The San Francisco 49ers were back to work Thursday for another day of practice after their day off Wednesday. A much better day from the quarterbacks, especially Jimmy Garoppolo, was highlighted by plenty of encouraging 11-on-11 work in the red zone.
Red zone issues have plagued the 49ers for two years
The duo of John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took over reigns of the 49ers in 2017, and the team they have put on the field and coached have gone a combined 10-24.
That overall record can partially be chalked up to the messy situation they inherited shortly after the 2017 season, though. The two biggest issues surround the 49ers the past couple of seasons has been their inability to get after opposing teams’ quarterbacks, and their inability to score touchdowns in the red zone. With a revamped defensive front seeming to have figured out one of those problems, the offense and its success in the red zone will be under the microscope this season.
Last season, the 49ers scored a touchdown in 41.18% of their total red zone trips, which was good for worst in the NFL. The season prior, the team ranked 27th in the league with a 47.06% touchdown rate in the red-zone. In 2016, under former Head Coach Chip Kelly, the 49ers boasted a 68.18% touchdown rate inside the 20, which was good for second-best in the NFL. Red zone scoring is not the be-all and end-all of determining a team’s success, but it’s played a huge role in the success of the Shanahan-Lynch era of the 49ers.
Why is this important in regards to Thursday’s training camp practice?
Well, through the first four days of camp, the team had yet to work on red zone drills. They did Thursday.
All three of the quarterbacks: Garoppolo, Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard looked better in 11-on-11 work that was focused on getting the ball in the end zone. Garoppolo was 5-of-6, with two going for touchdowns in the red zone. The Achilles heel of the 49ers in 2018 was their inability to close out games.
Behind the foot of Robbie Gould, the team ranked fourth in the NFL in field goals (33), and first in field goal percentage (97.1%). The issue at hand is not scoring points in the red zone, it’s scoring touchdowns. This offseason, the 49ers offense added more weapons in second-round wide receiver Deebo Samuel, running back Tevin Coleman, wide receiver Jordan Matthews and third-round wide receiver Jalen Hurd. The newest additions to the 49ers offense will be joining Matt Breida, George Kittle, Marquise Goodwin, and Dante Pettis.
With the anticipated return of Jerick McKinnon, who missed all of 2018 with a torn-ACL, and the addition of Coleman, the 49ers now have one of (if not the most) the deepest and fastest backfields in the league. Following Thursday’s practice, Garoppolo said it was “pick your poison” with San Francisco’s dynamic backfield.
The work that was done in the red zone was encouraging in that it was a step in the right direction, and seemed as if the 49ers offense was clicking better on Thursday than it had since camp began. One play that stood out was a perfectly placed throw from Beathard to Kendrick Bourne that went right through his hands and dropped in the end zone. Aside from that dropped pass, 49ers receivers caught mostly everything thrown (accurately) to them. Post-practice, Shanahan discussed how he felt about the team’s performance in their first red-zone work of training camp.
“So, so. I thought it was pretty even-matched, some good, some bad. I mean, it’s all scripted plays and stuff — it’s scripted defenses, scripted offenses. So, we are trying to get certain looks to go against stuff. We’re still in, we’re not through our install, we’re on the fifth day right now. That was our first red zone period, so we’ll continue trying to do that almost every day. But, I thought it was some good, some bad. It was a pretty even match.”
- Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner was held out of practice Thursday with a mild toe strain.
- Running back Jerick McKinnon is still nursing a flare-up he had in his knee, post-ACL recovery, he is expected to be held out a few more days.
- Offensive lineman Joshua Garnett recently had surgery on his dislocated finger, Shanahan expects him out three weeks.
- Defensive end Dee Ford is dealing with knee tendinitis. Shanahan said that it’s common for him to experience that in training camp, nothing of concern.
- Running back Jeff Wilson Jr. has a calf injury and will be sidelined a week, maybe two. He is doubtful for the 49ers first preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys.