to perform, the team will find someone who can.

Indeed, Saleh's had two rough years calling the 49ers' defense. The "It's the Scheme" versus "It's the Execution" Twitter war is the 49er fan equivalent of the chicken-and-egg discussion.

The 49ers' defense ranked 28th overall in 2018, generating 275 quarterback pressures of any kind last season, leading to 37 sacks and an NFL-low seven takeaways.

Further, the 49ers opened the first three weeks of the season missing 43 tackles, an average of 14.3 per game. Saleh cleaned up these mental errors, and the defense cut down its misses to an average of 6.2 per game during Weeks 4 through 8.

Additionally, the 49ers' pass defense ranked 11th, six spots ahead of the Seattle Seahawks and twenty places better than the Kansas City Chiefs.

Give Saleh credit for squeezing enough talent from his defensive roster to get his scheme to function, although with fits and starts.

We can criticize Saleh's scheme or situational calls, but he's never had the right talent in the right places to have a consistent, fearsome defense. That excuse ends this season, and Saleh needs to prove he's a capable defensive coordinator. The time of communication breakdowns, mental errors, blown coverages, and wrong calls is over.
  • 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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