The 49ers, like every NFL team with a new head coach, are allowed one extra minicamp to begin installing new offenses and defenses.
The 49ers’ top three coaches – Jim Tomsula, offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini – were part of last year’s staff, which means the 49ers’ learning curve may not be as steep as that of other teams with new coaches.
Tomsula’s first minicamp is Tuesday through Thursday. Here are the top story lines this offseason:
Just grin, baby
Tomsula’s first task appears to be making football fun again.
During a recent HBO segment, guard Alex Boone made it clear that the ultra-intense Jim Harbaugh started to wear on players, especially in his final season. Tomsula has promised sweat-soaked sessions, too. But they may be briefer and more focused than Harbaugh’s, which would be in the mold of their rivals, the Seattle Seahawks.
The 49ers also will have a longer-than-usual summer break between the end of the last minicamp in mid-Juneand the first training camp session of late July. It’s designed to make football less of a chore than it was under Harbaugh.
The question, of course, is whether more smiles will translate to more wins.
Kap’s new look
There’s an old saying in the NFL: Offensive players eventually lose their speed; defenses don’t.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick seemed to take a smart step toward ensuring he has a long career by spending the winter months learning how to become a better pocket passer. Kaepernick learned from, among others, his polar opposite in Kurt Warner. The former NFL MVP never had anything close to Kaepernick’s athleticism. Instead, he carved out a successful career by buying time inside the pocket, making accurate throws and reading defenses.
The sessions were a sign that Kaepernick, who turns 28 this season, is maturing. With Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and perhaps Justin Smith gone this season, the team could use a quarterback’s leadership.
Gore is gone
For the first time in a decade, Gore will not be in the 49ers’ backfield. Instead, the team will try to replicate Gore’s output with a trio of runners led by second-year tailback Carlos Hyde.
Look for the 49ers to add more wrinkles to their previous between-the-tackles style. That will include more screen plays, something at which Kendall Hunter and newcomer Reggie Bush should excel.
Hyde has dropped about 10 pounds from his 235-pound rookie weight, ostensibly making him a more nimble and perhaps a better target out of the backfield, too.
What’s my motivation?
First the bad news: Linebacker Aldon Smith and tight end Vernon Davis are coming off arguably the worst seasons of their careers. Davis had two touchdowns in Week 1 against Dallas and none after that. Smith had two sacks in his second game back from a long suspension and none after that.
The good news: Both are entering the final year of their contracts and appear highly motivated.
Unlike last year, Davis has been on hand for the 49ers’ offseason program and figures heavily into plans to open up the team’s deep passing game. Smith must recapture the form that made him one of the league’s most fearsome pass rushers. This year, however, he may have to work without longtime accomplice Justin Smith at his side.
One of the best – and easily the most crowded – offseason competitions should be at cornerback.
Tramaine Brock, who would have started last season if he hadn’t injured his toe in Week 1, will hold down one of the spots, and he could be assigned to trail the opponent’s top wide receiver.
The other spot is up in the air. Look for free-agent addition Shareece Wright to get the first shot at the position. But both Chris Cook and Dante Johnson are bigger and can play the type of aggressive press coverage the team has discussed in the past. Johnson is smart and coming off a promising rookie season.
Two other 2014 draft picks, Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker, are healthy after missing their rookie seasons and also figure into the mix.
Other position battles will be at inside linebacker as the 49ers try to replace Willis and along the defensive line, where youngsters like Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial will vie for playing time with veterans such as Darnell Dockett.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at sacbee.com/sf49ers.