The Arizona Cardinals take on the San Francisco 49ers tomorrow, even if that seems extremely soon for the next game, it is Thursday Night Football at its best.
Niners Nation head honcho David Fucillo was kind enough to take some time out and talk about what the heck is going on with Chip Kelly and the San Francisco 49ers.
1. Why is Blaine Gabbert the quarterback still?
That's the $10,000 question. Gabbert won the starting job in part because of Colin Kaepernick's various injuries last season. Kaepernick had surgery on his shoulder, thumb, and knee last winter, and was unable to throw during most of the offseason workout program. He got back late in minicamp, and then was fully back at the start of training camp. However, a lack of throwing led to a tired arm a week into camp. He missed the first two preseason games and a whole lot of practice because of that.
Chip Kelly has been asked the past couple weeks if Kaepernick can take over the starting job. Kelly has said right now he is able to step in as the No. 2, but he is not the same pre-injury physical form to be the No. 1. It's an odd discussion, but suffice to say, they don't think he's quite at the weight and muscle mass he needs to be.
Gabbert had a decent Week 1, struggled in Week 2 and 3, got off to a great start in Week 4, and then struggled in the second half of the Week 4 loss. My guess is Kaepernick replaces him either during the 10 days after this game, or during the bye week in Week 8. It might not happen then, but that's what I see happening.
I suppose they could also start Christian Ponder.................
2. How has the Chip Kelly era gone so far? Did he learn from Philadelphia in your opinion?
It's not exactly easy to figure out the Chip Kelly era right now. On the one hand, he's not Jim Tomsula. Right off the bat, that is an improvement. Additionally, his handling of Colin Kaepernick's protest has been as good as one could expect. There were the complaints about racism, but for the time being, it feels like that was angry veterans that were released. There's nothing to indicate that's an issue.
However, the 49ers are in a tough position. I'll answer this further in question 5, but yes, the 49ers are rebuilding. They have had some solid draft picks along the way, but a lot that either flamed out, or have yet to show much of anything with regularity. I think most fans place the blame on Trent Baalke for that, and if the 49ers finish the season in fourth and 5-11, or something like that, most blame will fall on Baalke. There are people who do not like Chip Kelly as a coach, but for the most part, people are happy with the Kelly era to a certain degree.
3. Navorro Bowman is out, how do the 49ers plug that hole on defense?
Good question. For this particular game, the 49ers will be without Bowman, but will also potentially be without defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (foot - 2016 1st round pick) and Jimmie Ward (quad - 2014 1st round pick). Ward missed Week 4 after straining his quad in Week 3. He did not practice all week, so I doubt he plays in the short week. Buckner injured his foot in the second half of Week 4, and was in a walking boot Monday. Again, odds are long that he plays.
So how will they be replaced? Here's the depth chart implications:
Bowman: Michael Wilhoite started next to him on Sunday. When Bowman got hurt, Nick Bellore moved in next to Wilhoite. Bellore had played 40 career defensive snaps prior to his 29 on Sunday, instead developing into a veteran special teams ace. The 49ers also have Gerald Hodges who was getting starting snaps early on, but fell down the depth chart last week.
Buckner: He has gotten the most snaps among defensive linemen each week this season. His absence could mean Arik Armstead gets more snaps, although he is dealing with an ailing shoulder. Tony Jerod-Eddie will likely be active, as will Glenn Dorsey and Ronald Blair. We'll see an extensive rotation.
Ward: Rookie fourth round pick Rashard Robinson started in place of Ward in Week 4, and did a great job, leading the team with three pass break-ups. He has been inconsistent in practice, so it is also possible Keith Reaser gets some work.
So, the 49ers will be missing up to three of their more notable defensive players. This is what one might call "not ideal." It's about triage at this point.
4. Has Carlos Hyde been as good as we expected with the Kelly offense?
Hyde has had his moments, but it's been rough sledding. First off, the 49ers have an inconsistent passing game, so teams are not exactly concerned adding an extra man or two in the box. Second, the offensive line has been great in pass blocking, but inconsistent in run blocking. Hyde can still make things happen, as one of the league leaders in breaking tackles. His numbers are not great, but I don't think that should reflect quite on Hyde.
Over the last two games, he has averaged 4.9 yards per carry. The first game saw those yards come primarily in garbage time, while he was a big part of the offensive production against the Cowboys. I think most fans expect more, but with the passing game being what it is, we're resigned to something a little less for now.
5. Is this still a rebuilding year for the 49ers? How does this game play into the rebuild, on a short week against a backup QB?
Yes, this is most definitely a rebuilding year. The team had huge turnover last year, thrusting numerous young players into significant roles. It was an ugly year, but players got critical playing time. Of course, now they have to actually take that time and convert it into quality play. That's what the team is waiting for with a lot of these players. And if they don't show more development, GM Trent Baalke could be out of a job.
This week brings a big challenge. The 49ers are coming off a brutal loss in which they blew a 14-point lead and lost the heart and soul of the team. How do they bounce back? Do they come out flat, or do they come out hot? That alone will be useful to know as the team looks to the future. A team that comes out and plays dead won't exactly inspire much confidence.
The bigger picture remains the 49ers quarterback position. Does Blaine Gabbert continue his play of a few good throws and then a mix of bad throws and bad decisions? He is not the quarterback of the future. That doesn't mean Colin Kaepernick is, but this game could go a ways toward furthering the transition away from Gabbert.