San Francisco 49ers: How Important Is This Preseason Game?

Patrick HightowerContributor IAugust 12, 2011

SANTA CLARA, CA - JULY 30: Mike Person #78 and Joe Staley #74 of the San Francisco 49ers participate in drills during practice at the San Francisco 49ers training facility on July 30, 2011 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Preseason football: Is it a simple exhibition, a casual display or a last-chance practice with some full contact? To the casual fan, preseason football means absolutely nothing. Most consider it an outrage to pay face value for a ticket when the starters are lucky to play more than one series.

To the San Francisco 49ers, this 2011-12 preseason means a lot more this year than any other season. This is especially true when the team is already dealing with an abbreviated camp and preseason because of the lockout. Here are some reasons why:

More preparation under new coaching regime—under the previous head coaching staffs of Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, the 49ers have had to deal with some questionable game-management decisions. Some of these decisions include challenging missed field goals, off-tackle running plays on fourth downs when it was clear that the 49ers needed at least two yards, delay-of-game penalties and unnecessary timeouts.

Many would question whether another rookie coach in Jim Harbaugh is going to be a successful way to build a team. One thing is certain, however. If one chooses to look at Harbaugh’s successes in previous programs, like the University of San Diego and Stanford University, his records speak for themselves. 

At the University of San Diego, the Toreros had an overall record of 29-6, which included back-to-back 11-1 seasons. The same can be said with his success at Stanford University, where the Cardinal finished 29-21 overall during his tenure,  including a 20-6 record over the past two seasons.

Therefore, one can conclude this:  The current 49ers' staff led by Jim Harbaugh, and featuring assistant coaches Vic Fangio, Jim Tomsula and Greg Roman, will certainly help the 49ers be more prepared to manage, and hopefully win more football games than previous coaching staffs from the last seven years.

Development of a long-term quarterback—some may consider this a simple concept, but the answer may be more complex than you think.  Technically, the 49ers began the season with David Carr as the only quarterback on their roster. Once the draft concluded, former Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick was added to their roster. Finally, once the lockout ended, the 49ers had little choice but to re-sign Alex Smith for one more year. Now that Carr is off the roster, will Harbaugh be able to lead Smith and Kaepernick towards strides of improvement? Also, after a handful of sessions of “Camp Alex (some mini camps held by Alex Smith at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, CA), is Smith ready to be more of a vocal leader of this team? With the praise of Kaepernick from Harbaugh, and if the 49ers get off to a shaky start to their regular season, will there be a quarterback controversy, or a demand for offensive change? 

Tonight’s preseason match against the Saints may answer more of these questions than you think.  The regular season will be starting before you know it, and the 49ers must answer at least some of these questions before the first play of the regular season.