Patrick Willis was the man on defense last year, posting an unofficial NFL record for tackles at 226 in a season on his way to being named to his first Pro-Bowl as the rookie sensation of last year claiming AP's Defensive Rooking of the Year honors. He's the first 49ers rookie to be named to the Pro-Bowl and All-Pro team since Ronnie Lott and joins Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young as winners of the Defensive Rookie of the year. He's a lot to be proud of and was a shining star of last year's season. It was a season of disappointment for the Niners, and as a fan, I can say that Patrick Willis and the defense was a tremendous upside to the dismal season. They say that defense wins championships, but it's the offense that wins games...and you can't win if you can't score.
This year we have three heads battling for starting QB -- Alex Smith, Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan. While Alex Smith maintains the most experience as a 49er starter, his "tremendous upside" still hasn't managed to come to fruition. Shaun Hill was a bright spot in the offense last year, bringing a 2-0 record as a starter in place of the injured Smith. J.T. O'Sullivan bring experience with Mike Martz' offensive schemes as he reunites with his former coach from Detroit.
The offensive line really needs to step it up this year and defend their quarterback and with the new schemes that Coach Martz employs, the fans will have a wait and see attitude until the first snap of the season takes place. Look to new acquisitions Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson to shore up the receiving core of Ashley Lelie and Arnaz Battle. If the line steps up and protects the QB and Frank Gore brings another stellar year, look for the red and gold to shine as it once had.