Wednesday morning’s practice was unacceptable for an NFL team. The players were flat, lethargic and unmotivated – they wasted their time. There was nothing good to report. So I’m going straight to the “not so go.”
THE NOT SO GOOD
1. HC Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan is a great offensive coordinator, the best offensive mind the 49ers have had in a long time. Jim Harbaugh couldn’t compete with Shanahan’s mastery of X’s and O’s. But Harbaugh is a great head coach, better than Shanahan, at least right now. Harbaugh transformed the 49ers from a group of losers to an elite team in a month and a half, and the transformation had nothing to do with scheme. It had to do with Harbaugh’s personality and leadership. He instilled his own high standards of professionalism, intensity, focus, concentration and discipline into a team that lacked those qualities. He was the emotional and vocal leader. He drove the car. Shanahan still hasn’t passed his driver’s test.
All week, Shanahan failed to enforce a standard of excellence during practice. During one drill on Monday, the offense committed four false-start penalties in nine plays. Harbaugh would have benched each player who committed those penalties and yelled at them in front of everybody. Made examples of them. Shanahan didn’t do that. He simply started the drill over from the beginning and implored his players to be more focused. They immediately committed two more false start penalties and Shanahan said nothing.
Similar thing happened today when the Niners began preparing for the Kansas City Chiefs. Preparing for a new opponent should have broken the monotony of training camp and given the players a higher level of energy. But the starters loafed through a drill – that’s what losing teams do. Shanahan should have gone crazy – Harbaugh would have. But Shanahan did not. “We just started it over and let them know what we want,” Shanahan said after practice. “I told them today, I think that starts with the coaches. Obviously, I didn’t explain that to them well enough.”
I appreciate Shanahan’s honest answers, and I respect that he acknowledged he didn’t effectively convey to his players the sense of urgency they need during practice. Now he needs to enforce that sense of urgency, needs to make sure his assistant coaches enforce it every day during meetings, and needs to cultivate leaders on the team who will enforce it for him during practice. That’s what Harbaugh would have done.
2. The defensive line. Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Earl Mitchell and Tank Carradine stood and watched as Carlos Hyde jogged past them during a running play. That’s when Shanahan stopped the drill and started it over. The 49ers defensive linemen have lots of talent, but they’re young. There’s no one on the D-line who can stop practice and demand better performance from his peers the way Justin Smith would have. In fact, there are zero vocal leaders on the team.
3. LT Joe Staley. Staley is the one player on the team with the stripes and credibility to verbally hold teammates accountable during practice. But he’s a laidback guy. It’s not in his personality to yell teammates. When the 49ers committed six false starts in five minutes on Monday, Staley said nothing.