San Francisco 49ers

How does Kyle Shanahan fix the 49ers’ red-zone issues? Who starts at right guard?

49ers linebacker Fred Warner, right, forces Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook to fumble during Sunday’s game in Minneapolis. Warner had a game-high 12 tackles, including one for loss, a pass breakup and forced fumble in the 24-16 loss.
49ers linebacker Fred Warner, right, forces Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook to fumble during Sunday’s game in Minneapolis. Warner had a game-high 12 tackles, including one for loss, a pass breakup and forced fumble in the 24-16 loss. The Associated Press

We’re back with our weekly Twitter mailbag following the 49ers’ season-opening loss to the Vikings over the weekend. Let’s get right to your questions.

I.G.E asks: After the loss, how is the team environment?

I didn’t get any sense of devastation in the locker room following Sunday’s game. It was more of a general frustration. The team believed it had an opportunity to escape with a win if not for a number of self-inflicted wounds. Namely, Alfred Morris’ fumble, George Kittle’s long drop and Kendrick Bourne running the wrong route on the pick-six.

A number of defensive players were talking about how Minnesota’s offense wasn’t overly complex. It looked like the defense adjusted well as the game went on, evident by forcing five punts on the first six possessions after halftime. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was pedestrian after getting off to his strong start. The defense allowed just 17 points, which is generally the goal coming in.

Jimmy Garoppolo has responded well, coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday, following his first career loss as a starting quarterback. Garoppolo wasn’t going to remain undefeated forever, so it might be positive to get the first defeat out of the way so the streak wouldn’t become an ongoing storyline as the season progressed.

The 49ers have a close-nit locker room and it doesn’t look like Sunday’s game changed that. But losing can have nasty effects, so it will be something to monitor if the team continues to make costly mistakes in upcoming games.

Jeff Stoefan asks: If Person, Garnett and Magnuson can’t go, who starts at (right guard)?

The 49ers don’t know the answer to this question because they’re waiting to see if any of them can practice this week. If none of them can, I’d imagine Matt Tobin would get the call. He was signed just after final cuts two weeks ago after failing to make the New England Patriots’ regular season roster.

Tobin started 13 games at right tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 and received high marks from Pro Football Focus in pass protection. He allowed just five pressures in 127 passing snaps, according to the scouting service. The Seattle Seahawks wound up trading two draft picks to have him as a utility reserve last season.

Another option might be Jonathan Cooper, the free agent who inked a $4 million deal with the 49ers in the offseason and lost out on the competition for a roster spot. Cooper never looked quite right following offseason knee surgery, but he was healthy enough to play the bulk of the preseason finale. He might make sense, given his familiarity with the offense.

The good news for San Francisco: None of the guards are expected to be placed on injured reserve, which means none of their injuries are considered long term. But exactly when they’re expected to return remains to be seen.

Chris Biderman breaks down the 49ers 24-16 loss in week one to the Minnesota Vikings.

Art Cruz asks: How can you fix the Niners’ red-zone problems? @DezBryant? Need a big target that’s good down there.

The first thing Shanahan looks for in receivers is the ability to separate from man-to-man coverage. And that’s the part of Dez Bryant’s game that’s fallen off the most over the last few seasons.

Additionally, it’s hard to imagine Bryant being the type of player general manager John Lynch and Shanahan want to throw into their harmonious locker room. Bryant has a lengthy history of sideline tirades and publicly questioning play calling. The 49ers got rid of a player last season who did something similar in cornerback Rashard Robinson.

But I agree with the idea that the 49ers could use another big-bodied option for the red zone. Their receivers are mostly small and only Pierre Garçon is known for his work in traffic.

On the other hand, the last thing Shanahan would want is to become predictable in key situations. Having a specialty player like Bryant in the red zone, who would struggle to run the rest of the offense between the 20s, would allow defenses to shift their focus when the field condenses. And if Bryant’s not getting the targets he wants, how would he respond?

I think Shanahan needs to figure out ways to get more creative near the goal line. Maybe try spreading the defense out using shotgun. It’s easier to create mismatches that way while also generating running lanes for Alfred Morris and Matt Breida. It was clear on Sunday the 49ers don’t have the kind of offensive line that can knock opponents back like Jim Harbaugh’s teams did.

But the most simple fix is execution. If Morris doesn’t fumble and Garoppolo doesn’t sail a throw to Kittle from four yards out, the 49ers might have gone 3 for 4 in the red zone and won Sunday’s game. The line between success and failure is very thin.

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Andy Harris asks: If Malcolm Smith can’t go again and (Brock) Coyle is cleared to play, would Coyle get the start? (Elijah) Lee looked pretty good out there.

I’d imagine so. Coyle certainly wasn’t great Sunday, but I don’t think he played poorly enough to get demoted after one game. He’s a favorite of the coaching staff and knows the system inside and out after beginning his career with the Seahawks.

But Smith might be available against the Lions following his hamstring injury, which would be good news for the 49ers. He’s clearly the faster option and he was brought in to start, evident by his $26.5 million contract. He appeared close to practicing last week after suffering an apparent setback a week earlier.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand later in the week. Coordinator Robert Saleh will have his weekly press conference Thursday.

Kainoa Aki asks: What happens with (Fred) Warner when (Reuben) Foster comes back?

Shanahan was asked that same question on Monday.

His answer: “I’m not sure yet. That’s still another week away. The way (Warner) played yesterday, it’d be hard to get that guy off of the field. He did a hell of a job yesterday in his first game. But, that was yesterday. We’ll see how he does this week.”

The 49ers believe Warner is, or will be, a starting-caliber player. Perhaps even a high-level starter if he continues to play like he did in Week 1, when he had a game-high 12 tackles, including one for loss, a pass breakup and forced fumble.

They’re taking the long view with Warner’s development by playing him at “Mike” linebacker, even though it would make more sense to play Coyle there given their athletic profiles. Warner is playing “Mike” because the team envisions him playing there next to Foster, who was moved to “Will” last season.

Coaches say the positions are interchangeable. The main difference has to do with communication. Warner is regarded as one of the team’s smartest players and has quickly learned how to relay the calls in the huddle and get his teammates aligned. Saleh took those responsibilities away from Foster last year, instead allowing him to more time to focus on his responsibilities and chase down ball carriers at “Will.”

Suffice to say, the Warner and Foster pairing looks awfully promising based on how Warner played in his debut.

Chris Biderman: @ChrisBiderman
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