You have waited since February 3, 2008 and the time has finally come for the start of the 2008 NFL Season. The 49ers have improved their offense and defense with free-agents and draft picks while installing Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator. Here is what we can expect from the 49ers in 2008:
49ers Record: 6-10
Although a small improvement from last year’s record of 5-11 the 49ers will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year. The daunting task of the first eight games goes Cardinals, Seahawks, Lions, Saints, Patriots, Eagles, Giants, Seahawks, bye week. The second half of the schedule is easier but how the 49ers received this schedule after a losing season is baffles me. The schedule will be the reason why J.T. O’ Sullivan will lose the starting job at quarterback at some point in the season. Even though he does not give the 49er Faithful much hope either, Alex Smith better be ready.
Unless you are a Lions fan or you are really big follower of every NFL team, not a single 49er fan had heard of J.T. O’ Sullivan before he was signed by the 49ers. Earlier in the preseason I attributed his success to having previous knowledge of the Martz system while the two were in Detroit last season. He is the starting man under center and with the preseason he has had I have been convinced he will do a decent job. But with the 49ers first half schedule and the possibility of only one or two wins before their bye week, it might not be long before 49er fans rain the boos on O’ Sullivan and call for Smith to be the starter.
Frank Gore will once again be the shining star on offense. He will fit in well in the new system and Martz will utilize Gore as a check-down receiver that same way Marshall Faulk was used. Look for lots of rushing yards and receptions this year from Gore. Free-agent DeShaun Foster is a great back-up that will allow the 49ers to lean on as Gore gets tired.
The receiving core is thin and is led by veteran Isaac Bruce who is a welcome addition, but it is the down side of his career. Rookie Josh Morgan gives the receivers some hope as he had two 100-yard receiving games (one against the Bears) in the preseason. Having missed most of the preseason due to injury I do not know what to expect from free-agent Bryant Johnson. Look for Morgan and Johnson to battle all year for the starting number two spot. Oh, and let’s not forget about Vernon Davis. He is suppose to have his “break-out year” again this season like he was suppose to last year. All 49er fans can hope for this season is he stays healthy, does not miss too many blocks and has more receptions than muscle mass.
The offensive line was suppose to be great last year, but instead they allowed two quarterbacks to get hurt (Smith, Trent Dilfer) and gave up 55 sacks last year. The only new addition is rookie Chilo Rachel who could be a starter at some point in the season. LT Joe Staley, LG Adam Snyder, and RG Tony Wragge all played well in the preseason earning starting jobs. They along with the rest of the o-line have vastly improved and should give O’ Sullivan time in the pocket to find open receivers.
The backbone of the 49ers is the defensive unit. LB Patrick Willis looked like a veteran in his first year last year and he is getting better each week. The defense was ranked 25th in the NFL last year but the numbers did not reflect the championship caliber the defense really was. An offense that went three and out on almost every possession will wear down any defense. The 49ers signed free-agent DE Justin Smith and picked DE Kentwan Balmer in the first round to replace a legend in Bryant Young who retired. DE Ray McDonald could have a breakout year as he had a great preseason with three sacks. LB Manny Lawson returns from injury and having him for a full season will help out the line-backing crew. Look for big plays from Lawson this year.
The secondary will be solid led by CB Nate Clements and strong safety Michael Lewis. They will be tested this year going up against Randy Moss, Roy Williams and Terrell Owens. Clements is a playmaker and will lead by example for the rest of the secondary core.
Biggest Question Mark of the Year: Head Coach Mike Nolan
Surprisingly Nolan somehow avoided the boot after last season. I was almost certain he was going to be fired. With a proven head coach in Martz and an up-and-coming head coach in Assistant Head Coach/Defense Mike Singletary, Nolan will have to get the 49ers back to .500 for him to be brought back next year as their head coach. The 49ers are lucky to have not lost Singletary to another team as he has been interviewed for head coaching positions in the past. Nolan is officially on the hot seat. Let’s see how he reacts.
49ers Overall in 2008:
The 49ers will surprise a lot of the “experts” this year by beating some of the best NFL teams. I predict upset wins over the Giants and the Eagles. With a quarterback who never started a game and with the schedule ahead for the 49ers the season looks bleak. The 49ers are in a weak division with the Seahawks being the only team resembling a playoff contender, but even that is saying a lot. One team has to come from the division to represent the NFC West and although I do not think it will be the 49ers this year, they are getting closer. The 49er Faithful have gone through too many rebuilding years since they last won a Super Bowl, but based on the adversely they face this year it could be a telling sign of the type of team the 49ers will be in the future.