Ratto: The 49ers do the same thing again, only differently

Shanahan continues be a defensive GM, offensive head coach

Ray Ratto
April 24, 2020 - 8:02 am

At some point, we will simply have to accept that Kyle Shanahan is actually just a creature of habit who keeps telling us what he believes about football even though we keep thinking we know better.

And in the end, what we have is an offensive mastermind who wants to build a defense even he can't scheme his way out of.

In taking Javon Kinlaw, an upright refrigerator of a man from South Carolina who is supposed to be the next DeForest Buckner, Shanahan reasserted himself as a defensive general manager and an offensive coach in the same polo shirt. It's almost as if defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has incriminating photos. Shanahan even joked about having a bit of a Michael Strahan fixation in his youth, which is a passive-aggressive way of saying he loves defensive linemen enough to want to change the rules so that the entire sport has nothing but them.

What he did not do was get the knockout wide receiver everyone thought he should need. He did draft Brandon Aiyuk of Arizona State at 25, an acknowledgement that the 49er offense isn't very good at field-stretching. In doing so, however, he even reduced the team's meager stash of draft picks by one and still has Friday off if he wants a little extra social distance.

So, on the basis that all the blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah of the draft matters not once the picks are made, Shanahan re-revealed himself as a not-so-closeted defensive line coach.

Now based on recent results, only a fool would object to his judgment. He had such a good 2019 that he has raised his career coaching record to 25-26, which while it places him squarely between Lou Saban and Mike Tice also shows you how hard his first two seasons were. To go from six wins to four to 13 is the kind of career arc most coaches would take — as long as year four doesn't suck.

But with all the hype of a draft that would soothe the nation's psyche by nailgunning everyone to their chairs to enjoy the fireworks, he again opted for relatively conservative judgment. And maybe this wasn't the year to get all zany about reaches and hunches. On the other hand, he also made two of the night's four trades, so maybe he's bolder than we credit him with being.

He is bolder, though, in a blander way. We may get a better sense of his new world view on Saturday, when he makes his team's final three selections. He may have decided he has all the pieces he needs and didn't have to stockpile anything for a rainy day, but that too is a conservative worldview. The fact that he pretends to go along with the gag that he loves defensive linemen indicates that he is fine with us believing just that, since it doesn't matter what his answers to our questions any more than our questions matter to his answers. If that's the narrative you want, go ahead.

Besides, there are 40 other defensive linemen still on the board. If Shanahan really wants to screw with your head, he's got the means to do it.

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