Editor’s note: Matt Maiocco is in Indianapolis to cover the NFL Combine. Check back for his comprehensive coverage and catch his nightly updates on SportsNet Central.
INDIANAPOLIS – The 49ers’ 2015 roster was lacking 14 players who saw significant action the previous season.
Included on that list were such key players as Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. The 49ers’ roster was understandably and accurately described as “decimated,” as the 49ers staggered to a 5-11 record under one-and-done coach Jim Tomsula.
This offseason begins with the 49ers having an ample opportunity to improve their roster. The 49ers have approximately $50 million of cap room with free agency scheduled to begin on March 9. The 49ers also have a scheduled 12 picks for the April 28-30 draft.
General manager Trent Baalke, when asked to assess the state of the 49ers’ roster, said one advantage of last season’s thinning roster was the team’s ability to begin developing its young talent.
“I think there’s a good, young nucleus of players with a few key veteran players still on this roster,” Baalke said. “(I’m) very pleased with the young group last year that came in and got a lot of play time. The only way these guys get better is to get on the field.
“We were such a veteran team for so long that a lot of the young guys just didn’t get a lot of play time. And when you don’t get a lot of play time, you don’t develop. And I think we saw last year by getting some of those guys on the field.”
Baalke referenced the improvements of defensive tackle Quinton Dial, whom the 49ers on Wednesday signed to a three-year extension through the 2019 season. He also cited the improvements of receivers Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington.
“The way these guys develop is they get on the field,” Baalke said. “You look at the young group of last year’s draft picks, all the play time they got and how much different they looked Week 16 than they looked Week 1. So you get them on the field and they have a chance to develop.”
Rookie safety Jaquiski Tartt started eight games following Antoine Bethea's season-ending injury. Defensive lineman Arik Amsted, the team's first-round draft pick, was a rotation player in all 16 games. Other rookies, such as Blake Bell, Eli Harold and Trent Brown, saw significant playing time later in the season.