All eyes on Lance: Five 49ers players to watch vs. Bears originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
After one of the strangest offseasons in franchise history, the 49ers are now settled and ready to open the regular season.
There is not a whole lot of drama surrounding who the No. 1 player to watch will be when the 49ers kick off on Sunday against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
Of course, it will be the new starting quarterback.
And in the most interesting -- and unexpected -- development of the offseason, the new quarterback will have the previous starter, Jimmy Garoppolo, on the sideline serving as his backup.
It should make for a fascinating season in 49ersland.
The young quarterback does not have to do it all by himself. The 49ers’ defense should be top-shelf, and the club has plenty of offensive playmakers surrounding him -- though it appears unlikely tight end George Kittle (groin) will be available.
Here are the five players to watch in the 49ers’ season opener:
LB Fred Warner
The 49ers rewarded Warner financially last year as one of the top players at his position in the NFL.
And while he did not live up to his own high expectations in the first half of the season, he finished strong and showed why he is such a huge presence on this team.
Warner had a strong training camp. He was all over the field and all over the football. He will be counted on to being a game-changing presence against the run and the pass.
Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has placed an even-greater emphasis on forcing takeaways, and that is an area where Warner is ready to take that next step.
WR Deebo Samuel
Speaking of interesting offseasons . . . for most of those idle months, it seemed uncertain whether Samuel would be back with the 49ers.
He never has publicly explained why he grew disenchanted with the organization, but he requested a trade just prior to the 2022 NFL Draft. The 49ers listened, but they were never tempted by any trade offers.
Samuel eventually signed a lucrative, long-term contract extension before the pads went on at training camp.
Now, it’s back to work.
Samuel emerged last season as a star player. Coach Kyle Shanahan took full advantage of Samuel’s ability to line up in the backfield and carry the ball.
With a deeper stable of running backs, the 49ers might not be inclined to use Samuel in that role as much as they did in the second half of last season.
But we will all find out together on Sunday.
LG Aaron Banks
The 49ers invested a second-round pick in Banks during the 2021 NFL Draft. Now, they will see what kind of player they got.
Tomlinson’s departure on a big-money deal to the New York Jets opens the door for Banks to begin this season as a starter.
He had an up-and-down training camp and exhibition season. He will be tested, but the 49ers expect him to learn from his mistakes and continue to show improvements every week.
Banks is a key player on the interior of the 49ers’ offensive line, as the club turns to three new starters in Week 1: Banks, center Jake Brendel and rookie right guard Spencer Burford.
DE Nick Bosa
Is it possible that Bosa can be even better than he was last season?
Not only is it possible, it is completely expected.
Bosa is coming off a season in which he registered 20.5 sacks in 20 games, including the postseason. A year ago, he was returning to the field after his 2020 season was cut short due to a torn ACL.
Bosa was not rehabilitating himself this offseason. He was getting faster, stronger and more technically sound as a pass rusher and all-around defensive end.
He can be certain to face a lot of double-teams on Sunday. After all, it would be coaching malpractice for the Bears to ask rookie left tackle Braxton Jones to line up, one on one, against him.
Still, Bosa must find a way to make life difficult on Bears second-year starter Justin Fields.
QB Trey Lance
On paper, the Bears do not look as if they will be competitive this season.
Former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus takes over, and you know his focus for the better part of the offseason has been on putting together a Week 1 plan to face Lance.
Certainly, Lance does not have to do it all by himself. He has plenty of teammates to help support him in his first season as the team’s starting quarterback.
He is a talented player whom the 49ers chose at No. 3 overall ahead of Fields and Mac Jones. Lance, 22, takes over a team that is ready to win now.
“I’m going to hold myself to the highest standard that I possibly can,” Lance said on the "49ers Talk" podcast this week. “I’m not using my inexperience or age or anything like that as an excuse.”
Lance seemingly has settled in as he began game-planning for the Bears. After a challenging training camp going against the 49ers’ first-team defense, he should be prepared for the regular season.
Or, at least, he is as prepared as he possibly can be at this stage of his career.