A new dawn. A new day. A new Chip. Jim Tomsula’s successor will be under the microscope—every phrase from his press conferences dissected, every personnel decision he makes scrutinized.
His situation is not enviable, as far as head coaching jobs go. While there are some bright spots on defense—inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman and emerging safety Jimmie Ward—to name a couple, this is a team with significant holes up and down its roster.
Chip Kelly has to change the culture in San Francisco, and he needs to make something of either Blaine Gabbert or a downtrodden Colin Kaepernick. The precedent is there given the magical smoothie Kelly concocted that somehow whipped Nick Foles into a Pro Bowler. But it may be a tough training camp and a tough season. There will be less pressure on Kelly in the Bay Area than there was in Philly—though you can say that about anywhere—but he will still be expected to start turning around a team that appears poised to be stuck in the NFC West basement for the near future.
The Rookie: Sixth-round pick Aaron Burbridge out of Michigan State is a potential star in the making, according to sources within the 49ers organization. His skill set and 6’ 0", 205-pound frame make him dangerous in the slot. A decent camp and Burbridge will play a lot of snaps there this season.
Position Battler Spoiler: Blaine Gabbert heads into training camp with the starting quarterback job his to lose. But Colin Kaepernick’s ceiling is significantly higher; given his speed, ability to extend plays and that big arm, he has “Kelly project” written all over him. Kaepernick’s accuracy and confidence will still be a work in progress by the end of August, so Gabbert wins the job for Week 1, but his leash will be significantly short.
The Stat: Zero, the number of games for which Vegas bookmakers have listed the 49ers as favorites. They will prove Vegas wrong some weeks, but how many? Two? Six? Eight?
Preseason Watchability Guide: Nothing too splashy here, but Week 3 against the Packers will be a good test for an up-and-coming secondary.