NFL Preview 2019: Biggest NFC West questions as training camp nears

Brian Witt
From Jimmy Garoppolo to Todd Gurley, there's no shortage of questions surrounding big-time players in the NFC West.
From Jimmy Garoppolo to Todd Gurley, there's no shortage of questions surrounding big-time players in the NFC West.

Tick, tick, tick. With each passing second, we grow ever closer to the start of the 2019 NFL season.

Training camps will open in a matter of weeks. Mix in four preseason games and, voila, real football will be here before you know it.

It's been a lengthy, but busy offseason for each of the NFC West teams. In the case of the Rams, they've undoubtedly been chomping at the bit to get back on the field after losing in the Super Bowl last year. On the other hand, the 49ers and Cardinals want to get the bad taste of last season out of their mouths.

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They are not equally talented, nor do the NFC West teams have the same expectations. However, they do all face significant questions heading into the upcoming season:

San Francisco 49ers 

Is Jimmy Garoppolo fully recovered -- mentally and physically -- from his torn ACL?

The 49ers' 2018 season went off the rails shortly after it got started. Jimmy Garoppolo's ill-conceived decision to cut back into the field away from the sideline in San Francisco's Week 3 loss to the Chiefs took the air out of the franchise, and the season as a whole.

Fast-forward 10 months, and Jimmy G says he's "good to go" for training camp and not suffering any restrictions.

That's all well and good to hear, but it will be difficult to know if Garoppolo is indeed completely recovered from his torn ACL until the real games start being played. It's one thing to do it in practice when wearing the don't-touch red jersey, but entirely another against 11 defenders doing their damnedest to put you into the turf.

Nick Mullens was a pleasant surprise in mop-up duty at the end of the season, but all of San Francisco's quarterback eggs are in the Garoppolo basket. If the 49ers are going to achieve the kind of success they hope to this coming season, Garoppolo can't be hampered by any lingering effects from the injury.

Arizona Cardinals

Is Kliff Kingsbury the real deal, or fool's gold?

You don't often see a college coach with a losing record get a head-coaching job in the NFL. Alas, Kliff Kingsbury and the Arizona Cardinals are here to break the mold.

As the head coach at Texas Tech, Kingsbury went 5-7 last year, his third consecutive losing season. Overall, he amassed a 35-40 career record as head coach of the Red Raiders before being fired at the end of the season.

Now he's the head coach of the worst team in the NFL, and will be tasked with turning No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray into one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Kingsbury's extensive reputation as an offensive genius played a major role in Arizona's decision to hire and pair him with Murray.

But ... the NFL isn't college. While Kingsbury's innovation was desired, his inexperience could leave him vulnerable to a faster game with bigger and stronger athletes.

It's imperative that Kingsbury develop a rapport with Murray and use the quarterback's rookie season to build a foundation for the team moving forward. If Kingsbury proves to be in over his head, the Cardinals could be drafting No. 1 overall again next April.

Los Angeles Rams

How much will Todd Gurley be limited by his knee?

He says his left knee is fine, but the developments going on around the Rams' star running back paint a different picture.

The Rams got off to a blistering start last season, and Todd Gurley was one of the biggest reasons why. He accounted for 1,831 total yards and 21 touchdowns over the first 14 weeks, over which Los Angeles went 11-3.

But then Gurley sat out the final two games of the regular season, and appeared severely limited in the playoffs. While he looked like his typical self while rushing for 115 yards on 16 carries against the Cowboys in the divisional round, Gurley then rushed for only 45 yards on 14 carries in the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl combined.

As if that weren't suspicious enough, the Rams then spent a third-round draft pick on Darrell Henderson, a change-of-pace back that averaged 8.2 yards per carry over three years at Memphis. That's a high price to spend on a back-up running back if Gurley's knee is indeed "fine," and the fact that they did so actually suggests the exact opposite.

[RELATED: Which NFC West rookies will have the most impact in 2019?]

If Gurley misses any significant time, the Rams' offensive attack loses its scariest weapon.

Seattle Seahawks 

Who fills the Doug Baldwin role?

You've seen it countless times. Russell Wilson narrowly escapes the clenches of the defensive line, runs around in circles a few times, rolls out and finds an unbelievably wide-open Doug Baldwin for a 37-yard gain.

You won't see it again, though.

Baldwin called it quits in May, announcing his retirement on Twitter. It leaves a gigantic hole in Seattle's passing attack, one that won't be easy to fill.

The Seahawks have an abundance of straight-line speed at the wide receiver position. Tyler Lockett and second-round draft pick DK Metcalf fit that characteristic to a 'T' and will surely get behind the defense often, but neither is the possession receiver that Baldwin was. 

In fact, as you look at Seattle's roster, there doesn't appear to be an obvious replacement for Baldwin and the clutch catches he so frequently provided. Heading into training camp, it seems likely that David Moore will get the first opportunity after catching 26 passes for 445 yards last season.

Regardless of who fills in for Baldwin, though, it's highly unlikely they'll be able to replicate his consistent production. Seattle might be the most play-action heavy team in the league next year, but without a consistent intermediate presence, it gets considerably easier to anticipate and defend.

NFL Preview 2019: Biggest NFC West questions as training camp nears originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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