The stretch between pro football seasons is a slog. It's bloated with speculation and baseless theories on who might win a Week 4 match-up, despite no team with a final 53-man roster.

We've made it nine months without the Sunday afternoon sounds of crunching plastic and cleats kicking up black rubber on a hot artificial surface.

More importantly, we have enough substance and fact to make educated guesses as to how the San Francisco 49ers' 2019 season might fare.

Faith in the Starting Offensive Line; Fear of the Reserves


I don't know if there is a fanbase that has absolute praise for its team's final 53-man roster.

The 49ers' roster isn't perfect, and while the 49er executives did make some notable additions to the defense, the lack of depth on the offensive line is the team's weak point.

Last season, the starting five men – Joe Staley, Laken Tomlinson, Weston Richburg, Mike Person and rookie Mike McGlinchey – allowed only 18 sacks, but also gave up 162 quarterback pressures, 91 hurries, and 34 hits.

Additionally, these five men paved the way for 49er running backs to rack up 1,769 rush yards on 364 attempts. For the anti-math crowd, that's an average of 4.6 yards per rush. These efforts resulted in a 71.1. run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus, ranking the 49ers' 4th overall.

More importantly, these five offensive linemen played together for approximately 1,058 snaps. And to count a little higher, Staley and Tomlinson have played side-by-side for around 2,000 snaps through two seasons.

These small football nuances give me faith in the starting line. Experts cannot measure how well these five men know one another and can audible the pass protection or change a run block with nothing more than a nod.

Unfortunately, the 49er brass went through another offseason without adding any depth to the offensive line's reserve unit. Tackle Shon Coleman's season-ending leg injury put a massive black hole in the depth chart.

Once again, general manager John Lynch had to scramble to find someone to compete for the back-up role.

Hoarding low talent, low dollar offensive linemen is a reoccurring problem with the 49ers. I have a hard time believing anyone at 4949 Centennial Boulevard thought veteran Willie Beavers was a critical offseason addition.

Once final cuts arrive, Lynch and the coaching staff end up choosing among men who have no business being on a professional football roster.

I have little faith that tackles Justin Skule and Daniel Brunskill can step into a long-term starting role for the 49ers. These men are not suitable for a back-up role. Practice squad linemen do not win championships.

As usual, the 49ers enter the 2019 season one significant injury away from a porous offensive line.

Robert Saleh: Plans for Success, Not for Demise


We don't need an in-depth dive into why the 49ers' defense had its share of struggles last year. Injuries, inexperience, and a lack of edge pass rush resulted in the team finishing with the 5th worst overall defense in the NFL.

However, the 49ers' defense didn't look too bad in some statistical categories. Somehow, the 49ers' pass defense finished 11th overall despite giving up 35 passing touchdowns. The run defense also did well, finishing in the top half of the NFL.

Too often it feels as though defensive coordinator Robert Saleh keeps his foot hovering over the brake pedal like a nervous driving school instructor. Sometimes, we do see him call an aggressive series, but it's few and far between.

And, yes, he has a strange tendency to drop his defensive linemen into coverage.

Don't buy into the social media commentary; Saleh's defensive scheme is sound. The theories behind what he wants to do work in today's NFL; he's lacked the necessary pieces to fully execute the blueprint down to every nail and flathead screw.

If there's anyone I want to succeed this year, it's Saleh. I want to see what he can do with a fully functioning defense, and call a shut-down game against a top tier offense.

The 49ers' Defense is the Key to a Week 1 Victory


There's plenty of preseason tape the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can watch to prepare for the 49ers' offense.

However, there's nothing of substance the Buccaneers can use to prepare for the 49ers' defense.

Keep in mind that the starting defense did not play a down together in the preseason. Edge defenders Dee Ford and Nick Bosa are unknown factors. Teams have not seen what these two men can do or the ripple effect an intense pass rush can have for the defense.

Any notion that Bosa will only play the left edge position, as noted in the official depth chart, is absurd. Put Ford on the closed side, Bosa on the open side, and let's see how much fun the 49ers' defense can have Sunday afternoon.

Additionally, I did not see the 49ers align in the 'new' wide-9 that often during August. Saleh did fall back on a wide weak side look, but that's an alignment Saleh's used for the last two seasons.

If Saleh wants to prove himself to his doubters, then Sunday afternoon is a prime opportunity to showcase his ability. Saleh's defense can seal a Week 1 victory right away by picking off Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston early in the game. A few sacks sprinkled through the first half and even possibly another takeaway could be all the spark the 49ers need to trounce the Buccaneers.

I'm still unsure what the 49ers' offense is capable of, especially if it needs to mount a 14-point comeback late in the game. That's not a slight to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo or head coach Kyle Shanahan, but a realistic view of the facts we have before us.

As of writing this, Shanahan has still not named a starting center for Sunday. Veteran Weston Richburg has been limited in practice this week, and it's unclear if he's going to be ready to play live football. Ben Garland played center with the first-team offense during the preseason and played well, but there's no correlation between good preseason play and great regular season play.

The lead-up to Week 1 games are a great time to be a football fan. Even with roster doubts or secondary fears, we're walking around filled to the brim with hope and optimism, counting the seconds until kick-off.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
  • 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.