2011 San Francisco 49ers: Talent Galore
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The keyword thrown at the fanbase for the 49ers heading in to free agency was "patience".
Much of the fanbase for the first couple days of free agency were in an uproar over the very concept of "patience". This was largely due to the fact that the 49ers were doing much of nothing in bringing anybody on to fill the obvious holes on both sides of the ball. All the while they watched free agent player after player leave San Francisco for modest contracts elsewhere.
Shortly after the Nnamdi Asomugha sweepstakes ended and other big-named free agents were off the market, and once the dust settled, the 49ers finally started making moves.
The defensive side of the ball was addressed by bringing in the likes of players Carlos Rogers (54 tackles, 2 interceptions), Madieu Williams (75 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack), and most recently Donte Whitner (140 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack).
While the additions seem modest on the surface, it seems that most feel that all three of these players just needed a change of scenery from their previous situations to advance their careers. Time will tell whether that holds true or not.
While the defense still has some uncertainty, it is very apparent that the front office and coaches felt like they needed to do a bit of house-cleaning on the mess the previous regime left behind.
Offensively, the 49ers will no longer have to rely on the "three yards and a cloud of dust" mentality or a feeble-minded conservative approach. This could lead to a lot more manageable third downs and more first downs on a first down. A much, much more diverse playbook should benefit talents across the board.
The offense may not see significant improvements immediately. There will be some bugs to work out. However, it's difficult to see the team going any further backwards than they did last season. Harbaugh's "if you're not getting better, you're getting worse" mantra, as Ricky Bobby-esque as it is, is still a powerful message. The team has adopted the attitude quite well in camp so far.
The first major concern of the shortened offseason was Frank Gore and the concern about a long holdout for a better contract. Good thing for 49ers fans that Frank Gore missed football and missed being with his teammates, because the holdout did not last long at all.
Gore has been the biggest piece to the 49ers offense for as long as he has been a pro and is a major piece to the West Coast offense's success. He will be used unsparingly in both the run game and the pass game. But running backs "Boobie" Dixon (to use his Twitter name), in his second season, and rookie Kendall Hunter should see some touches as well to help keep Gore healthy all season long.
Shortly after Gore's return, the 49ers added two major players in Braylon Edwards (2007 Pro Bowler with the Browns) and Jonathan Goodwin (Super Bowl XLIV center) to spruce up the offense.
With uncertainty about wide receiver Michael Crabtree's injury to his foot, the addition of Braylon Edwards at such a bargain price is one of the lowest-risk high-reward acquisitions of the year. If Crabtree can maintain his health all year, then the 49ers could have one of the best wide receiver tandems in the NFC this year.
Vernon Davis will no doubt be a major part of the 49ers' new offense. He has turned into one of the best tight ends in the league, if not the best in the last couple of years. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has been known to utilize his tight ends frequently in his previous offenses. So Vernon should see no shortage of targets in 2011 and will be set up for another Pro Bowl season.
The offensive line was majorly upgraded with the addition Jon Goodwin at the center position.
While David Baas did a decent job at filling in for the year for injured center Eric Heitmann, he was hardly worth the contract that the New York Giants wound up paying him with so little experience there.
Mike Iupati played at near-Pro Bowl level last year as a rookie and turned some heads. Those heads should stay turned this year and he should receive much more attention, as he will continue to progress at the left guard position.
The interior of the line is set up real nice for Frank Gore, who is capable of finding the smallest creases in opposing defenses for big gains.
The biggest concern is still at the quarterback position. While Alex Smith is the proclaimed starter, Colin Kaepernick has shown so far in camp that he is right behind Smith, breathing down his neck. Chances are that Harbaugh has "smelt both their breaths" and will continue to do so all year long while he evaluates each.
If Smith does not excel with Harbaugh molding him, and is not producing at the level Harbaugh and Roman need him to, it is not so far out of the realm of possibility that the 49ers could see their rookie quarterback take over.
Both Vernon Davis and Frank Gore have been very impressed with the 36th-overall pick thus far—as I am sure the coaching staff has been as well.
Before free agency, the 49ers seemed as though they'd be drafting top five in next year's draft. It appears that those same 49ers could be in the discussion as the leaders once again to win the NFC West.
All in all, it seems as though "patience" may, after all the losing seasons, finally pay off for Niner fans across the world.
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