San Francisco 49ers Season Preview
The Quest for Six Resumes- The San Francisco 49ers Sunday kickoff their 68th season of professional football. The 49ers will be hosting the Green Bay Packers in the first of 16 games Sunday in the hopes of building a season that will lead them to their ultimate goal, their sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. The 49ers came within five yards of their quest back in February before falling to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl 47. The 49ers went through some changes during the offseason however on the whole look to be a very deep team going into the new campaign. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be entering what in essence is his sophomore season, taking the reins from the since traded Alex Smith midway through last season. Kaepernick has plenty of things going for him from shear arm strength to speed. His confidence as a quarterback was infectious as the whole team seemed to feed off of his energy level. If the 49ers can recapture that this season they will have the ability as a team to go as far as they can. The 49ers quest for a sixth title in franchise history certainly will not be an easy one. Any title will have to be not only fought hard for but also earned. With a team like Seattle in their division, plus formidable foes on the schedule such as Green Bay to start the season off with, the 49ers will certainly have their work cut out for them as they embark on the journey that is the 2013 NFL season.
Offense- The 49ers offensive attack when healthy is simply one of the more potent attacks in the NFL. (The main key throughout the season will be staying healthy.) Kaepernick has plenty of weapons at his disposal to help the 49ers navigate down the field. The ground game is led by veteran Frank Gore who despite the mileage is still a very formidable running back. Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, and Anthony Dixon should also expect to see plenty of time on the field this season as Gore may not be able to take the entire payload, and shouldn't be expected to do so. Kaepernick with his speed is another back that can take off and make significant gains upfield. For obvious reasons however the 49ers would probably want to see a little less of that actually.
Vernon Davis and the newly acquired veteran of 11 NFL seasons Anquan Boldin will help Kaepernick with the aerial attack as the 49ers have some good depth here too. Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore, and Jon Baldwin all give Kaepernick good options to work with as well. A player to really keep an eye on however is rookie WR Quinton Patton who played his collegiate football at Louisiana Tech. Patton has been very impressive so far and looks like someone who can be groomed to be a great wide receiver. The 49ers however will miss Michael Crabtree as he will be out until at least December. In charge of protecting Kaepernick will be Joe Staley, Alex Boone, Adam Snyder, Mike Iupati, Joe Looney, and Anthony Davis. Colt McCoy and B.J. Daniels will be Kaerpernick back up QB's.
Defense- Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman will be the leaders of a unit that looks to be improved from a year ago. Last season the 49ers through the first 14 weeks of the season were one of the tougher defenses to score on, however began to slip noticeably in the final three weeks of the regular season. The trend continued in the post season though the 49ers were able to outscore Green Bay and Atlanta on the way to the Super Bowl. The 49ers look to have better depth this season with many healthy players ready to go. Aside from Willis and Bowman, the 49ers stack up the line with Aldon Smith, Corey Lemonier, Ahmad Brooks, Dan Skuta, Justin Smith, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams, Glenn Dorsey, Ray McDonald, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Nate Stupar, Michael Wilhoite, and Nick Moody. There are a lot of names there, and each of these players worked very hard to make the 53-man roster as Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was looking to assemble the best defensive unit he could get. And these are just the men lining up against the opposing offensive units. An opposing offensive air attack will be challenged from the likes of Carlos Rogers, Tramaine Brock, Donte Whitner, Craig Dahl, and Raymond Ventrone. In addition, the 49ers also have highly regarding rookie Eric Reid to go along with C.J. Spillman, Tarell Brown, Nnamdi Asomugha and Perrish Cox all of who will bring many challenges to any opposing receiving corps. In addition to their tremendous depth here, the 49ers also have very strong talent to go along with it. If these units jell as they should they are going to as much of the reason for the 49ers success as anyone. The only strike against the defense will be the noticeable absence of Chris Culliver who blew out his ACL in training camp and is already out for the season.
Special Teams- The 49ers this offseason signed for Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson, who replaces David Akers who was let go after last season ended. Dawson is a proven kicker who has plenty of experience in bad weather games as well as with games being on the line. Dawson is a huge pickup for the 49ers who need someone that is capable of getting points on the board from almost anywhere on the field. Punter Andy Lee returns as well and has been a very reliable asset to the 49ers. With LaMichael James out for the first two games of the season with a knee injury, the 49ers will turn to Kyle Williams and Perrish Cox for punt returning duties.
Coaching- Head Coach Jim Harbaugh enters his third season as the 49ers top man on the sidelines. Harbaugh in his first two years has shown that his drive and desire for success can translate throughout an organization. Very few coaches in any professional sport including the most successful ones can say they have led a team to two championship games and one league championship game in their first two years on the job. Harbaugh has surrounded himself not only with highly talented players, but also with a very strong coaching staff that can get the most out of their respective units. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio are regarded as some of the best in their profession. Much of the 49ers success also rests on the shoulders of these coaches who have this team prepared week in and week out.
Looking Ahead- The 49ers have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season. They will also have their challenges before them as four of the first five teams they play were all playoff teams last season. The one non-playoff team the 49ers play is division rival St Louis, who the 49ers failed to beat last season losing in St Louis (16-13) and tying at Candlestick Park (24-24). If the 49ers can get through their first six games with a 4-2 record, they will actually be in great shape as the schedule will favor them more as the season moves along. The 49ers fly in the ointment will be the Seattle Seahawks who last year achieved arch rival status with a take no prisoners 29-point win last December in Seattle. The Seahawks have always played the 49ers tough to begin with since they came to the NFC West in 2002.
The 49ers have enough firepower to get back to the Super Bowl and perhaps win it. This however won't come without challenges that will test this teams strength, stamina and sheer will and desire. If the 49ers can pass these difficult tests and come out ahead on the early schedule, they sky is their limit. The 49ers know any title they earn won't come easy. Nothing worthwhile usually does.