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49ers begin year with high hopes in Chip Kelly era
The 49ers defensive backs chat between drills about what needs to be worked on during training camp. - photo by EDDIE RUIZ / The Journal

There is no doubt that the San Francisco 49ers are heading into the 2016 season with more questions than answers.


It has been years since the 49ers were projected to be one of the worst teams in the National Football League before the start of the regular season, but that is the situation the team currently finds themselves in.


After finishing 2-14 in 2004, San Francisco experienced a resurrection thanks to Jim Harbaugh, Alex Smith and eventually Colin Kaepernick. This improved 49ers team made it to the Super Bowl, but from then on it has basically been a downward spiral for the organization.


But even though things look bleak for the 49ers, there is a new era with a coach who has had flashes of success — Chip Kelly.


With a much more qualified resume than his predecessor Jim Tomsula, Kelly has brought in his up-tempo offense that is based much more on passing than what Harbaugh had implemented.


“It’s awesome to see the high-tempo offense and see what we could do and wear out the opposing defenses, of course we want to see Colin but Blaine is also good,” said 49er tight end Vance McDonald in a press conference.


The team also looks drastically different than it did just a season or two ago with a lot more youth loaded onto the roster. In fact, there are only seven players that are 30 or older. Everyone else is 29 or younger.


Don't expect the 49ers to provide a crazy spark on offense because there is no question they will have to rely on the entire defense to hopefully keep them in games, as was the case last season with the worst overall offense.


NaVorro Bowman is back at the inside linebacker position and was without question the comeback player of the year after recovering from a knee surgery. A year after recovering, Bowman went on to lead the NFL in tackles with 154, four ahead of the second most.


He started all 16 games and looked to be almost as good as he once was before his grueling knee injury he sustained in Seattle during a playoff game.


“I think we are ready on defense and I am just excited to be a 49er for life,” said Bowman after signing a four-year contract extension in the offseason.


So look for the defense to be the staple of the team if they hope to achieve any success.


The front seven will be the anchor of the team backed by Bowman's ability to captain from the middle linebacker spot. Tank Carradine has been showing big signs of improvement and Glenn Dorsey, Quinton Dial and Tony Jerod-Eddie are all back.


Not to mention the rookie defensive linemen in Ronald Blair and 6-foot-7 and first round pick DeForest Buckner seems to be a high quality talent and will be joining his collegiate teammate in last year’s first round pick, Arik Armstead, who is also a whopping 6-foot-7.


Safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea are the veterans in the backfield, but the team also returns defensive backs Tramaine Brock and Kenneth Acker. Marcus Cromartie showed flashes of a solid starter in various games last year and Dontae Johnson should be penciled in as a starter.


Keith Reaser, Rashard Robinson and Will Redmond should all provide depth as well but also look for Prince Charles Iworah to possible pick up some playing time.


For the offense, right tackle Anthony Davis, 26, is back after taking a year off football and reported to training camp in good shape, suggesting he maintained a consistent workout regime. The team also adds rookie first round guard Josh Garnett from Stanford and was projected as one of the best linemen in the 2016 draft along with veteran guard Zane Beadles.


The team will need all the help up front they are running a high pace, high intensity offense with Kelly at the helm.


There is a chance that the 6-foot-8 monster Trent Brown might start at right tackle, and if that is the case then Davis could perhaps be moved to right guard to compliment Marcus Martin at center and Joe Staley at left tackle, which then might not look too bad on paper.


The offense was atrocious just a year ago but the line was among the worst in the league, allowing 53 sacks for the year. The 49er offense was 31st out of 32 teams in yards per game at 303.8 and were dead last in points per game (14.9).


On the skill side, the receivers will be led by veteran Torrey Smith who will be the No. 1, but the spot for the rest still seem to be wide open with a plethora of talented players worthy of starting.


Some of those consists of rookie wideouts Devon Cajuste, Bryce Treggs and Aaron Burbridge along with returners Bruce Ellington, Quinton Patton, Jerome Simpson and DeAndrew White who showed sparks after the team’s first preseason game against the Houston Texans.


Also look for tight end McDonald to finally step up like he never has and Garret Celek should help there although he has proven over time that he is a much better run blocker.


“We just go out and try to execute soon and quickly as we can and it opens up things, so we like to see that,” said McDonald.


The position that seems to be wide open for contention is the running back position.


Although Carlos Hyde is the heavy favorite, the ability for him to stay healthy brings up a red flag, but luckily the roster includes plenty of talents such as Kelvin Taylor, DuJuan Harris, Kendall Gaskins, Mike Davis and Shaun Draughn.


The 49ers are heading into the new year with one of the, if not the most, toughest schedules and are predicted to finish among the worst and possibly dead last. But don't count out a team that has a rich tradition just yet, first wait and watch.