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Eye on the Enemy check-in: the San Francisco 49ers

In the first part of our off-season series looking at the Eagles’ chief NFC contenders, we break down the 49ers’ off-season so far.

NFL: MAY 31 San Francisco 49ers OTA Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The last time we saw the San Francisco 49ers, they were trudging off the field, dispirited and depressed, after a crushing 31-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game in which their third-string-turned-starting quarterback was knocked out of the game in the 1st quarter and their fourth-string-turned-second-string QB was forced out in the third quarter.

It’s easy to forget it was only a 7-0 game when Brock Purdy’s elbow got messed up by Haason Reddick, or that it was 14-7 when Josh Johnson committed an awful turnover just before halftime to give the Eagles a 21-7 halftime lead. Of course, arguments that the Niners lost that game because they were left without a human being who could throw a football for the final quarter-and-a-half rings hollow, given Johnson’s abysmal play after coming into the game for Purdy, but that hasn’t stopped many San Francisco players from whining incessantly throughout the off-season.

That being said, head coach Kyle Shanahan still possesses one of the conference’s best overall rosters and the 49ers are likely the most significant obstacle to the Eagles repeating as conference champs.

On a recent Eye on the Enemy podcast, I talked with Rob “Stats” Guerrera of The Gold Standard podcast to get his take on the Niners’ off-season and what may lie ahead for them in 2023.

Off-Season Whining

On whether 49ers players have been whining too much about what happened in the NFC Championship Game or whether there is a legitimate beef.

“For me it’s both. I totally understand why they said, ‘We didn’t get a chance to see who was better.’ I get that. Brock Purdy went down, then Josh Johnson, and you literally ran out of quarterbacks. But also, like, shut up about it now. It’s over. You lost. The Eagles didn’t do anything wrong, it wasn’t a dirty play that took out these quarterbacks. You lost, it’s over. If they had won the Super Bowl, they wouldn’t have had to give the trophy back. It’s done now, just stop talking about it.”

Are the 49ers players obsessing too much with the Eagles and that game?

“What I am worried about is they are too focused on the Eagles, that they’re going to be too concerned about that Week 13 matchup, that is one of 17 games. You can lose that game 100-0 and still win the Super Bowl. But the way they are all talking about it and focused on it, it’s like they want to prove to everyone that they could have won, or they should have won.”

Adding Javon Hargrave

“I think it could be massive. What the 49ers are trying to do is recreate the defense they had in 2019. DeForest Bucknor in the middle, [Nick] Bosa on one edge and Dee Ford on the other. Bosa and Dee Ford were so fast at getting back to the quarterback that they would force the quarterback to have to step up. The problem was DeForest Bucknor was getting pressure in the middle and there was literally nowhere for QBs to go.

“They haven’t had that same push up the middle to recreate what they see is the best version of their defense. Now, with Javon Hargrave, they hope that they can get back to that, and that last year’s second round pick, Drake Jackson, will be sort of that Dee Ford speed rusher coming off the edge, to recreate what they had in 2019.”

Lack of Additions in Free Agency

“I think they are counting on an improvement from the draft class in 2022, and also just improvement of the guys they already have. They didn’t have a lot of money to spend in free agency. I’d love to see them go out and sign one of these veteran pass rushers that are still on the market. Yannick Ngakoue or even Justin Houston, because depending on Drake Jackson is iffy.”

The 2023 Draft

Noting that San Francisco had no picks in the 1st or 2nd round of this year’s NFL Draft, Guerrera noted the 49ers generally redshirt players in their rookie seasons and that they’ll be relying on the 2021 draft class to take a step forward this year.

Their first pick, third rounder safety Ji’Ayir Brown out of Penn State, could start for the 49ers this year. Their second pick, another third rounder, was Michigan kicker Jake Moody. They had a third pick in the third round, tight end Cameron Latu out of Alabama, as well. Recently, SB Nation asked Niners fans which rookie they thought would make the greatest impact in 2023.

What’s Going to Happen at QB?

Of course the big question is what’s going to happen at quarterback. Purdy reportedly had his first throwing session this week, with GM John Lynch saying he was “encouraged” by what he saw. The team is hopeful he’ll be ready for training camp or the regular season. If not, the unproven Trey Lance remains with the team, as does free agent signee Sam Darnold. Guerrera says if the team must start the season with Darnold, it could be brutal news for Niners’ title hopes.

“They reached an agreement with [Darnold] on the very first day of free agency. They love San Darnold and that is terrifying!”

Niners fans, however, believe the roster around him is good enough for the tide to lift all boats.

Boy, I dunno, guys.

Niners fans undoubtedly would rather see Purdy be ready for Week 1 but, it’s important to remember, the second-year player has just eight NFL games under his belt and is still largely unproven. Although, he is by far, the best option.

There is lots more off-season to go and no one’s roster is finalized yet. Where things stand right now, despite some holes, San Francisco remains a tremendously talented team, certainly capable of knocking the Eagles out of the top spot in the NFC.

Provided they can stop talking about the NFC title game.

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