By Dieter Kurtenbach
SANTA CLARA — Let the games begin.
No, I don’t mean the 49ers’ preseason, which kicks off the first of its three games on Friday at Levi’s Stadium.
I’m talking about the game within those games.
Specifically, how Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan manages to do as little as possible for all 180 minutes he’s required to field his team.
Shanahan has made it no secret that he has little interest in the preseason. If he had his way, he would do away with the preseason games altogether.
I imagine a quarter into Friday’s quasi-season debut, Niners’ season ticket holders who paid the full regular-season price for tickets to a game between players in official team uniforms, but who are most definitely not the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, will feel the same way.
Shanahan prefers the intrateam practices that the 49ers have been doing so far in training camp and the intrateam sessions that the Niners will have for two days next week with the Minnesota Vikings.
“I’m more into the scrimmage than the game,” Shanahan said. “I’d prefer that’s all we did, all three weeks, and never play in a game.”
Does first-year-starting quarterback Trey Lance need snaps? Absolutely.
But Shanahan doesn’t see the value of preseason snaps, what would Lance be gleaning from the experience?
NFL coaches have always found the preseason to be more nuisance than a blessing. Rams coach Sean McVay — a branch off Shanahan’s coaching tree — sat his entire offense for all four preseason games in 2018. He’s maintained that position every year since, even as the NFL eliminated a preseason game from the schedule.
To McVay, the risk of injury wasn’t worth the reward of seeing what he could reasonably ascertain in practices and controlled scrimmages with other teams.
The Niners can see the logic in that — last year Lance chipped the bone at the end of his right index finger in the Niners’ final preseason game. It was an injury that Lance said affected him all season. If the same thing were to happen this preseason, the Niners’ win total at sportsbooks in Las Vegas would be taken off the board — this season’s lofty hopes would likely be shattered.
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree with McVay and Shanahan. The Niners’ coach is yet to completely punt the preseason, but with so many head coaches in the league capable of tracing their coaching lineage to the two NFC West head honchos — and Shanahan and McVay’s success — the already watered-down exhibition schedule is likely to be more diluted than ever this season.
Shanahan said that Lance might play Friday and in the team’s third preseason game at Houston. No guarantees were made on either game, though.
That’s the first game within the game. Do the players people pay to see even play?
No matter which players are on the field — Lance included — it’s highly unlikely that Shanahan would run anything but the most vanilla offense. For defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, expect a defense as bland as his press conferences.
The Niners’ offense will evolve with Lance at the help — his skillset demands it. We’ve seen hints of this new playbook during practices this past week. But why put the good stuff on tape for the rest of the league?
That’s the second game within the game.
Last year, Shanahan did put some good stuff in the Niners’ third preseason game. He put in a full-blown quarterback rotation with Jimmy Garoppolo and Lance.
It proved foolhardy because of the Lance injury, but there was some benefit: he could laugh at the media freakout.
Thanks for that one, Kyle.
The Lions — the 49ers’ Week 1 opponent — also freaked out at the quarterback rotation. The final preseason game has been treated as the dress rehearsal for decades. Here the Niners were busting out a big, bold new offense?
No. Shanahan admitted after Week 1 that the quarterback rotation was all for show — a gaslight. He wanted the Lions to prepare for two quarterbacks. They did. And by the time they realized Lance was only a bit player for the Niners, San Francisco had a four-touchdown lead.
I don’t think Shanahan will show us anything in the preseason, but if he does, don’t take it at face value.
But then there’s the third game within the game, and this is the fun one for dorks like me.
The Niners have been better than most throughout Shanahan’s tenure at finding undrafted rookie free agents. The goal with many of these players is to have them on the team’s practice squad for possible in-season call-ups and year-over-year growth.
But to get a player to the practice squad, they first need to be cut — anyone can pick them up and sign them to their active roster or practice squad.
The issue here for the Niners is that the rest of the league knows that the 49ers are good at finding diamonds in the rough.
And those are the players that would feature prominently in preseason games.
There are a few players that fit that mold this season, but one stands out more than the rest: running back Jordan Mason.
The Georgia Tech product looks like the real deal — he’s a smooth, upright runner with excellent cut-and-go ability.
The Niners have their four running backs for the 53-man roster set, barring injury: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson, Trey Sermon (who has been impressive in camp), and rookie Tyrion Davis-Price, who was selected in the third round of the most recent draft.
Normally, the undrafted rookie would be tasked with carrying the ball two dozen times in a preseason game. Can Shanahan risk the rest of the NFL — roughly half of which runs what is effectively his offense — finding out that Mason is awesome?
These games within the game are a lot for Shanahan to juggle, all in the justified effort to make these preseason games as uninteresting as possible.
Yes, I can see why he wants the preseason to go away and why you will too come Friday night.
Source: Paradise Post