San Francisco 49ers Training Camp: Reading Between the Lines on Offense
For many, it is the first time you will be able to see this new football team in action. Needless to say, the 49ers have been one of the most impressive teams thus far in training camp. Of course, I don't have much to go by in regards to the other 31 teams, but it is hard to imagine another team looking as crisp as the Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers.
Here are a few personal observations I have taken from camp thus far.
Alex Boone, Offensive Guard
This kid looks good—really good.
The former Ohio State product seemed to remain low on his blocks and maintain balance against both the bull rush and the speed rush. These are two things that seemed to plague Boone coming out of college.
Now that the talented offensive lineman is moving inside, it is important to take a look at his balance at the point of contact. Boone was able to remain in his stance against some powerful defenders in the 49ers front seven.
In short, he looks like the starter next to Anthony Davis at right guard.
Leonard Davis was brought in to provide competition, but he probably won't get a fair shot at the starting job when camp continues after the initial preseason game on Friday.
Kyle Williams, Wide Receiver
Despite suffering some type of minor ankle injury toward the end of practice last Thursday, Williams continues to impress. He seems to be extremely fluid off the snap, has honed his route running and showed extraordinary hands down the field.
Mario Manningham is penciled in to start at the slot position, but Williams should push him as the regular season nears.
At the very least, the punching bag of some 49ers fans is going to be an impact player in 2012. That much is guaranteed, barring injury.
LaMichael James, Running Back
Damn, this kid is fast.
The 2012 second-round pick isn't just track-and-field fast. Instead, it seems that this speed translates a great deal to the football field. He has that initial burst off the line and can get to second gear prior to the defender being able to adjust.
The 49ers currently have James as their third-string running back. While this might not change during the remainder of training camp, he is in position to make an impact as a rookie.
One thing to look for in regards to the Oregon product is how he handles both kick and punt returns in preseason games. If James is flawless in this aspect of the game, much like he has been in the past, it could mean that Ted Ginn Jr. becomes a veteran cut heading into the season.
Randy Moss, Wide Receiver
We have been hearing about the future Hall of Fame receiver throughout the entire offseason. The glowing reviews that Moss has received from players and coaches alike aren't overblown. He still seems to have a ton of juice left in those legs.
While Moss has had a few drops in camp, he just seems to be playing at the same level we saw with the New England Patriots three seasons ago.
This would be absolutely huge for a 49ers offense that struggled getting consistent plays from their receivers last season.
A motivated Moss will have a trickle-down effect for the entire passing game. Defenses are going to have to cover him over the top, which could leave Vernon Davis in single coverage going against either a linebacker or safety.
That is scary stuff for opposing defensive coordinators.
Alex Smith, Quarterback
Slightly inaccurate with a new aura of confidence, whatever Jim Harbaugh and company did during the offseason to pump up Smith has seemed to work a great deal thus far in training camp. He is taking the field with somewhat of a new swagger.
Maybe this has more to do with the 49ers' playoff victory over the New Orleans Saints, but it is readily apparent.
Smith's new throwing motion, however minimal of a difference it is from last season, has seemed to help him with the deep pass. He isn't getting the ball knocked down as much at the line and seems to be hitting receivers in stride. Again, this is something to watch when Smith goes up against the Minnesota Vikings on Friday.
But the up-and-coming quarterback still seems to struggle with the intermediate routes. He wasn't catching the receivers in stride a great deal and was leaving the ball behind them, to an extent.
Let me make one thing clear (or at least as clear as I can possibly make it): The 49ers offense hasn't looked great during training camp simply because of who they're going up against in practice everyday.
In short, San Francisco's defense is probably the best unit that their offense is going to go up against all season long.
Will playing against 49ers Defense in TC help the offense?
Just think about how much that is going to help Alex Smith and company when they actually start playing real games in September. Going up against a unit as dominating as the 49ers defense is definitely going to help them on Sundays.
In fact, they will probably be relieved not to have to go up against the likes of Justin Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, among others.
This seems to have been lost in the coverage of 49ers camp thus far, and I think it deserved mentioning.
Everyone will get a shot to watch this new 49ers squad come Friday night at Candlestick. These are some of the players you should pay attention to on the offensive side of the ball. At least, they're the ones that have stood out to me thus far.
It should be fun to watch this team back in action after a surprising 13-3 season in 2011. Expectations are much higher than at this point last year. In reality, it is probably Super Bowl or bust for San Francisco in 2012.
If training camp is any indication, up to this point, San Francisco is fully prepared to take that next step.
This should be fun.
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