The NFL season officially got under way on Thursday as 49ers players reported for training camp in Santa Clara.
With a new head coach, general manager and quarterback all on board this season, there’s actually a reasonable amount of intrigue for the team trying to bounce back from an embarrassingly bad 2016 campaign.
Sure, we’ll be treated to several stories about players being in the best shape of their lives — like every time at this time of year — but when the 49ers actually take the field today, it’ll be an early view into an entirely new regime that has inspired some rational optimism among the Faithful.
They’re probably not a playoff team this year. But head coach Kyle Shanahan is well respected around the league and the overhaul of the roster alone is enough to make Niners fans believe that better days may actually be ahead.
Here are the three biggest stories (aside from Solomon Thomas still being unsigned) to emerge from the first day of camp:
Reuben Foster is good to go
The 49ers’ new braintrust was celebrated as heroes when it traded into the late first-round to draft Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster.
Then, they were deemed idiots for investing in a player who underwent an allegedly failed surgery to fix his shoulder injury.
On Thursday, general manager John Lynch learned from the team doctor that Foster was cleared to participate in training camp.
“We challenged [Dr. Tim McAdams] numerous times. From his observation, the shoulder was good,” Lynch said.
If Foster really is fully healthy and can stay that way for the long term, the 49ers may just have the run-stopping linebacker they so desperately lacked last season.
Foster has been working with veteran linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who lauded the rookie for being a natural at the position.
That’s high praise from one of the last great players with ties to the last time the 49ers were good.
Shanahan gets schematic on Kap
The Niners’ starting quarterback for most of the last five seasons, Colin Kaepernick, is famously still looking for a job.
His politics are undoubtedly playing a role as it’s false to contend there are 31 players in the NFL more capable of being a starting quarterback.
Ask his former teammates. Ask his former coaches.
But that’s not why the 49ers passed on bringing him back, according to Kyle Shanahan.
“I thought with Colin and any quarterback situation it was where do you want to go with your scheme, where do you want to go with your roster?” the first-year head coach said. “I looked at it solely into where I wanted to go with the offensive scheme. I think Colin’s had a lot of success in this league and I think he still can have success, but you’ve got to commit to a certain type of scheme that gives him the best chance to succeed.”
Citing a commitment to scheme is a popular reason for not signing Kaepernick. But in Shanahan’s defense, him claiming to be a football ideologue carries some weight. That is the power that Jed York granted him when the 49ers CEO allowed Shanahan to handpick his GM and then signed them to twin six-year deals.
That doesn’t mean the Seattle Seahawks have a legitimate excuse for passing on Kaepernick after working him out earlier this offseason.
The Baltimore Ravens should make the right decision and commit to competing by adding Kaepernick to bridge the time they’ll be missing Joe Flacco, who has a back injury. Scheme be damned.
John Harbaugh said they’ll consider the former Niner and he won’t have to look further than his brother for a shining character reference.
The more things change …
A story arc that’s delightful in its repetitiveness: Running back Carlos Hyde is ready to add pass catching to his arsenal of skills.
He said it was going to happen before last season when he was adjusting to Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense. And Hyde is back at it now that Shanahan, a coach who demands a lot from his backs, is in charge.
“I feel like I fit the scheme very well with my ability to get downhill,” Hyde said. “I have the opportunity to go out and play receiver and show my hands off.”
That’s similar to what he said at this time last season: “I like playing receiver — you know, another opportunity to get out in space with the ball in my hands.”
Hyde’s career-high 27 receptions last season ranked 37th among running backs.
That’s behind both of Shanahan’s primary running backs — Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman — so it’s reasonable to expect Hyde’s snap count to decrease this season. The question is: How will he adjust?
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at email@example.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.