The San Francisco 49ers has suffered some minor injuries in the preseason, but there have not been any serious injuries to key players for the upcoming season, so far. Injures are inevitable for any team in the NFL, but one injury to a starter could ruin a team’s season. The 49es are stacked at wide receiver, running back and linebacker so if an injury occurs at any of those important positions, the team has good backups to fill in. Below are the top-four positions where if an injury struck the 49ers, it could derail the season for the team.
Starter: Alex Smith
Backups: Colin Kaepernick, Josh Johson, Scott Tolzien
Quarterback is without a doubt the most important position in the NFL. Any team that loses their QB due to an injury for any significant amount of time, will likely find it more difficult to win games without their starter. In only rare cases has a backup quarterback come out of nowhere to take over for the starter and continued winning. Steve Young, Jeff Hostetler, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady are a few backup quarterbacks who have taken over after the starter went down with an injury and carried their teams into the playoffs and Super Bowl.
For the 2012 49ers we have a good backup quarterback in Kaepernick, who is being groomed for the future, but how many Niner fans would be comfortable with him taking over this season? Kaepernick has shown he has great running skills and accuracy, however, he struggles passing in the pocket. This is why through two exhibition games, the 49ers have been running read-option plays, shotgun formations and rolling Kaepernick out of the pocket to make up for this.
Last season, the offense was tailored to fit Alex Smith’s strengths and weaknesses, and that is even truer for the upcoming season. Should Smith go down with an injury, the offense will have to be retailored to fit Kaepernick’s strengths and weaknesses. This is easier said than done. Even if Smith got hurt today, the task would still be difficult for Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman to change the offensive philosophy for the upcoming season. With Kaepernick, the offense would look like an NFL version of running the option. The 49ers would still compete with Kaepernick under center because of the strong running game and dominate defense, but they would not be as good with Smith at quarterback.
Starters: Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner
Backups: C.J. Spillman, Trenton Robinson, Cory Nelms, Colin Jones, Darcel McBath, Michael Thomas
The 49ers defense is considered one of the best in the NFL, especially with their run defense. The defense is good at defending against the pass, but last season teams were much more comfortable passing than running against the 49ers. This season, the 49ers defense will go up against the top-five passing games from last season (Packers, Lions, Giants, Patriots, and Saints), so the secondary will be tested throughout the season. Cornerback is less of a concern for the defense because of the solid starters and backups that can take over if need be.
At safety if either Goldson or Whitner got hurt, the 49ers defense would become very vulnerable to giving up huge amounts of passing yards. Currently listed as the third safety on the depth chart, Spillman is the backup with the most NFL experience; however, he has only started one game in his four year career. Last season Spillman was mainly on the field as a safety in goal-line situations. He was used more on special teams as the gunner on punt coverage, leading the team with 19 special teams tackles.
Robinson was drafted in the sixth-round in April’s draft and has shown he has the skills to play safety in the NFL, but he is nowhere near being ready to take over as the starter. Expect him to be on the field in nickel and dime packages on defense.
Opposing offenses will be licking their chops with either Spillman or Robinson taking over for an injured Goldson or Whitner at safety. So far this preseason, Spillman, Robinson and the other backups have not made a solid case to be the main backups, which is not good.
Starter: Isaac Sopoaga
Backups: Ian Williams, Tony Jerod-Eddie
Nose tackle, in 3-4 base defense, is one of the most important positions when defending against the run and pass. Standing in at 6-2 and weighing 330 pounds, Sopoaga is the ideal size for a nose tackle. He is great at plugging up the middle of the line to take away running lanes and pushing up field to flush the quarterback out of the pocket where the defensive ends and outside linebackers can make a play. A huge reason why the 49ers defense was No. 1 defending against the run was because of Sopoaga being a rock in the middle.
Sopoaga has shown a great ability in reading blocks and knowing whether the opposing offense will run or pass on a play. Last season, he was constantly double teamed because of his abilities which freed up players like Justin and Aldon Smith to rush in to stop the run or pressure the quarterback. Even though he recorded zero sacks and only had 31 tackles last season, his job was not to have great stats but to clog up the middle of the line.
Losing Sopoaga to an injury would be a huge loss for the 49ers defense. A good thing is he has missed only two games since 2005. He is not only great at what he does at nose tackle, but he is also one of the 49ers emotional leaders with his personality, so the loss would be twofold. The backups at nose tackle, Williams and Jerod-Eddie, both entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. Williams signed with the 49ers after the 2011 NFL draft and Jerod-Eddie was signed after the 2012 NFL draft. Between them, they have one game of NFL experience, so losing Sopoaga to injury would be disastrous for the 49ers defense. If Sopoaga goes down to injury, expect Harbaugh to go with defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois who has more on the field experience than Williams and Jerod-Eddie. Jean-Francois was second on the depth chart last season at nose tackle.
Starter: Vernon Davis
Backups: Delanie Walker, Konrad Reuland, Demarcus Dobbs, Garrett Celek, Kyle Nelson, Joe Sawyer
Ah, remember the days of Vernon Davis struggling early in his career and having a higher body mass index than receptions? Don’t blame you if you don’t because Davis has averaged 67 receptions, 890 receiving yards and eight touchdowns over the last three seasons. Davis is a freak of nature but even with his top conditioning health, an injury can strike at any time. Just ask Delanie Walker.
Walker suffered a broken jaw last season and injured his knee during practice last week, which kept him out of the last exhibition game against the Texans. Walker returned to practice on August 20, however, his status is uncertain for Sunday’s game against the Broncos.
Should Davis go down, Walker would be an adequate starter at tight end, but he would not draw the attention of defenders like Davis. This will be one of the keys for the 49ers passing offense this season, as Davis always commands attention and double teams from the defense, which allows the wide receivers to be freed up in open space. Without Davis in at tight end, the 49ers passing offense would change significantly.