For several years, Niners fans have endured chaos in the front office, coaching/coordinator carousels, bad decisions, poor play, and utter loss of hope, as they've watched their once dominant team become a bit of a joke in the league. Mike Nolan and Scot McCloughan have become dirty words around San Fran Nation, and are pretty much blamed for the years of incompetence that killed this proud franchise.
The light at the end of the tunnel started with the hiring of Mike Singletary as head coach, and was solidified with the firing of McCloughan and promotion of Trent Baalke. The change has been immediate, and suddenly fans are seeing personnel decisions being made that should have been made a long time ago, and that actually make sense to both NFL pundits and casual followers alike.
So the 49ers enter the year with incredible optimism for the first time in a long time. The defense is solid, with depth and talent at the D-Line, with the linebacking corps, and even the secondary. Offensively, they have three first round picks (two rookies) starting on the O-Line, and a backfield that includes two Pro Bowlers and a rookie, Anthony Dixon, that looks like the real deal - unlike his predecessor Glen Coffee.
Tight End is another position of strength, with superstar in the making Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and his above average receiving skills, and Nate Byham who's by all accounts a monster that plays a little fullback as well.
Based on the level of talent on both sides of the ball, you can see why the level of optimism is so high among Niners fans. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm is tempered a bit because of one big question mark - the starting quarterback, Alex Smith.
At quarterback, Alex Smith has been named the starter, and also earned the label of captain. His work ethic is by all accounts unmatched, and his desire to succeed and to bring a championship to the Bay Area are not in question either.
But all of those things minus talent and ability put you in a category with a guys named Losman, Boller, and Grossman. Those guys worked hard too, and flashed potential at times, but in the end, they weren't NFL starting QB material. And after six years, people still aren't really sure that Alex is either - or ever will be.
Accuracy is Smith's biggest issue, and that's kind of a big deal. When people describe Manning, Brady, and Rodgers, the first word you'll generally hear is 'accurate'. It's what makes good quarterbacks great, and it's not really taught. Smith further frustrates fans due to his 'inconsistent accuracy'. In other words, he can flash pin point accuracy on one throw, and follow it up by overthrowing a wide open streaking receiver by fifteen yards. That's the very definition of inconsistent.
The argument rages on among fans and analysts, but the fact is that Alex Smith is the starting quarterback for the 49ers this year, and until he proves otherwise,whether he can finally meet expectations is a big question that needs to be answered before the team can take the next step. With David Carr and the newly signed Troy Smith backing him up, Alex will either succeed - or this team will surely fail.