San Francisco 49ers: 6 Offseason Headlines to Pay Attention to
The San Francisco 49ers are working to make the 2012 season even more successful than 2011. The 49ers went 13-3 in 2011 and completely exceeded expectations by reaching the NFC Championship Game under first year head coach, Jim Harbaugh.
It will not be easy for the Niners whose schedule gets much tougher this season. Pressure will build on their elite defense to repeat last year's repeat performance.
To help their cause, the 49ers resigned all 11 members of their starting defense, retained quarterback Alex Smith to a three-year deal and improved positions of need during the NFL Draft. As teams prepare for mini-camps in the not to distant future, many headlines will follow the current NFC West Champions.
With 49ers training camp set to open on July 28th, here are six headlines to pay attention to this summer.
A.J. Jenkins Development
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The San Francisco 49ers were looking to develop their receiving core this offseason by drafting A.J. Jenkins with the 30th overall selection in the NFL Draft.
Jenkins was considered a reach in the first round from the University of Illinois), and has much to prove this season for a surprisinglydeep wide receiver core featuring: Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss.
Mike Sando, the NFC West Blogger for ESPN, reported that Jenkins has struggled during OTA's and should not be expected to catch more than 30 passes this season.
Although Jenkins may not make an immediate impact, the success and productivity he provides down the road could make or break Jim Harbaugh's 2012 draft class.
Dashon Goldson's Contract Status
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Unable to reach an agreement by Monday at 1pm, Dashon Goldson remained the franchise player for the San Francisco 49ers in 2012. Goldson now has the option of playing the 2012 season for a $6.2 million dollar tender or he can hold out.
Goldson came off a career year for the Niners reaching the pro-bowl by recording six interceptions, and playing a vital role in the Niners elite defense by supplying heavy blows to opposing players. At 27-years old, Goldson is in the prime of his career and is a player the Niners should look to lock up long-term after next season.
Do not be afraid Niners fans, Goldson has stated that he does not plan to hold out this season and will play under the franchise tag. The interesting headline for this offseason should be whether Goldson stays true to his word and how this contract situation will affect his play in 2012.
Alex Boone Transition to Right Guard
With the departure of starting right guard Adam Snyder and of perennial back up Chilo Rachal, (not much love lost with Rachal), the Niners were desperate to find a starting guard to accompany Anthony Davis on the right side of the line.
Alex Boone volunteered to transition to guard and has the size, length and reach to succeed in 2012. Although Boone has the skill set to play guard, the transition from tackle is no easy walk in the park for the 6'8", 300 pound lineman.
According to CSN BayArea writer Matt Maiocco, Boone is the favorite for the competition and has shown plenty of promise while switching positions. With backup Joe Looney injured for most of the offseason, the pressure shifts on Boone to solidify the Niners stout offensive line this season.
What Alex Smith Will We See in 2012
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Alex Smith played outstanding in 2011 posting 17 TD with only five INT leading his unit to the NFC Championship Game. With new free agent additions to the offense, the onus will be placed on Smith to open up Jim Harabaugh's offense by passing the ball more often.
With new opportunity comes new risk.
Will we see the efficient, turnover-safe QB from 2011 or will the inconsistent, injury prone Smith from years past return in 2012?
Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers Defense will once again put Smith in great situations to succeed this season. The key will be whether he can continue his tremendous turnover ratio while also stretching the field vertically at a higher rate.
Luckily for Smith, the offense this season—as opposed to last—will not be as predictable to opposing defenses allowing for more time and openings in the short passing game. This will allow Smith to utilize his strengths as a passer.
It may look like Christmas for Alex Smith this offseason but if he can not utilize his new toys, the 49ers will regress in 2012.
Which Running Back Will Be Left out in the 49ers Back Field?
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Besides Frank Gore, no running back is certain to receive a bulk of the remaining carries. The man who received many of the third down carries from last season was Kendall Hunter, but now the competition has stiffened for the third-year man from Oklahoma State.
In the second round, the Niners selected the electric running back prospect LaMichael James from the University of Oregon.
In free agency they brought in a big-hitting running back Brandon Jacobs to eat up most of the short yardage carries.
Don't forget that team "Energizer Bunny" Anthony Dixon is still fighting for a spot on the roster and could make a case for some playing time in 2012.
The Niners have a plethora of options in the backfield in 2012 that will add different dimensions to their offense.
Having this variety is great for San Francisco but getting possibly five running backs carries will be extremely difficult.
As the offseason progresses, look to see who receives the pivotal third down carries and who is used out of the back field in passing situations. These type of reps will help decide who will inherit the role of backup running back in 2012.
49ers Special Teams Unit in 2012
The "Tony Montana" unit was stellar in all aspects last season for the 49ers.
It all starts with kickers Andy Lee and David Akers.
Akers made 44 field goals last season, a Niners franchise record, while also blasting numerous kicks in the end zone, which limited the opposing teams to zero kick return touchdowns.
Lee averaged 50.3 yards per punt and pinned the opponent inside their 20 on 28 of his 78 punts.
Lee and Akers were vital in the Niners' switching field position allowing their top-notch defense to dominate.
Ted Ginn Jr. also made a huge impact, returning two special teams' touchdowns while averaging 27.6 yards per kick return. All these accolades and tremendous individual seasons however, come with a bit of disappointment for 2012.
The kick-off team will be missing one of its key cogs in 2012.
Blake Costanzo: The leader of the "Montana Unit" was signed this offseason by the Chicago Bears. Costanzo will be replaced on the roster by free-agent acquisition Rock Cartwright.
It should be interesting to watch the Niners' special teams unit this offseason to see if they can stay as dominant and aggressive forcing turnovers as they did last season. Although this is a small headline, the importance of special teams for a team that plays complementary football, like the 49ers, is unheralded.