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Arizona Cardinals Opponent Preview: San Francisco 49ers

The Arizona Cardinals get a new era of 49ers football starting, is their hope in the Bay Area?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

This is our fifth game of the Arizona Cardinals season and as usual the Cardinals get two games against the San Francisco 49ers.

That means they get Chip Kelly and his new look 49ers two times. Again, these answers were provided before the preseason ended, but many of the questions are still relevant.

Thanks as always to David Fucillo and Niners Nation.

Who will be the team’s starting quarterback in Week 1? Who’s going to be the starting QB in 2017?

The Week 1 quarterback is going to be Blaine Gabbert. Colin Kaepernick dealt with arm fatigue in the middle of training camp, which likely cost him any chance at the Week 1 job. That being said, if he is 100 percent, he very well could start some games this year. Gabbert will be starting Week 1, but with a tough series of opponents, he very well could lose that job at some point.

The 2017 quarterback? Hell if I know. I’d lean toward “he’s not on the roster right now” as my choice. Gabbert is a free agent after this season, and if Kaepernick does not get back into the starting lineup, the team will cut him after the season. The team has rookie Jeff Driskel, and signed Christian Ponder in August after Thad Lewis was lost for the year. I suppose Driskel could be the guy down the road, but my guess is the team has another veteran starting after drafting a quarterback at some point in the 2017 NFL Draft.What are you looking forward to with Chip Kelly as the head coach now? What kind of influence will he have on the team?

I’m looking forward to a dynamic offense. There might be turnovers and a lack of points at times, but it feels like there will be some volume. For a team in the rebuilding process, it will hopefully be more entertaining than the slop we saw in 2015. He’s a better offensive mind than what the 49ers had in 2015, and that is an improvement right off the bat.

He brings a vastly different dynamic on offense. Compared to Jim Tomsula and his coaching staff, he seems to bring more focus to the task at hand. There is also the sports science stuff, but the 49ers have actually been involved in that in conjunction with nearby Stanford University for some time now. I think mostly he brings more structure and focus than what we saw under Jim Tomsula.

Does Chip Kelly have a plan for the running back position? What happens if Carlos Hyde can’t stay healthy?

The team seems ready to roll out a veritable smorgasbord of running back options. Veteran Shaun Draughn, who the team signed off the street after Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush got hurt would appear to be the primary backup. He was a fairly average option for the 49ers last year, although given how bad the team was, it got fans excited. Offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins compared Draughn to Theo Riddick (Modkins, Riddick worked together in Detroit), which is intriguing considering the passing element of Chip Kelly’s offense. The team later signed DuJuan Harris when Draughn got hurt. Harris joins rookie Kelvin Taylor, son of Fred Taylor in competing for additional playing time.

If Carlos Hyde can’t stay healthy, I think the team is in some trouble, no matter who is back there. But Draughn and the others could provide a decent complementary option to Hyde to keep the running back from working an impossible rate.

Is the team still feeling the effects of the mass retirements/exodus of talent of a couple seasons ago?

The team will be feeling it for a while because they’re still trying to figure out what the young talent can do to replace the big names. The 2013, 2014, and 2015 draft classes have been hit and miss thus far, and this season is big for all three classes. If the 49ers are going to take some kind of step forward under Chip Kelly, a big part of it will be how these three classes perform.How are the 49ers going to stop Chip Kelly from doing what he did to the Eagles roster?

Not letting him have personnel power. Trent Baalke is the general manager, and there is no question about who is in charge of personnel. Baalke is on the hot seat and could be fired if the team doesn’t do well this year, which makes things a little more interesting. Tom Gamble, who worked with Kelly in Philadelphia before getting fired amidst the Kelly-Roseman power struggle, is the assistant GM, and would seemingly be favored to take over if Baalke were fired.

But for now, Baalke and Kelly seem to have a better relationship than Kelly had with HOwie Roseman. Baalke and Kelly seem to be more closely connected in terms of being “football guys,” which would seem to provide for a stronger working relationship. And more importantly, keeping Kelly out of roster decisions.

The 49ers offensive linemen struggled last year. Is that unit looking better, and will it be enough to run Kelly’s offense?

The 49ers invested in the offensive line, trading up into the first round to select Joshua Garnett, and signing Zane Beadles from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Beadles struggled in Jacksonville, but it seems like they ran a scheme that was not overly conducive to his skillset. It sounds like Chip Kelly’s scheme fits better. And even if not, the 49ers younger talent that finally got opportunities late last season are earning more chances. Oh, and the team got Anthony Davis back. The former first round pick retired after the 2014 season, and is back after his sabbatical. He is a very talented run blocker, and it sounds like he cut down weight, which could improve his speed and maneuverability. I think there’s enough talent to run Kelly’s offense, but it’s a big question mark. Arguably the biggest behind the quarterback position.

Who's the fan favorite player, the cult hero [think how John Kuhn used to be in Green Bay] and why?

There’s been so much roster turnover that cult heroes are hard to develop right now. But I’ll go with wide receiver Quinton Patton. When the 49ers drafted him in 2013, he flew to Santa Clara and called the 49ers on the way from the airport, a week before they were allowed to work with him at the facility. He had to fly back home and come back a week later. That endeared him to fans pretty quickly.

He struggled to do much his first two seasons. Last season he started to show some signs, but the offense was a train-wreck, so there wasn’t much to be done. This year, he’s had a solid training camp, and with Anquan Boldin out the door, a big opportunity is presenting itself. Maybe he actually turns into more than just a cult hero!

How does the first month of the season go for the 49ers? The last month of the season? What's the final record going to be?

The first month of the season could be rough for the 49ers. They host a strong Rams defense in Week 1, followed by back-to-back road games against the Panthers and Seahawks. They wrap up their first four weeks hosting the Dallas Cowboys at the start of October. A 1-3 or 0-4 start is not out of the question, and if the offense is struggling under Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick could end up back in the driver’s seat by the second month of the season.

They don’t face quite as tough a schedule the final four weeks of the season, but they’re all losable games. They are home against the Jets, on the road against the Falcons and Rams, and then home against the Seahawks. I’ll go out on a limb and say maybe they go 2-2 here. Shortly after the schedule came out, I picked the 49ers to be 6-10 this season. They could very well show signs of improvement but still finish the same 5-11 as last year, thanks to a tough schedule. I think their absolute ceiling is around eight wins, while their floor is not pretty.