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49ers 2015 reset:Stunned and starting over

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Following a precipitous fall from grace in 2014, the recently-mighty San Francisco 49ers are starting over with a new head coach and a roster pocked by unexpected or unwanted departures.

After four years, including two that included the NFC Championship game and one Super Bowl, Jim Harbaugh finished his career as a pro head coach with a respectable 44-19 record, although only 8-8 in 2014.

He took his intriguing coaching ability and quirky communication mannerisms to Michigan, where he once starred as a quarterback and is expected to re-establish his reputation as a college icon.

Long-time 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula steps up to head coach and inherits the remnants of a team that began 2014 among those with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, but finished in the depths of one of the most disappointing seasons in recent franchise history.

While much of the public griping was about the play of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who looked awful when asked all too often to be a pocket passer, the team was probably more impacted by a growing dysfunction between Harbaugh and the front office, including general manager Trent Baalke and perhaps even co-owner Jed York.

As if the departure of a coach with a winning percentage of .690 isn’t enough, the heart of the 49ers’ linebacker unit, arguably the best in the league two years ago, was ripped out.

First there was the surprising retirement of 30-year old, five-time All-Pro Patrick Willis, twice rated at the 10th-best player in the NFL, with a nagging foot injury. That was followed by the shocking retirement of star-apparent Chris Borland, who was concerned about future health issues after outstanding play in his only season in the NFL.

The 49ers are hoping that inside linebacker Navarro Bowman can return this year from the devastating knee injury sustained during a sensational goal line play in the NFC Championship game at the end of the 2013 season.

In that memorable moment against division rival Seattle, he not only made the stop at the goal line, but stripped the ball and recovered the fumble even as his knee was being shredded. Officials missed the turnover which was obvious on replay, but that was not admissible evidence at the time. Last year the Bowman rule made such plays reviewable even as its namesake suffered the entire year on the sideline.

Other starters and stars jumping ship, for more money and/or a more reasonable chance at a Super Bowl, were running back Frank Gore, the franchise rushing record holder (free agent signing, Indianapolis), cornerbacks Perrish Cox (FA, Tennessee) and Chris Culliver (FA, Washington), guard Mike Iupati (FA, Arizona), linebacker Dan Skuta (FA, Jacksonville) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (FA, Oakland).

Baalke, blamed by some for the odd feud with Harbaugh, showed he can communicate his desire to rebuild a shell-shocked team.

He targeted a few veterans to ignite the task of reloading, with signings that include running back Reggie Bush (Detroit), wide receiver Torry Smith (Baltimore) and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett (Arizona).

In the first three rounds of the draft the 49ers focused on their decimated defense, taking Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead in the first round — especially important if oft-injured veteran defensive end Justin Smith retires — then adding Samford safety Jaquiski Tartt in the second round and Virginia outside linebacker Eli Harold in round three.

San Francisco turned to offense with three selections in the fourth round — Oklahoma tight end Blake Bell, South Carolina running back Mike Davis and Georgia wide receiver DeAndre Smelter.

In all, the 49ers added ten players in the draft, although NFLDraftScout.com’s Rob Rang quibbles that the quantity does not necessarily equate to quality (see analysis below).

Tomsula and Baalke will get a look at their new players May 15-17 during a rookie minicamp. Meantime, here is a closer look at the 49ers for 2015.

COACH: Jim Tomsula

1st full season as 49ers/NFL head coach

1-0 overall

2015 CAMP SCHEDULE

Rookie minicamp: May 15-17

OTA dates: May 19-21, May 27-29, June 1-2, June 4-5

Mandatory Minicamp: June 9-11

GRADING THE DRAFT — C plus

Per Rob Rang, NFLDraftScpout.com

It is clear that the 49ers are now general manager Trent Baalke’s team, and give him credit for trading down and still landing a prototypical five-technique defensive end in Arik Armstead. The operative word with the former Duck is upside as he’s just starting to realize his own potential. I’m not convinced that he’s hungry enough to ever be great, but the energetic Jim Tomsula could be exactly what Armstead needs. I like the physicality of small school safety Jaquiski Tartt and the burst upfield of edge rusher Eli Harold. Unless quarterback Colin Kaepernick makes significant strides in 2015, however, the 49ers may again struggle to move the football as tight end Blake Bell – while talented – is only one year removed from playing quarterback, himself, and doesn’t possess breakaway ability. Similarly, wideout DeAndre Smelter offers upside at receiver but is coming off a torn ACL and needs a lot of polish. Running back Mike Davis is a quality back with grit, but isn’t as gifted as projected starter Carlos Hyde.

SCOUTING ALL DRAFT PICKS

–Round 1/17 — Arik Armstead, DE, 6-7, 292, Oregon

The 49ers under Trent Baalke believe in smooth transitions from retired players to their apprentices. Running back Carlos Hyde and guard Brandon Thomas are projected as starters this season, for example, after waiting in the wings behind Frank Gore and Mike Iupati, respectively. The 49ers hope they can be equally patient with Armstead, a raw, powerful talent who is considered much more polished against the run than the pass. That patience will be tested if veteran Justin Smith, who is contemplating retirement, elects not to play in 2015.

–Round 2/46 — Jaquiski Tartt, S, 6-2, 221, Samford

If Armstead was selected to eventually replace Smith, then it’s logical that Tartt could be the next man up when veteran safety Antoine Bethea is no longer around. Like Bethea, Tartt appears best suited to be a strong safety because of his strength in run support. The high-school teammate of last year’s first-round pick, Jimmie Ward, seems refreshingly amicable to being a leader on special teams — a high priority for the 49ers in recent years — until his time comes to be a starter.

–Round 3/79 — Eli Harold, OLB, 6-3, 247, Virginia

The 49ers consider Harold to be a little like their two current front-line outside linebackers — Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch. They’d like nothing better than for him to be a lot like them. The 49ers are committed to Smith, who has had more than his fair share of off-the-field issues, for only one more year, so Harold might not have to wait long before getting a shot to start. Like Smith and Lynch, his strength is getting to the quarterback.

–Round 4/117 — Blake Bell, TE, 6-6, 252, Oklahoma

Some had projected the 49ers would be in the market for a backup quarterback in the middle rounds. Maybe this is him. Bell did play quarterback at Oklahoma until shifting over to tight end last season. Like first-round pick Armstead, Bell enters the NFL with far more impressive numbers in his measurables than in his collegiate production. He has the size to contribute right away as a run-blocking tight end, which would complement the talents of incumbent Vernon Davis.

–Round 4/126 — Mike Davis, RB, 5-9, 217, South Carolina

A power runner with a low center of gravity. Sound familiar, 49ers fans? Davis has the look of a younger Frank Gore, who used the hide-behind-the-guards style to earn a featured spot in the 49ers record book. The 49ers enter the offseason happy with their tandem of Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush. But both are injury-prone, which could provide Davis an opportunity sooner than later.

–Round 4/132 — DeAndre Smelter, WR, 6-2, 226, Georgia Tech

Nothing about Smelter says “draft me,” especially in the middle rounds. He was a baseball player at Georgia Tech until forced to switch sports because of a shoulder injury. He then became a wideout on a run-oriented team who proceeded to blow out his knee during the 2014 season. Alas, Baalke has a history of taking a risk on high-potential athletes who need an NFL “redshirt” season. Smelter will certainly have a good one from whom to learn his craft in 49ers veteran Anquan Boldin.

–Round 5/165 — Bradley Pinion, P/K, 6-5, 229, Clemson

Pinion left Clemson a year early in hopes of being the first kicker selected. He was. That’s a credit to his versatility. He excels at pinning opponents deep with his directional punting, and making them start from the 20-yard-line with his ability to sail kickoffs out of the end zone. The latter might be where he cracks the 2015 lineup. Veterans Andy Lee (punter) and Phil Dawson (field-goal kicker) would seem to have a lock on their jobs.

–Round 6/190 — Ian Silberman, G, 6-5, 294, Boston College

The Florida transfer played tackle in college, but projects to guard in the NFL. The 49ers had one such player last season — Jonathan Martin — who saw a lot of time at tackle after he’d been moved inside earlier in his career. Martin was a Jim Harbaugh guy who won’t be back. But he did prove useful because of his versatility, which gives Silberman a chance to stick.

–Round 7/244 — Trent Brown, G/T, 6-9, 355, Florida

If nothing else, Brown is huge. Known for his long arms, he is considered a run-blocking type of guard who might be able to move out to tackle because of his size. As with Silberman, the 49ers are hoping Brown could be a replacement for the versatile Martin. The sixth- and seventh-round picks likely will compete in camp for that spot.

–Round 7/254 — Rory Anderson, TE, 6-4, 244, South Carolina

The second tight end selected by the 49ers, Anderson isn’t at all like the first one, Oklahoma’s Blake Bell. Anderson made a career out of catching the ball at South Carolina and is seen as a down-the-field threat similar to 49ers starter Vernon Davis. Anderson is still recovering from surgery on a torn triceps that occurred during the 2014 season.

NOTABLE VETERANS ACQUIRED:

–LB Nick Bellore: UFA Jets; $1.69M/2 yrs, $30,000 SB/$80,000 WO.

–RB Reggie Bush: FA Lions; terms unknown.

–DL Darnell Dockett: FA Cardinals; $7.5M/2 yrs, $2M guaranteed.

–G Erik Pears: UFA Bills; $4.7M/2 yrs, $500 SB/$1M guaranteed.

–WR Jerome Simpson: FA; $1.63M/2 yrs.

–WR Torrey Smith: UFA Ravens; $40M/5 yrs, $8M SB/$22M guaranteed.

–LB Philip Wheeler: FA Dolphins; 1 yr, terms unknown.

–CB Shareece Wright: UFA Chargers; 1 yr, terms unknown.

NOTABLE PLAYERS LOST:

–LB Chris Borland (retired).

–CB Perrish Cox: UFA Titans; $15M/3 yrs, $2.25M SB.

–WR Michael Crabtree: UFA Raiders; $3.2M/1 yr, $1.3M SB/$250,000 WO.

–CB Chris Culliver: UFA Redskins; $32M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$16M guaranteed.

–RB Frank Gore: UFA Colts; $12M/3 yrs, $7.5M guaranteed.

–KR Trindon Holliday (released).

–G Mike Iupati: UFA Cardinals; $40M/5 yrs, $22M guaranteed/$6M SB.

–QB Josh Johnson: UFA Bengals; $825,000/1 yr, $50,000 SB/$30,000 WO.

–WR Stevie Johnson (released).

–T Jonathan Martin (released).

–LB Dan Skuta: UFA Jaguars; $20.5M/5 yrs, $8M guaranteed.

–S Bubba Ventrone (UFA/retired).

–LB Patrick Willis (retired).

PRESEASON PEEK — Mark that calendar

All times Pacific

Aug.: 15 HOUSTON (Sat.), 5:00

Aug.: 23 DALLAS (Sun.), 5:00

Aug.: 29 at Denver (Sat.), 6:00

Sept.: 3 SAN DIEGO (Thu.), 7:00


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