Surprised to see Alex Smith's face on this slide? Well, you shouldn't be. Of the teams on this list, the 49ers have perhaps the fewest number of question marks; however, the questions are huge ones.
My first question is can this team win on the road outside of a weak division? Last year they were a Brett Favre miracle and a halfback passing for a TD against the colts away from knocking 2 of the conference championship teams on the road. The level of play doesn't need to elevate that much to get this done.
My second question is, will Singletary and Raye remember balance? Last year they were seemingly shifting to the spread offense as a last resort. The draft reflected that reluctance when they selected more beef at every offensive position except quarterback and receiver than Omaha Steaks ships out in a week.
The team scored more passing touchdowns than rushing last year, and every reason for that is as strong or stronger coming into this season. They must not abandon the pass and lose balance!
The biggest swirling question is the QB Position. Alex Smith has shown a significant amount of flashes of what it takes to get it done, as well as a significant amout of what doesn't hack it.
Five NFL seasons is an awful long time to develop a number one overall draft pick, however it's also an awful long time for a QB to not have all of the pieces in place around him to be successful.
Last year, Alex Smith got it done on several occasions and got a true taste of good game management. The evident emergence of Vernon Davis, raw production of Michael Crabtree now coupled with an offseason under his belt, and reported improvement of Josh Morgan in camp equates to the best receiving corps he's ever had by a long shot. Mix in the addition of speedsters Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn Jr. could significantly change the scenery amounts to an arsenal of weapons that is 3 times better than anything Alex Smith has ever had to work with.
Other swirling questions in San Francisco are the emergence of a feared pass rusher at the OLB position, and can Nate Clements step it up and live up to his alter ego, "Lockdown".
Also on the docket is did we create/draft a reliable backup and change of pace back for Frank Gore, who is prone to miss a game or two per season.
How fast, wither it be by injury or by performance, can Taylor Mays work his way into the starting lineup? His physical ability, hitting, and closing speed will present an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses when he can align it with NFL level awareness and playbook comprehension. Michael Lewis, although a strong run supporter, is possibly one concussion away from retirement.
With Ted Ginn Jr, Kyle Williams, and Leroy Vann to work with and chose from, it would seem that the 49ers return game will feature one of the best players it has had since the days of Dexter Carter and John Taylor, a key stat considering the 49ers showed a better potential to score once inside the red zone than ability to sustain a long drive to get there.
None of these, however, hold a candle to the final year of the Alex Smith experiment.