Fine-tuning. Like a piano tuner perfecting the sound before a concert. A few jangling sounds then a clear, perfect tone. That is the offseason for the San Francisco 49ers. Fine-tuning.
The San Francisco 49ers have a maestro in coach Jim Harbaugh that can direct the squad through the offseason and into another successful and thrilling year.
The fine-tuning starts with personnel who will be leaving the team for other jobs. Jesse Reed listed eight who did not work out during the 2011 season and will be released. He listed:
Anthony Dixon; running back, Chilo Rachal; offensive guard, Shawntae Spencer; cornerback, Moran Norris; fullback, Justin Peelle; tight end, Reggie Smith; safety, Brett Swain; wide receiver and Madieu Williams; safety.
I agree that all of these are vulnerable to being dropped from the roster. None of them excelled at their positions, and upgrading those spots will measurably improve the 49ers. I do not think there is any emotionalism in these choices; they promised more than they delivered, and all of them can hopefully be replaced with players who will deliver better performances.
The 49ers can be better? Scary, is it not?
So the first step is to empty a few roster spots that can be filled with new team members that promise more productivity. Those can be filled in one of two ways: the NFL draft and by contracting with NFL free agents that are looking for work.
There is no doubt in my mind that four glaring position weaknesses will need to be improved.
1. The 49ers need more big and tough offensive tackles to strengthen the offensive line and prevent those myriad of sacks experienced by Alex Smith in 2011.
2. They also need a real bull of a fullback to make those 3rd-and-2 yards and to make first downs.
The 49er's third-down conversion rate was abominable in 2011 and resulted in many of the 13 wins being closer than they needed to be. All three of the losses could have been prevented with a few more third-down conversions.
A slamming type of fullback would be a great counterpoint to Frank Gore's vision and decision-making between the tackles and Kendall Hunter's speed around the ends. He would certainly help keep the opposing defenses honest.
3. And everyone seems to notice the need for an additional wide receiver that can run accurate routes and catch the ball regularly.
Michael Crabtree needs some relief from being double-teamed, and Vernon Davis cannot always be expected to carry the receiver load for the team. The 49ers need to spread the defenses out and force them to cover more threats than they had to deal with in 2011.
Ted Ginn may be fast, but is not as dependable at catching the ball as one could hope. His real forte is as a return specialist, and that is a compliment since his record there is stellar.
Kyle Williams is small for a receiver, but was coming on toward the end of the year and does show some promise at receiver, though his performance at return specialist could use some work. And small is not a slam for a receiver.
But a large, fast, sure-handed 6'4" or 6'5" tall receiver that can get above the defending corners would be better for the left wide-receiver role.
Josh Morgan showed the dependability necessary before his injury and will be valuable as a third-receiver option, all backed up by Williams. This addition alone will help Alex Smith get to the next level as a quarterback.
4. And the 49ers need another efficient cornerback that can provide backup and relief for Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. Another asset in this corps would help defend against the long balls thrown by those "first tier" quarterbacks that seem to be multiplying in the NFL these days.
So the draft and the free agency success this year will be the key to an improved 49er squad. It is exciting to think that they even can be improved.
It will be almost as much fun watching the fine-tuning of the squad that goes on during the offseason as watching the main events during the regular season. And awaiting the main concert of the 2012 postseason will make 49er watchers get the chills along the old backbone.
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