It's no secret that this is the year for Alex Smith to break out. If it's going to happen, 2010 is as good a time as any. He's been given pretty much everything now: a good young line, a strong running game to fall on, plenty of time to recover from his shoulder injury, the same offensive coordinator for two consecutive years, and the confidence of the organization.
The receiving corps should thrive over the next few years, given the talent it's collected:
Vernon Davis put his ego aside and focused on a team-oriented approach, only to learn this benefits his own numbers superbly. His blocking ability stayed in top form, while he saw his touchdown numbers break the franchise mark and tie the NFL record for tight ends. His combination of speed and power make him a chore for any defense to account for.
The (eventual) arrival of young Michael Crabtree gave Smith a much needed target, and the team may have gotten a superstar. He's a fantastic balance of speed and power blended with crisp route-running and hands of gold. I don't think it's a coincidence that his first snaps were Shaun Hill's last as a starter for the 49ers.
The competitions for the Nos. 2-4 receiver spots have been blown wide open as well. Incumbents Josh Morgan and Jason Hill will need to scratch and claw against the speedy Ted Ginn Jr., rookie Kyle Williams, and x-factor Brandon Jones. Ginn and Williams will have a foot on current roster spots due to their youth and their return-man abilities.
But what I don't see is the jump-ball guy—the go-up-and-get-it receiver. Terrell Owens was probably the last 49er to have this ability, but his cons severely tipped the scale against his pros. Larry Fitzgerald has it in Arizona, Jimmy Graham will have it in New Orleans, and Plaxico Burress used to have it in New York.
In tragic misfortune, however, Plaxico is currently doing time in New York for what essentially translates to assaulting himself with a deadly weapon. "I will play again," Burress said in an interview from prison with former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. I for one think Plaxico was harshly made an example of for a very stupid mistake.
Michael Vick got a second chance, did he not? He electrocuted, strangled, and drowned man's best friend in the interest of blood sport. Vick served his time in Leavenworth, came out a "better man," and now has a spot on the Eagles.
Plaxico's only victim was himself. Yes, he idiotically had an illegal firearm at a club in a state where you can't do that—but no, he didn't use it in anger against anybody. He shot himself figuratively in the foot, and literally in the leg.
The man just doesn't know how to properly pack heat, is all. Can you say "holster?" Can you say "Red State?"
Okay, so I know California reckons itself a blue state, but I don't think he's going to do this again—ever. I also think he might appreciate a move across the country, maybe somewhere with nicer weather.
Burress has stated that he has been keeping in shape while in prison, working out about four times a week. I think that's more than he ever worked out the year he caught the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII.
There's really no question that he's still an off-field question mark. In August and September 2008, police responded to two domestic disturbance calls at the Burress household. Both times a temporary restraining order was issued. Both times it was later dismissed in court.
He's also apparently not the best driver—his road issues range in everything from speeding, improper display of tags, improper lane changes, improper window tinting, to running into another driver with his $140,000 Mercedes three days after his policy expired because he didn't pay his premium.
He also had an issue with a civil suit with a car dealer and I don't even want to get into that. According to the Associated Press, Burress has been sued at least nine times since he joined the NFL in 2000.
That said, he can still be a 49er in my eyes. Why? Mike Singletary. Coach Sing has yet to shy from any problem-child player, be it an ego, a lack of work ethic, or an off-the-field problem.
If Burress shows up in 2011, has Singletary met his match? Don't make me laugh. If he can look Coach Sing in the eyes and promise to do his best to be the best, and keep his nose clean for the team, I'd bet it's "Welcome aboard, Mr. Burress."
Add to this the fact that Plaxico is (or at least should be) rather embarrassed about the shooting. Doing time at Rikers Island for shooting yourself with an illegal firearm as a professional athlete must be an extremely humbling experience.
If he doesn't think he has something to prove, he's wrong. If he understands that he has something to prove, let him prove it in San Francisco in a year—or two—since his request for a work furlough was denied in January.
Pessimists say this is the year the 49ers fumble yet again. Experts have them reaching the playoffs and bowing out early. Crazy optimists (like me) have them reaching the NFC Championship Game. But it should be dually noted that adding Plaxico Burress could bump them a round or two.