Rost: What we learned about Seahawks, 49ers from a 49ers expert
As part of an early look around the rest of the NFC West, my 710 ESPN Seattle co-host Jake Heaps and I have interviewed a few reporters and analysts who cover the Seahawks’ three divisional foes on Jake and Stacy.
All of these interviews offered up important details and nuggets that Seahawks fans need to know about the most important teams Seattle will face this season. In an unexpected twist, these interviews also taught us a thing or two about the Seahawks themselves.
Last week, an interview with Rams radio analyst D’Marco Farr taught us three things about the Rams and one thing about the Seahawks. Our interviews continued this week with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Jennifer Lee Chan (listen here).
Here are three things Chan taught us about the 49ers – and one thing we learned about the Seahawks:
The starting gig remains Jimmy G’s to lose
Sure, a head coach or general manager can say whatever they want about a veteran quarterback keeping his job during offseason interviews. But when you swap three first round picks and more to move up in the NFL Draft and select your quarterback of the future, it’s only a matter of time before the rookie gets the starting gig… right?
According to Chan, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s insistence that Jimmy Garoppolo is the guy is more than just coach speak.
“Right now, it looks like it’s Jimmy G’s job to lose as long as he stays healthy and he’s doing what he’s supposed to, which matches up to what he’s done in the past,” Chan said. “Like everyone says: winning cures everything. If they’re winning and going ahead full steam, I think they’ll be fine. Looking back at what they’ve dealt with in the past, if they’re dealing with a bunch of injuries, then of course they’re going to want to move people up. But right now if things are going to plan, I think they stick with their guns in Jimmy.”
The 49ers quarterback battle will be the most closely watched of camp. The team selected North Dakota State’s Trey Lance at No. 3 overall earlier this spring, and while a few vague comments about rookie quarterbacks around the league are starting to feel more like gamesmanship – you’re telling me you’re not starting Trevor Lawrence? – the decision to let Lance play backup entering the season makes sense. For all of his talent, Lance has just one full season as a starter in college under his belt. Chan is encouraged by what she and other reporters have seen so far, though.
“Trey Lance looked good. He has a great arm, he was mobile in the pocket when we saw him,” Chan said. “We only saw about two or three practices, but he looked great.”
Under a new DC, the expectation is to play even faster on defense
It wasn’t reflected in the record, but somehow a 49ers team that was decimated by injuries still managed to finish No. 5 in defensive yards allowed (314.4 yards per game) and No. 4 against the pass (207.9 yards per game) in 2020. The performance is a testament to former defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who took over in 2017. San Francisco finished 2016 ranked dead last in total yards surrendered, and under Saleh’s tutelage – and with the addition of some stars – became the second-best team in total defense and top defense against the pass by 2019.
But consider this quote from Chan: “Saleh wanted them to play fast and DeMeco wants them to play faster.”
That’s the plan under new defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who takes over for Saleh, now the head coach with the Jets. It’s not a knock on his predecessor; rather, the plan in San Francisco seems to be an even more simplified approach to defense to allow for faster play. (And what team isn’t trying to be faster year over year?)
“I think with the guys that are there and are staying, it makes it an easy transition for DeMeco Ryans,” Chan said. “DeMeco’s been there for quite a while. He’s a young guy who was recently a player. He connects with those guys a lot. He seems to have not lost a step at all. And a lot of the guys that we spoke to on the defense during OTAs said that it’s even more simple than it used to be before. Saleh wanted them to play fast and DeMeco wants them to play faster. So, they’ve kind of simplified their jobs and it looks like it’s going to be an easy transition to their new defensive coordinator.”
Not enough people are talking about Jimmie Ward
Richard Sherman commanded the spotlight when he arrived in San Francisco, but now that he’s gone, Chan says there’s a pair of defensive backs everyone around the league should be watching: safety Jimmie Ward and cornerback Jason Verrett.
Ward hasn’t appeared in a full 16 games since 2015 and Verrett has been limited to six or fewer games in four of his six seasons. But if they can stay healthy, the 49ers’ secondary looks like one of the stronger units in the division. In 14 games last season, Ward recorded a career-high 73 tackles and finished with the sixth-highest safety grade (84.9) from Pro Football Focus.
“Jimmie Ward is one of those guys who kind of flies under the radar, but he’s such an important part of that defense,” Chan said. “They call him ‘the eraser’ because he’s such a great safety and (if) something goes wrong on the defensive line he’s there to fix it and make those problems go away. And you look at also Jason Verrett, who everybody doubted because he’s dealt with so many injuries throughout his entire career. He played his first healthy season last year and he’s coming back and they’re looking for him to play exactly like he did last year, which was basically a Pro Bowl level.”
What we learned about the Seahawks: The door isn’t closed on a possible 49ers reunion with Richard Sherman (plus, mobile quarterbacks remain an Achilles heel for the 49ers defense)
Yes, this is technically two things. The first concerns a former Seahawk who has been linked to his old club this offseason, while the second highlights Seattle’s greatest weapon against a healthy 49ers defense.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has already told reporters that he’s been in contact with Richard Sherman this offseason. While there doesn’t seem to be any urgency on Carroll or general manager John Schneider’s part to sign Sherman – the pair seem outwardly happy with the cornerback room as it stands now – it at least seemed like a distant possibility this offseason.
The problem for Seahawks fans hoping for a Seattle-Sherm reunion is that the door also remains open on a reunion between Sherman and San Francisco.
“I think it’s definitely a possibility (that Sherman re-signs with the 49ers),” Chan said. “When I spoke to him in the offseason he said, you know, the door is still open, they’re still in talks. They haven’t really talked much, but Richard Sherman is one of those guys, and same with (49ers GM) John Lynch, those guys chat, they communicate regularly. So, I think the door is open for him to return to the 49ers, it’s just trying to figure out where he fits in the best, where he’s going to be able to get the best contract for his situation, and the team gets the best situation for them.”
Back to the Seahawks, who have plenty to worry about with a 49ers defense that doesn’t have Sherman. Seattle’s new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has several weapons, headlined by quarterback Russell Wilson, whose mobility could still rattle even a healthy 49ers D-line.
“Facing a mobile quarterback,” Chan said bluntly when asked about the 49ers’ Achilles heel. “When they’ve faced Russell Wilson, when they’ve faced (Arizona QB) Kyler Murray, it’s been really challenging for them to get after a mobile quarterback. When they are able to make the stops and shut down an offense and keep their own offense on the field, it’s worked out well for them. But those mobile quarterbacks have been an issue for them even when Nick Bosa’s been healthy
“I remember DeForest Bucker calling Kyler Murray ‘a little squirrel’ back there; he’s just so hard to stop. And Russell Wilson’s the same thing. Those guys can throw on the run and that’s what makes it so tough to play these other NFC West teams. It’s more than just offense versus defense, there’s just a little extra on each side.”