Niner fans everywhere have been counting down the months since the final seconds of the Super Bowl ended with the New Orleans Saints crowned as champions. Come Sunday the wait for a new season is over. The 49ers finished at 8-8 and even though it was their first non-losing season in seven years, last season was a disappointment. I expected the 49ers to go 9-7 and just miss the playoffs. This season I expected at least a 9-7 record, but think they will finish 10-6 as NFC West champions. The 49ers have upgraded their offense, most importantly the offensive line, and if they expect to win the NFC West they will need everyone on offense to play at a high level each game.
- Alex Smith
- David Carr
- Troy Smith
NFL pundits are for the most part picking the 49ers to win the NFC West. A lot rides on QB Alex Smith and how well he plays each week will determine the 49ers success this season. Some have already dismissed Smith as a bust but he is entering his first NFL season with the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons. With the way Smith played after becoming the starter last season and the confidence he has gained between the end of last season and through the preseason he will surprise a lot of people. This will be Smith’s breakout season. Remember Smith is in his final year of a contract he already restructured with the 49ers. The only way the 49ers will resign him is if he plays at the level of a franchise quarterback otherwise Smith’s ride with the 49ers and as a starting quarterback in the NFL will be over.
With David Carr as the primary backup the 49ers have a great insurance policy if Smith plays bad or gets injured. Carr carries a label bust as well however he played well in the preseason and showed a command of the offense.
- Frank Gore
- Brian Westbrook
- Anthony Dixon
Starting running back Frank Gore has been the 49ers offensive workhorse since he took over the starting role. He has also been the only positive thing you could point on the 49ers offense until last season. With the emergence of a legit passing game Gore should take advantage and have another solid year, possibly a career year. Gore’s loyalty to the team through the losing years will pay off this season.
We don’t know exactly what we will get out of Brian Westbrook as he is coming off a season in which he played only seven games, suffered two concussions and sat out all of the preseason games. At 31 Westbrook is old compared to running back standards however he stills has his legs underneath him which is what made him the fantasy football stud he once was. While it would be nice we don’t need him to be the Westbrook of two, three years ago. We only need the running game to not come to a halt when Gore is resting on the sidelines.
In the preseason rookie Anthony Dixon took advantage of Gore resting and Glen Coffee’s retirement as he started all four preseason games and rushed for 300 yards with four touchdowns and averaged 4.35 yards a carry. While it was done in the preseason Dixon should carry his play over to the regular season. Keep an eye on Dixon when goes into the game especially if Westbrook does not get the job done as the primary backup. I believe Dixon will be the successor to Gore.
- Michael Crabtree
- Josh Morgan
- Ted Ginn Jr.
- Dominique Zeigler
- Kyle Williams
The 49er receiving corps has a legitimate playmaking receiver in Michael Crabtree for the first time since 2003 when Terrell Owens was with the team. Unfortunately Crabtree looks like he might have another T.O. trait, a diva. Regardless of how Crabtree acts and who he gets in fights with if he makes plays and becomes an offensive threat I can handle diva distractions. Besides even if does get close to resembling T.O. head coach Mike Singletary and Vernon Davis will put Crabtree in his place. I am not concerned about Crabtree. Surrounded by other offensive threats Gore, Davis and a stable QB expect big things.
Ask anyone outside of the Red and Gold circle who the number two receiver is and they probably couldn’t tell you. Entering his third season Josh Morgan is not known because of his lack of talent but that he gets lost in the talk about the offense with everyone focused on the proven playmakers. Morgan has shown he has the talent to be a number one receiver but his problem is that he cannot consistently be relied on as a passing threat. Look for Morgan’s numbers to increase this year with defenses focusing on the big three Davis, Gore and Crabtree.
Ted Ginn Jr. has proven he is an excellent kickoff returner but he also wants to be known as a receiving threat as well. The only way Ginn Jr. will see offensive production will be in deep passes. It would be great to see Ginn Jr. grow into a better all around receiver but that is not why 49ers signed him. Returning kickoffs for touchdowns and the occasionally deep score is why he is on the team.
Rounding out the WR depth chart is Dominique Zeigler and Kyle Williams. Zeigler shined in the preseason which is a huge reason why he made the final roster. As the number four receiver it will be interesting to see how Zeigler will be used. Zeigler has great hands so you could see him on some fade routes in the end zone with the defense focused on the other receivers. Williams is a lot like Ginn. Jr in that he is a speedy receiver who can be a threat in the return game and on deep passes. If anything Williams adds more depth to the receiving corps.
- Vernon Davis
- Delanie Walker
- Nate Byham
During Vernon Davis’ first three seasons in the NFL I ridiculed him for having more muscle mass than receiving yards. I thought ‘how could somehow with so much athletic ability and muscle be so bad at tight end.’ Enter Mike Singletary. Singletary got Davis’ head on straight in the first game he took over as interim head coach in 2008. It is no fluke that in Singletary’s first full season as head coach Davis had his most prolific season in his career and one of the best by a tight end in NFL history. Davis was a starter in the 2010 Pro Bowl after posting 13 touchdowns (tied the record for most by a TE) with 78 receptions for 965 yards. Expect another huge year from Davis as the offense has only improved compared to last season.
Delanie Walker is a great blocking tight end and has the speed to be a receiving threat. However as the backup to Davis he will not get many scoring opportunities unless he uses his speed to break away from defenders. His value to the 49ers is on special teams as had 20 special teams tackles last season. Rookie Nate Byham showed in the preseason he knows how to block as a tight end. This will be his only role with the 49ers.
LT: Joe Staley
LG: Mike Iupati
C: David Baas
RG: Chilo Rachal
RT: Anthony Davis
When you use your first two draft picks in the first round on the offensive line who are signaling your biggest weakness. However when they are players Mike Iupati who was considered the best guard in the draft and Anthony Davis who was in the top-three of best available tackles the offensive lines weakness is solved. Or so we hope. But I believe this will be true. Led by veteran left tackle Joe Staley the new additions have quickly learned how to pass and run block in the NFL. A big concern with Staley is his health. The 49ers missed him last season as he was out for seven games with a knee sprain. The 49ers cannot afford for Staley to go down again.
Iupati showed on running plays during the preseason he can mow down defenders, pushing them back to create holes for Dixon. Now in the regular season and blocking for Gore Iupati will look even better as Gore does not have the hesitation that Dixon showed in the run game. Iupati is a rare combination of great size and athleticism. Fellow rookie right tackle Davis will be a welcomed addition as well. Davis struggled in the early preseason in pass blocking but has been able to get a grasp on not letting the outside rush beat him off the line. One of the reasons Davis will be successful this season will be his tremendous strength.
The two biggest question marks on the offensive line is not the two rookies but center David Baas and left guard Chilo Rachal. Baas is starting in place of injured center Eric Heitmann who has a fractured left fibula and will be out at least until week two. Baas has shown his versatility in the past having started at both left and right guard. With the way he has played at center during the preseason Baas has expanded his resume of starting positions on the O-line as he has shown a great command of the offensive line, recognizing the coming rush and adjusting as needed. Rachal is entering his second season as a starter and even though he started all but one game in 2009 he struggled most of the season containing the pass rush. Backup right guard Adam Snyder started all 16 games last season and is an experienced starter if needed.