Jim Tomsula tapped into his NFL Europe background when building his coaching staff earlier this year and he said he’ll also use his experience overseas to deal with the sea change that’s swamped the 49ers’ roster in recent weeks.
“You go back to my roots,” Tomsula said Wednesday. “I’m an NFL Europe guy: new team every year. So the team-building process – this is a new year, a new team. Every NFL team has changed. Obviously ours is a little bit different than most years and most teams.”
Including free-agency losses, retirements and terminations, the 49ers have lost eight players who started a combined 97 games in 2014, with more losses possible in coming weeks.
The exodus is particularly acute on defense, where both starting cornerbacks from 2014 left via free agency and two inside linebackers retired within a week. But Tomsula and general manager Trent Baalke spoke confidently this week about the players who will fill those voids, and Tomsula said the losses will not prompt the team to move from the three down linemen/four linebacker alignment it has used for most of the past decade.
On the defensive line, the 49ers cut longtime starter Ray McDonald and don’t know yet if Justin Smith will return for a 15th season. But Tomsula said the unit “is as deep as we’ve ever had” and expects big things from Tank Carradine and other young players. He added that Lawrence Okoye, heretofore a roster experiment as a former Olympic discuss thrower, should make big strides in his third offseason playing American football.
Cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Perrish Cox, who started the majority of the 2014 season for the 49ers, are now with Washington and Tennessee, respectively. Tramaine Brock is expected to take over one of those spots, and Tomsula said he expects free-agent addition Shareece Wright to compete for a spot the way Carlos Rogers did when he joined the 49ers in 2011.
Tomsula said linebacker NaVorro Bowman has looked good in his comeback from a January 2014 knee injury and pointed out Michael Wilhoite started 16 games last season. The 49ers are looking at linebackers in free agency and the draft to round out the position.
Tomsula said Patrick Willis’ retirement wasn’t a huge surprise given the toe injury that cost him half of the 2014 season. But Tomsula admitted he was surprised by Chris Borland’s sudden departure at age 24.
Tomsula said change is something he and several assistants dealt with annually earlier in their careers. In NFL Europe, which was a development league for the NFL, there was a new batch of young players each spring, including foreign players with only a minimal background in American football.
Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst, quarterbacks coach Steve Logan and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey coached in variations of the European league. Tomsula said defensive coordinator Eric Mangini coached semi-professional football in Melbourne, Australia, early in his career.
And in recent months, Tomsula has chatted and consulted with Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, another quasi-NFL Europe veteran.
Garrett said that when he was still playing for the New York Giants, he would head to Europe in the spring to call games for TV broadcasts. He said he’d spend the week before a game with Tomsula and his staff.
“I really developed a relationship with him from back then and just was so impressed with him, not only as a person but certainly as a football coach,” Garrett said . “...The players were drawn to him, and anyone who was around him was drawn to him, too. Everyone just responded to him.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.