SANTA CLARA (AP) — The mass exodus of big-name players, starters and stars on both sides of the ball made headlines all offseason for the San Francisco 49ers. Meanwhile, new coach Jim Tomsula worked to assemble his team and an experienced coaching staff.
Many wonder whether San Francisco can contend with all the turnover and departures of players such as franchise rushing leader Frank Gore, five-time All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, a pair of 2010 first-round draft pick offensive linemen in retired Anthony Davis and departed Mike Iupati — just to name a few.
“People are probably counting us out, right?” tight end Vernon Davis offered. “Mostly because of the players that we lost: Patrick, Frank, (Michael) Crabtree, all those guys. Not only that, but based on how we did last year. You have to expect that. We didn’t have a great season last year, so of course people are going to count us out. That’s cool, it’s all good.”
Tomsula and his team are eager to get going and prove the people wrong who figure this season could be a flop.
“It’s a whole new team,” offensive lineman Alex Boone said. “It feels good, though.”
Here are some things to watch for as training camp begins:
KAP’S GROWTH: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick spent much of his offseason working out in Arizona under the guidance of Kurt Warner and other quarterback gurus. While his passes have looked snappy and crisp during practices, now he has to show he can transfer that to game day. In training camp, he will focus on finding a rapport with the talented and deep receiving corps.
With so much change on defense, Kaepernick could figure the offense might need to carry the load.
“I do feel like I do need to do more, but not because of that,” he said. “I think offensively last year for us, we felt like it was a letdown. We should be able to do more, and we plan on doing more this year. ... We did leave a lot out there last year, but I don’t think it’s a situation where we have to press.”
HEALTHY BOWMAN: NaVorro Bowman is eager to lead a new-look defense minus all those old familiar faces of Willis and Justin Smith, and Chris Borland, who retired after one pro season.
Three-time All-Pro linebacker Bowman hopes to return to top form in a hurry after missing all of 2014 while recovering from left knee surgery after an injury in the NFC championship game at Seattle. Bowman has been wearing a brace on his surgically repaired knee, which he hardly likes because it takes a bit off his speed, but the 49ers are instructing him to keep wearing it for now.
“You know Bo. He’s something else, just pushing, pushing, pushing,” Tomsula said.
O-LINE LEARNING CURVE: Left tackle Joe Staley might be the only offensive lineman staying in his regular spot given Iupati’s signing with the division-rival Cardinals and the surprising retirement of right tackle Davis — the two first-round picks from 2010. Boone has shifted from right guard to left guard, while Erik Pears has a shot to earn the right tackle job.
“We’re not saying anything’s in stone right now, but I do like that guy at right tackle,” Tomsula said.
THE RUNNING BACKS: Carlos Hyde begins his second season, Kendall Hunter is healthy, and Reggie Bush is ready to prove himself at age 30. They all must contribute their share for the 49ers to fill the huge void left by the departure of Gore.
“I’m not talking depth charts or anything right now,” Tomsula said. “But they’re all getting after it.”
KICKING GAME: Rookie punter Bradley Pinion has a strong leg and a big task to replace three-time All-Pro Andy Lee, who was traded to the Browns after Pinion got drafted in the fifth round.
Pinion and veteran placekicker Phil Dawson will spend training camp finding their timing together.
“Part of this business is rolling with the changes,” said 40-year-old Dawson, in the final year of his contract and as confident as ever.