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As 49ers' offseason program begins, Kyle Shanahan aims to manage expectations

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For the first time in four years, the San Francisco 49ers didn't get a head start on their offseason program and, believe it or not, that's a good thing.

Because the Niners finally have some stability at head coach with Kyle Shanahan, they are set to begin the offseason program on Monday morning. Teams that hire new head coaches are allowed to begin their programs two weeks before teams with returning head coaches. That's a category the Niners fit into in each of the previous three years, but not in 2018.

Still, there's plenty of work to be done for Shanahan's team over the next few months before the summer hiatus and subsequent return for training camp.

Last week, we took a look at five players with much to gain in this offseason program. Today, we examine some of the Niners' bigger-picture priorities in the coming weeks:

Setting the stage. First, a quick refresh on how the offseason program works. The Niners begin Phase 1 on Monday and it lasts for two weeks. During that time, the Niners are limited to working with strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright and his staff. They can do weight training and conditioning work but there is no football activity.

From there, Phase 2 lasts three weeks and allows for on-field workouts consisting of individual player instruction and drills, as well as team work that keeps the offense and defense separated. No live contact or team offense versus team defense periods are permitted.

The third and final phase consists of what is known as organized team activities. Teams can have a total of 10 OTAs. Again, no live contact is permitted but teams can do 11-on-11 drills as well as seven-on-seven and nine-on-seven. The Niners are set for OTAs on May 21, 22, 24, 29 and 30 and June 1, 4, 5 and 7. They will hold their mandatory minicamp June 12-14.

Also, all offseason program dates are voluntary unless otherwise specified (such as the mandatory minicamp).

Managing expectations. The 49ers finished last season as the league's hottest team, winning five in a row and six of their final seven. That wasn't enough to push them into the postseason but it made them one of the most talked-about 6-10 teams in NFL history, with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo leading that charge and then signing a massive contract extension in the offseason. Add some savvy free-agent additions, including cornerback Richard Sherman, and there hasn't been much to slow down the hype accompanying the Niners.

Which is why Shanahan's first priority in reconvening with the Niners will be to make sure they know that 2017 no longer matters and there's plenty of work that must be done for them to become a team that can contend for a spot in the postseason.

"[We've got to] make sure we humble everyone right away," Shanahan told PFT Live in March. "Everyone felt so good leaving because we won our last five games of the year, which was nice, but we also were a 6-10 team. We got a long way to go and look forward to starting that when we get back."

It's Garoppolo's team now. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of Garoppolo's late-season performance was that he was doing it without having much knowledge of Shanahan's offensive system. Garoppolo was working strictly from weekly game plans without the chance to learn the ins and outs of the scheme and the reasoning behind Shanahan's play calls.

Now Garoppolo will get to dive deep into the system and get the benefit of building a rapport with all of his teammates for a full offseason. Shanahan's scheme is very different from what Garoppolo experienced in New England for nearly four years, so there's still plenty to do in that regard.

While skeptics of Garoppolo's strong finish believe the league will catch up to him given more time to plan for his style of play, the Niners' belief is that he's only going to keep improving with a full offseason of work This is his team now and the 49ers will go only as far as he can take them.

Reuben Foster's uncertain status. The Niners linebacker was charged with three felonies last week, including two related to domestic violence. The Niners issued a statement essentially declaring that Foster will remain with the team as the legal process plays out. That, of course, raised questions about whether he will participate in the offseason program.

That question was answered Sunday evening when the team released another statement, saying that Foster will not participate in team activities as he works through his legal issues.

One way or another, the 49ers must also use this offseason program to begin planning for life without Foster, whether as a result of fallout from his legal situation or a possible suspension from the league. Backup linebackers such as Korey Toomer, Elijah Lee and Mark Nzeocha will have the chance to show what they can do in Foster's absence.

Sorting out the secondary. Sherman will not participate in on-field activities this spring but he is hopeful he can continue his injury rehab and do some running as it moves along.

In the meantime, Jimmie Ward is expected to get a look at outside cornerback as the Niners evaluate where he fits best. The trickle-down effect of that leaves Adrian Colbert at free safety, Jaquiski Tartt at strong safety and Ahkello Witherspoon at the other outside corner spot. Colbert and Witherspoon are entering their second NFL seasons and a strong offseason could help solidify their roles.