This post was written by Matt Hamm
Since rosters were cut down to 53 players the 49ers have had some time to look for players cut by other teams to fill out the roster. In many ways the 49ers bucked the trend and went against conventional NFL wisdom when putting together the roster up until this point. It is clear the 49ers are not filling the roster with players just to ensure they have enough at each position, rather they are keeping the best players regardless of the position they play. The team is now down to just 3 OLBs after cutting Antwan Applewhite in favor of Tavares Gooden an ILB recently cut by the Ravens. The team only has 2 TE’s which is almost shocking considering the fact that Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman are famous for using 3 and even 4 TE sets at Stanford, something that was pretty much assumed would be a big part of their game plan in SF. The team kept 6 safeties while holding onto only 4 CBs even with one starter banged up all pre-season. They kept as many RBs as WRs, and as many FBs as TEs, ok so what’s going on here?
What we’re seeing here is a team in the middle of their evaluations with a patient coaching staff that is refusing to rush things. The 49ers as much as any team in the NFL have had their backs against the wall this off-season. Coming off a disappointing 2010, with a new coaching staff in place the 49ers needed this off-season to be as productive as ever. This just so happened to be one of the least productive off-seasons in the leagues history however with the NFL Lockout. Aside from the 1 day Lockout reprieve the coaching staff has only known this group of players for just over a month. There is little doubt this football team has talent with the likes of Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Braylon Edwards, Justin Smith, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, there are some quality pro bowl type of players here. Aside from the established stars the team’s depth in a lot of areas needs to get better. The coaching staff has shown they will keep the best 53 at all times. When someone better comes along that fits the team’s plans they are going to make a move. The team put in waiver claims several players over the weekend (all went to other teams), signed QB Scott Tolzien, ILB Tavares Gooden and worked out WR Donnie Avery. It is clear the team is not done adding pieces if they think a player can help them win.
The patient approach by the coaching staff is evident in their words as well. The staff has continued to insist you won’t see a whole lot more offensive innovation early in the season then we have seen in the pre-season. I find it hard to believe they won’t be less vanilla but I don’t see an extremely complex offensive approach even beginning to take shape until after the bye week. The team has to gel naturally and the plan has to come together and cannot be forced, this coaching staff seems to get that a lot more than the previous 2. No more will we have to watch as Singletary orders a power run despite a 9 man front that knows Gore is coming on a power up the gut. But we may see a more vanilla approach early in the season than we would like to see as fans. The difference this time around is our coaching staff has a vision, they are building a team with the goal of building a dynasty while the previous regimes seemed content on imposing their wills and scraping to get by week to week.
Fans in SF have been restless for a winner ever since Jeff Garcia left town way back in 2002. After 6 straight seasons of Alex Smith the fan base couldn’t be more on edge as the season rapidly approaches. Many of these fans will severely over-react if and when the 49ers struggle early in the season. Many will forget that the team landed the hottest coaching commodity in a long time this off-season in Jim Harbaugh. They will forget all the star players mentioned above, they will also forget that after much criticism GM Trent Baalke turned in a pretty impressive haul in free agency without spending much money at all. They won’t pay attention to the budding young star Aldon Smith so obviously is whenever you watch him rush the QB. They will scream about Alex Smith, the Yorks, Trent Baalke and anything else to unleash their rage. Sometimes I will be among these classic over-reactors. What we all must remember in this upcoming season is the real talent we do have on this roster and the legitimately talented coaching staff we have running the show. If and when this team struggles early and reminds us all of recent years remember the lockout, give Harbaugh time.
I believe this team will blow up in 2012 and win 11-13 games with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter as a double headed monster rushing tandem. With Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman as the best ILB core in the NFL, Edwards and Crabtree as our best WR group since Rice/Owens and Aldon Smith a dominate pass rusher. This season it will depend on when the team puts it all together and builds some momentum. My belief is it won’t happen until after the bye week if the team can squeeze by at 3-3 before that team they should be fine. When all is said and done there will a lot of ups and downs with obvious progress made towards the future, an 8-8 record that will tie us for the division lead resulting in a playoff birth due to the 49ers better divisional record.
Leading Rusher: Gore 1200 yards
Leading Tackles: Willis 129
Leading Sacks: Aldon Smith 11
DPOY-Patrick Willis 129 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, 4 INTs, 2 TDs