Kyle Shanahan had a rough start to his first season as an NFL head coach.
He and his 49ers lost the season opener 23-3 to Carolina, then lost eight more consecutive games. Shanahan installed a new offensive scheme, but didn’t have a quarterback to run it, with Brian Hoyer and then rookie C.J. Beathard coming up short. Except for one outlier – a 41-39 shootout loss to the Rams – the 49ers offense was weak, scoring 10 or fewer points in five of those nine losses.
Yet after the 49ers won their final five games of the 2017 season to finish with a 6-10 record – sparked by new starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo – the Niners enter training camp with a whole new outlook.
Some fans and analysts even believe the 49ers could compete for a playoff spot out of the NFC West. One of the true believers, in fact, is Shanahan, who says he and the franchise have only one goal in mind as they start this season: the Super Bowl.
“Without me saying it – and everyone else said it – you know what our goal is every year,” Shanahan said at an event for fans this offseason, after several fans brought up the prospect of going to the NFL’s championship game.
To get there, though, everything will have to go the right way, beginning with the team’s first training camp practice Thursday in Santa Clara.
Key players will have to avoid injuries; rookies will need to produce; free-agent pick-ups will have to meet expectations. And, beginning with Game 1 of the exhibition season vs. Dallas on Aug. 9, Shanahan will start to get a good idea of whether this roster is significantly better than the one last year that struggled so badly from September into November.
“We turned a lot (of the roster) over last year, grinded hard, had a lot of ups and downs, but we finished as a better team,” Shanahan said, according to Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “We’ve added better players in the draft and free agency. We’ve put ourselves in a situation to be a lot better.”
But the Super Bowl? It’s still a long shot for Shanahan’s team. Vegasinsider.com has made the Rams the favorite to win the NFC West, giving the 49ers a slight edge over the Seahawks for second and tabbed the Cardinals for last. San Francisco is 20-1 to win the Super Bowl this season.