The San Francisco 49ers open 2020 NFL training camp on July 28 at SAP Training Facility in Santa Clara, California. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
How will the 49ers bounce back from their Super Bowl disappointment?
It's no secret that the 49ers missed a golden opportunity to win Super Bowl LIV, blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead to the Kansas City Chiefs. Getting to one Super Bowl is no easy task, but returning after a loss has proved exceedingly difficult. If the Niners can get back to the big game, they'd become just the third NFC team to lose the Super Bowl and return the following season, joining the 1974 Minnesota Vikings and 1971 Dallas Cowboys.
One advantage the Niners should have over some of those other teams? Continuity. In this, the most uncertain of seasons, San Francisco brings back all of its coordinators and 82.6% of its snaps from last year, fourth most in the NFL.
Can Jimmy Garoppolo cut down on the turnovers and take the next step in his development?
For the first time in his career, Garoppolo started a full season's worth of games in 2019. Coming off a torn ACL, Garoppolo struggled early in the season but settled in and guided the 49ers to some key late-season victories that put them in position to plow through the NFC playoffs.
Now, with more than two full years in coach Kyle Shanahan's offense, expectations for Garoppolo continue to grow. Garoppolo threw for 3,978 yards (12th in the NFL) and 27 touchdowns (tied for fifth) and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt (third) on his way to a 102.0 passer rating (eighth). But he also threw 13 interceptions, which was tied for eighth most in the league.
Whether Garoppolo can cut down on those mistakes will play a big role in what comes next for his career. There is precedent for such a turnaround. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw 16 interceptions in 2015, his first year with Shanahan as offensive coordinator. The following year, Ryan threw just seven picks on his way to an MVP season.
MVP dreams aside, if Garoppolo can follow a similar blueprint as Ryan in terms of interceptions, it would go a long way in establishing him as a top quarterback in the league and cement him as the Niners' franchise quarterback for the long term.
While the 49ers maintained plenty of continuity, the roster didn't make it through the offseason completely unscathed. Unable to afford to keep everyone under the salary cap, they traded Buckner to the Colts and Sanders departed for New Orleans in free agency.
Both players will be missed, and a pair of first-round rookies will be asked to pick up much of the slack. No. 14 pick Javon Kinlaw is the odds-on favorite to step into Buckner's spot as the starting three-technique defensive tackle. Brandon Aiyuk, whom the Niners traded up to acquire late in the first round, will have a similar job in replacing Sanders at receiver.
It's asking a lot to think Kinlaw and Aiyuk will offer a seamless transition from two players as accomplished as Buckner and Sanders, but if they can offer a solid starting point, there should be enough depth with the likes of defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Solomon Thomas, as well as wideouts such as Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor, to fill the void.
Following offseason knee surgery, will Dee Ford stay healthy and contribute more in 2020?
Knee tendinitis limited Ford to just 21.9 snaps per game last season, his first with the Niners, and Ford finished with just 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 games. That's not the type of production the 49ers hoped for when they traded for and signed Ford to a five-year, $85 million contract in March 2019. A couple of weeks after Super Bowl LIV, Ford visited Dr. James Andrews for an extensive cleanup surgery on his left knee.
In May, Ford expressed optimism that the surgery would have him back closer to full strength in 2020. That would be big news for the 49ers following Buckner's exit, as they pin many of their postseason hopes on continued dominance from their defensive line. On the rare occasion Ford was available last year, it was hard to deny his impact opposite Nick Bosa. During the regular season, the Niners had 24 sacks on 164 snaps with Bosa and Ford on the field together. They had 24 sacks on 801 snaps on all other plays.
As one of the Niners' highest-paid players, Ford could be one of the most important cogs in the race to return to the Super Bowl.