Considering coach Kyle Shanahan’s open disdain for the preseason, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when the 49ers looked less than inspired Thursday night in a 17-0 road loss to the Houston Texans.
Shanahan expressed that sentiment earlier in camp, and it’s clear the process of forming a 53-man roster wears on him. Shanahan can be insightful and expansive but was curt and uninterested in elaborating on anything during his last press briefing of training camp Tuesday. Nor was he big on giving much information before the 49ers departed Houston.
Not when it comes time to tell people he’s coached for weeks they’re on their way out and at the same time poach prospects from somebody else’s roster.
“That’s what this time’s about. That’s why people are always listening to what you guys report on our practices and all those things so everyone can see what guys to take,” Shanahan said. “That’s why this is a very tough time for people and why we don’t answer many questions.”
Even Amazon Prime announcers Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit were eagerly anticipating the end of a game no one will remember. Shanahan grudgingly conceded there was some use for the practice games in his postseason comments, although it wasn’t convincing.
“I compare it to the driving range,” Shanahan said. “Whatever happens there doesn’t really matter, but you need to do it to get better, too. So you’re always a little nervous but we got through it.”
The 49ers will now convene amid the secrecy of closed practices, with the prying eyes of the media limited to stretching and a few drills. So what did we learn about the 49ers that we didn’t already know?
The most significant news Thursday was general manager John Lynch saying during the Amazon pregame show that free safety Jimmie Ward was likely headed for injured reserve — meaning he will miss at least the first four games of the season. Some combination of Talanoa Hufanga, Tarvarius Moore, George Odum and Dontae Johnson will enable the 49ers, as Shanahan puts it, “to weather the storm.”
Otherwise, the 49ers did pretty well in terms of staying healthy. Shanahan did the wise thing in making sure left tackle Trent Williams, edge rusher Nick Bosa, tackle Arik Armstead and linebackers Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair never took a snap in a preseason game. Cornerback Charvarius Ward (hamstring) is expected back for the opener to team with Emmanuel Moseley.
Other than Williams, they’re all defensive players. That’s the unit that will be counted upon to carry the 49ers until Trey Lance and his retooled offensive line can get into gear.
George Kittle was mostly a spectator, as were Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. But they got at least some minimal time as they attempt to form a chemistry with Lance.
Lance will be analyzed and scrutinized all season. While he’s got a lot of room to grow, the 22-year-old is already a professional at looking at the bright side and giving credit to his teammates.
It’s Lance’s show. He made it through healthy, so now any talk of keeping Jimmy Garoppolo around ends as soon as the 49ers release their former starter as well as his $24.2 million salary. If Lance fails, the 49ers fail.
Michaels and Herbstreit were trying to float the idea of keeping Jimmy G as a backup, but it’s clear Garoppolo has been a man apart — keeping his interactions with teammates to nothing but an occasional smile and a hello.
Lance, who was effusive in praising Garoppolo at the close of the 2021 season, has moved on as well.
“We talk kind of just in passing,” Lance said. “He’s not really around for practices or meetings or anything like that. Nate Sudfeld and Brock (Purdy) have been that for me. They’ve done a great job. Those two guys I know have my back.”
The next 17 days will be about window dressing for the big show and which players will make the team in support roles.
Which running backs besides Elijah Mitchell and Kyle Juszczyk will stick around from a group that includes Jeff Wilson Jr., Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty and Jordan Mason?
Purdy made a couple of nice throws Thursday, but the backup gig is probably Sudfeld’s because even if it’s close, Sudfeld got a $2 million guarantee in the offseason. If you’re looking for clues in roster decisions, follow the money.
The biggest concern is the group charged with protecting Lance and opening holes for Mitchell and the rest of the running backs. All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams is the one known quantity on the offensive line. It was that way when camp opened and it hasn’t changed.
Is fourth-round pick Spencer Burford ready at right guard? How about Aaron Banks at left guard and Jake Brendel at center? It’s hard to feel confident about Mike McGlinchey at right tackle until he steps on the field for an extended period of time. Does undrafted free agent Jason Poe have a role?
The 49ers will deal with all that in short order, and all were pretty much open questions the day they reported for training camp.
For answers, we look to Sept. 11 against the Chicago Bears. And it can’t come soon enough.
Contributed by local news sources