WHO’S THE QB OF THE FUTURE?
New coach Chip Kelly likely has settled on a quarterback for the season opener – Blaine Gabbert is the clear favorite over Colin Kaepernick – but the team’s quarterback conundrum goes beyond this season. Gabbert’s contract expires in March, and Kelly and the 49ers must decide over the next four months whether he is worth the hefty deal starting NFL quarterbacks receive. If not, the front office might have to do something it hasn’t done since 2005 – draft a quarterback in the first round.
IN KELLY THEY TRUST?
The players have given unanimous and enthusiastic support to Kelly and his unique offense, but will he continue to get it if the 49ers hit a rough patch – or two or three? The current rhetoric sounds much like what Philadelphia Eagles players said shortly after Kelly arrived in 2013. The tone was decidedly more sour when he was fired in 2015.
WILL THE DEFENSE EVER REST?
In Philadelphia, Kelly’s fast-paced offense got on and off the field so quickly the defense led the NFL in snaps the past three seasons, and the Eagles’ defense ranked 28th or worse in total defense over that span. The 49ers have prepared themselves for a big defensive workload by assembling a deep, talented line. The line’s effectiveness will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the unit.
WILL YOUTH SERVE AT RECEIVER?
The 49ers entered the offseason hoping at least one of their young, inexperienced wide receivers would seize a role. Instead, the most promising candidate, Eric Rogers, tore his ACL, and another, DeAndre Smelter, was sidetracked by a persistent hamstring injury. No one else stepped forward. Torrey Smith and newcomers Jeremy Kerley and Rod Streater are the only players at the position with significant experience.
The 49ers certainly are more talented along the offensive line than they were last year, when the line was the team’s weakest unit. (The two biggest culprits from 2015, Jordan Devey and Erik Pears, are no longer with the team.) But some of the players – Zane Beadles, Joshua Garnett – are new, while others – such as Anthony Davis – are playing a new position. How quickly the line can jell will go a long way toward determining Kelly’s success in his first season.