The bar was set high from the get-go for the 49ers. Before the season even began, most critics, analyst's, and pundit's had the 49ers selected to win the division under Mike Singletary who led the 49ers to an 8-8 record the previous season.
The 49ers went 4-0 in the preseason which led most fans to believe that it would carry over in to the regular season. Whatever hope was there was smashed by a 70 ton locomotive also known as the 12th man as the Niners got demolished in Seattle in the season opener 31-6.
After that, there was the disappointing loss to New Orleans on Monday Night Football but seemed to serve as a moral victory at the time. The 49ers played the World Champs extremely tough despite a few costly mental errors early on.
Five games in, the 49ers found themselves staring at a very steep climb upward with an 0-5 record. Shortly after that, San Francisco was looking at a 2-7 record once the bye week hit. But as nutty as it seemed at the time, the 49ers were still in playoff contention. Just a testament as to just how poor the NFC West was last year.
The season was just erratic; all over the place. There were high's and low's like nobody's business.
Mike Singletary gave it his best, but failed to realize that coaching in the NFL was not the same as being the field general that he was for the Bears in the 1980's and 1990's. With one game left, the 49ers front office let Samurai Mike go. Not sure how that firing went, but most folks probably would not have wanted to have that responsibility.
The very last game of the year against the Cardinals, the 49ers were led by defensive line coach Mike Tomsula who let the players just go out there and have fun. The 49ers had fun and the production followed suit in a 38-7 victory. No matter what Denzel Washington said in Remember the Titans about football not supposed to be fun, he's wrong. Football should always be fun, and the teams who do that are the teams that win.
Quarterback: Much like Arizona, San Francisco desperately needs some stability at this position. In the last five years or so, the Niners have not really had a clear-cut starter.
While Jim Harbaugh has had nothing but the nicest things to say about free agent Alex Smith, it's uncertain at this point if he will in fact return. Furthermore, it's unclear as to whether or not if he did that he would be the declaratory starter. I am sure there will be competition no matter who is brought in unless somehow the 49ers land a veteran free agent that has some legit experience.
Between Alex Smith, Troy Smith, and David Carr the fans seemed to be confused as to who the starter would be week in and week out. An abundance of jokes were thrown out each week as to who the starter would be. Most of the time the answer was just, "Smith".
The quarterback situation may not have been as bad as the Cardinals but that doesn't really say much. They did however have one of the worst situations in the league. But maybe some of that came from the indecisiveness of the coaching staff.
Cornerback: With the 24th ranked secondary in the league and veterans aging like two-week old bread, it's a fairly safe assumption to say that this is a major priority for the 49ers this offseason.
Nate Clements never was considered to be an elite corner of the league even though he got paid like one. But he may have been at one point in his career to be an above average cornerback. As he is nearing the end of his career, it's pretty evident that he has lost a step or two and cannot keep up with some of the leagues quicker receivers. He is solid in assisting in the ground game but a corner's number-one job is to defend receivers.
Shawntae Spencer, Tarrel Brown, and recently drafted Phillip Adams are all considered pretty average; in some of those cases maybe below.
So with that said, it's highly probable that the Niners will target Patrick Peterson or Prince Amukamara with their first selection. The possibility of drafting a quarterback is not out of the question necessarily but with a not-so-strong class of quarterbacks, this may be San Francisco's number one priority in this year's draft.
Outside Linebacker: While this position has been debated over quite a bit among the "Faithful's" fan base of where the priority should be, it still appears from last year that the Niners could stand to get a bit better here. But it really is up for debate.
In 2009, the 49ers were tied for 3rd in the league in sacks. In 2010, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky began running his defense a bit more like a Cover 2. Hence, the drop in production. The 49ers simply weren't going after the quarterback as much as they were in '09.
Although speculation is out there in that the 49ers could be targeting Von Miller from Texas A&M, with the other needs it just seems hard to justify a first-round selection on a tier three need when there may not be free agency and the draft possibly being the only source to address the other two needs.
The firing of Mike Singletary and the hiring of Jim Harbaugh has given the 49ers a fresh face and possible fresh start. Although the new head coach is not currently allowed to meet or talk to his players, the players seem eager to play for him and have been working out in groups across the nation on their own. This says that they may be more dedicated to player for this coach than the last who at times seemed to be out of his element and lost.
In conjunction with a new head coach, there is a chance that there could be a new quarterback as well. With that potential combination, it could in and of itself turn things around for the five-time Superbowl winning storied franchise.
There's plenty of talent there already, it just needs to be channeled and used correctly. Harbaugh seems like a guy who knows how to use his players to their strengths.
This could be a new beginning for the 49ers... if not, the glory years may just be behind them.