The San Francisco 49ers had one of the most exciting yet gut-wrenching seasons in the history of their franchise. For the second season in a row, they won the NFC West. In the NFC Championship, they came back from a 17-0 deficit to advance to the Super Bowl.
But then, after trailing 28-6 to the Ravens, the lights went out in the Superdome, and the 49ers offense turned on. They had first-and-goal to go ahead 37-34 and pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. But, as 49ers fans all know, they could not get five yards and walked off to the offseason in a sea of purple, not red and gold, confetti…
When 2013 is brought up in the future, most 49ers fans won’t want to talk about it. It is hard to view the season as a step in the right direction when they were steps away from lifting the Lombardi trophy, a fervent “Who’s got it better than us?” postgame speech, a memorable parade in San Francisco and one of the greatest seasons in team history.
Yes. It hurts. But not many expected such a quick turnaround under the watch of now third-year coach Jim Harbaugh. In hindsight, San Francisco could have won it all the past two seasons – don’t forget in 2012 the infamous fumble by Kyle Williams.
Enough of the past, that is behind us. Lets look towards the future. Tired of looking back on all of the negative moments in the past couple seasons?
Good. Now lets look to the areas of concern for the 2014 season. Insert evil laugh
Even though the 49ers are picked by odds-makers in Vegas as the pre-season favorite to win the Super Bowl and beat the curse of the previous year’s Super Bowl loser not making it back to the big game the following season, just like any other team, there are always positions and areas to be a bit concerned about.
Since the 49ers are among the NFL’s best, the list is obviously a lot shorter than many teams. But no team in the history of sports is ever perfect, and here are five topics that we don’t know the answer to for the 2013-2014 NFL season.
Before we get started, let’s get one thing straight – don’t be concerned about a sophomore slump for QB Colin Kaepernick. His ability to throw the football with speed and accuracy is among the best in the league. Not to mention his ability to torch defenses with his legs, rarely taking a big hit, running with speed (a la his 78 yard run against Green Bay, in which he basically made Charles Woodson look his age), and confusing defenders with the read-option. You can ask DE Josh Boyd of Green Bay.
Barring a huge hit that knocks him out for the year, he is not to worry about. Here is what to be a bit more concerned about for the upcoming season.
REPLACING DASHON GOLDSON
Simply put, no single player will be able to replace the fear Dashon Goldson put into defenses, as well his production. Eric Reid, the 49ers first round pick out of LSU, is widely expected to take his spot in the starting lineup.
And while Harbaugh and Vic Fangio have praised Reid during training camp, it is most likely that he will not alone make up for Goldson. Then again, who am I to say that? Nobody (except Jim Harbaugh) expected the level of play that Aldon Smith has provided. To start the season, it will most likely take a team effort to replace the void left by Goldson.
FRANK GORE – ONE HIT AWAY?
It is the question that seems to be asked before every season. Is Frank Gore slowing down? Is this the last high level year of his career? Will one big hit to his knees knock him out for good?
Frank Gore is special – he is not the biggest, strongest or fastest, but he finds the right holes to run the ball and he stays durable. Odds are that he will give the Niners another 1,000 yard season as usual, because he is Frank Gore. San Francisco should be able to keep him fresh throughout the season with Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, two running backs who bring different aspects to the game, backing him up. But still count on Gore being on the field for the biggest moments of the game.
There have been many different takes on the cornerback situation by many Golden Gate Sports staff writers. It is likely that Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown will be the starters, but with Chris Culliver out for the season, it gets a bit dicy.
Nnamdi Asomugha was signed in the offseason, but nobody knows how much he has to offer. Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox are battling for roster spots. The most interesting case is Eric Wright, a player who the 49ers acquired from Tampa Bay, failed his physical, had the trade nullified, got cut by the Bucs, became a free agent, signed with San Francisco, and then was placed on the non football injury list.
Got all of that? Even though he was not impressive as a Buccaneer, San Francisco saw something in him they wanted and it will be interesting to see how he is incorporated.
THE SMITH BROTHERS
With Alex Smith gone, only two Smiths remain. When Justin Smith was out for the last few weeks of the season, the 49ers defense suffered, big time. Nobody could get to the QB, as Aldon Smith didn’t have his right-hand man. Justin returned for the playoffs, but was clearly a different player and had a below average performance in the Super Bowl.
He may never be the player he once was, and his career is winding down. Aldon Smith, now it is your turn to be the man. Can he prove to the NFL that he can be one of the best defensive ends without relying on his brother, Justin?
WIDE RECEIVER SITUATION
If there was anything to critique about Kaepernick’s passing game, it was that he would target wideout Michael Crabtree far more than any other receiver on the team. It worked for the most part as Kaepernick thrived, as did Crabtree. But going into training camp, Kaep wanted to make sure he developed strong bonds, both personal and on the field, with all receivers. With Crabtree out for most of the season after suffering an injury to his Achilles tendon, Kaepernick now has to.
The 49ers traded for Anquan Boldin, who had an amazing playoffs and even better Super Bowl performance for the Ravens. He will be listed as the number one, but he is not getting any younger. Regardless, he will be relied upon to be a big time playmaker. Vernon Davis will have to be an integral part of the 49ers passing attack. He and Kaepernick clicked against the Bears on Monday Night Football but then went cold for a while. However, Davis had more than 100 receiving yards in both the NFC championship and Super Bowl. He has been lining up at WR more often in training camp as well.
Mario Manningham was having a nice season for San Francisco before being injured late in the year. He will be back within the first few weeks of the season and will be expected to have a bigger role this season. Austin Collie, who the 49ers signed as a free agent, is a sleeper and definite wild card.
While many fans associate one play when they hear Kyle Williams, he is a big part of the passing game and will have more playing time with Crabtree out. Can rookie TE Vance McDonald replace the production of Delanie Walker?
Every team has their flaws. The 49ers may have some areas of concern, but their positives outweigh the negatives. Expect them to be one of the best in the league and make a run towards the Super Bowl.