The 49ers report to training camp on July 30 without the burden of any expectations for the upcoming season.
Just like in Jim Harbaugh’s first year with the 49ers in 2011, Chip Kelly’s team will be expected to be among the worst in the league. But that’s where the comparisons end.
And that topic kicks off our latest installment of 49ers Mailbag:
How similar are the expectations of the team coach Kelly takes over when compared to the team coach Harbaugh took over? (Terry Rhone)
The outside expectations are similar. But the rosters are in completely different places.
In 2011, Harbaugh took over a veteran roster with a lot of very good players -- and some great players -- at or near the peaks of their careers. The 49ers underachieved in 2010, prompting the firing of coach Mike Singletary.
While there was no denying the 49ers had a lot of talent, one of the reasons few outsiders thought the 49ers could do much in 2011 was because they did not have the benefit of the offseason program under Harbaugh and his new staff due to the lockout.
Eighteen players off the 2011 team were chosen to the Pro Bowl or as alternates. Joe Staley, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Bruce Miller are the only ones who remain with the organization.
The nucleus of the team Kelly inherits is young and still a few years from reaching its peak. Of course, it is also doubtful whether this team, even when it matures, will have anywhere near the talent the 49ers had during the three consecutive seasons they advanced to the NFC Championship game.
Who will replace Aaron Lynch to start the season? (Eddie Alderete)
Eli Harold, Tank Carradine and Corey Lemonier are the three players who come to mind.
Harold was the 49ers player who made the biggest transformation in the offseason. General manager Trent Baalke challenged Harold to get bigger and stronger, and that’s what Harold did. A year ago around draft time, Harold weighed 240 pounds. During the offseason program, he was up to 270.
Carradine got a lot of work during the offseason program at outside linebacker. The 49ers came to the conclusion during the middle of last season that Carradine was out of position at defensive tackle. He dropped weight and focused on being an edge rusher.
Lemonier has not shown many glimpses of being a legitimate threat as a pass-rusher since arriving as a third-round draft pick in 2013. He has just one sack in 42 games.
Unless one of those players really steps up, it’s more likely the 49ers will use some combination of those players in specialized roles to maximize the production while Lynch serves his four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse.
Who is going to get a shot at the starting right tackle position? (Richard A Berg)
Anthony Davis has promised to apply for reinstatement off the league’s reserve/retired list. He has yet to follow-through, and the 49ers are not exactly depending on him.
Right tackle is wide open with Erik Pears, Trent Brown, and rookies John Theus and Fahn Cooper as the players who figure to be considered for the starting job.
As camp opens, Pears has the advantage of experience and knowing what he’s doing. At this stage, the younger players might have more physical ability than Pears, but they have to prove they can keep mental mistakes to a minimum.