I had the pleasure of speaking with Douglas Totten, the editor of Niner Noise, the great site dedicated to the Houston Texan’s first preseason opponent the San Francisco 49ers. Doug and I shared our thoughts about what each of us expects to happen this weekend.
First up, the questions I asked about both teams and the answers Doug provided. Tomorrow will be my responses to the questions he had about his team as well as the Houston Texans.
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RG: How do you think Jim Tomsula will do as head coach of the Niners?
DT: This is the first of two million dollar questions for the 49ers (the other being the same question about Colin Kaepernick at QB) as it will go a long, long way to determining just how good the 49ers are this season. Tomsula is untested as an NFL head coach or coordinator (though he was both in NFL Europe) and, to be honest, no one really knows. The management and ownership loves him, however. This is scary, as the last thing one wants is a coach being an owner’s puppet. On the other hand, the players love him and seem to be more motivated and at ease than they were under Jim Harbaugh.
My best guess: Tomsula will be fair. He won’t be exceptional, but he won’t be awful and he will likely have a decent career with San Francisco before getting a few more gigs in college and the pros. He is only in his 40s and has plenty of time to continue coaching.
RG: What are your expectations of the 49ers this season?
DT: My expectations are to win 8 or 9 games. Pushing it, I think 11 is possible, but then again, so is 4. My best guess is 9-7 and missing the playoffs. The 49ers have a lot more pieces than most people think.
RG: What do you hope to see on Saturday to give the team hope for the 2015 season?
I hope to see Colin Kaepernick shine in limited opportunities, wide receivers (in particular DeAndre White, an undrafted rookie who has been wowing in training camp) to step up, and some cornerbacks other than Tramaine Brock showing they can actually play. I’m also curious to see what kind of offensive schemes will be used by new OC Geep Chryst.
RG: Who are the main players to keep an eye on and why?
I started getting to this in the last question, but the main players to keep an eye on are White and fellow competitors for the third receiver spot, Bruce Ellington, Quentin Patton and Jerome Simpson. Corey Lemonier at OLB will also be one to watch, as he tries to stake a claim for more playing time after the infamous departure of Aldon Smith. Eli Harold, a rookie, should also get some looks. International icons Jarryd Hayne and Lawrence Okoye will also be fun to watch as they try to make the opening roster. Arik Armstead and Blake Bell are two raw but talented rookies that will get a first litmus test of their adjustment to the NFL on Saturday at DL and TE respectively.
Of course, there is NaVorro Bowman returning for the first time since that horrific injury. If he plays, as seems likely, all eyes will be on his movement.
RG: Every team has a couple of lesser known guys who have a chance to make the team. Who are some dark horse players for San Francisco?
Hayne and Okoye each have a chance, not a great one, but a chance. White is not so much an “if” as a “how much will he play?” Fullback Trey Millard may be able to beat out Bruce Miller, not based on talent alone but also with the off-field incidents Miller has had. The 49ers have a bad enough image as it is. . .
Now conversely I would like to get your take on the team San Fran will be facing on Saturday…
RG: What do you think of the job coach Bill O’Brien has down thus far?
I am a big O’Brien fan. The way he has willingly stepped into challenging situations and create a winning atmosphere is admirable, both in college and in Houston. With only one season under his belt, it is a bit early to make any judgments, but it seems like the Texans are once again headed in the right direction.
RG: Besides J.J. Watt who are you most looking forward to seeing play against your team
Everyone loves J.J. Watt. Everyone.
Other than him, I am really interested to see how Jaelen Strong fares, as he was someone I thought the 49ers should have taken a long look at drafting themselves. There’s also, of course, Brian Hoyer. I’ve also always enjoyed watching Whitney Merciless play.
RG: Is there any area where you feel Houston can really challenge the Niners and help them improve in the long run?
Pass rush! The Texans have a very solid front, even beyond Watt, and the 49ers need to figure out their offensive line.
RG: What is your take on the running back situation of the Texans? I feel they should stand pat, am I delusional or is staying in house the right move?
Arian Foster’s surgery sure hurts, but since he should be back pretty quick, it isn’t worth giving up a roster spot (or trading) for a couple of weeks. Foster isn’t getting any younger, though, and it wouldn’t have hurt the Texans to be a bit more active earlier in the offseason finding a change of pace back, though they did pick up Kenny Hilliard late in the draft. More importantly, great running backs aren’t as imperative to success as they were 5, 10, or 15 years ago. The Texans will be fine, in my opinion, standing pat.
RG: And lastly, it is an exhibition game, but any thoughts on the outcome?
It is always tough to have any predictions for an exhibition game, but with the Texans having to figure out a QB situation still, I think they will play better QBs for longer, thus winning 24-10.