2013 felt sort of like a setback for the San Francisco 49ers, having been to the Super Bowl the previous year. It really wasn’t, but there were certainly some areas for improvement. With that in mind, lets consider some underachievers from last season.
On offense, there’s a lot to be criticized. A lack of a legitimate second wide receiver for the majority of the season hurt them considerably. Rookie Quinton Patton didn’t see much playing time and didn’t have much production to show for it. He headlines my list of underachievers of 2013. A breakout season from the rookie would have impacted the overall confidence of the offense, much like it did when Michael Crabtree was back to full strength.
While Frank Gore had an outstanding season and his backup Kendall Hunter had a decent season, but LaMichael James didn’t start to shine until he was tapped for return duties late in the season. Fate hasn’t created an ideal situation for him, either, and his production doesn’t much look to increase this season since he’s part of a very talented backfield.
Rookie tight end Vance McDonald spent almost all this time as a blocker and wasn’t ever a really legitimate threat, even when his duties weren’t skewed towards power football. Hopefully an offseason with Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin can keep the kid’s mind fresh and gain him some experience to line up opposite Davis.
My final vote on offense goes to center Jonathan Goodwin. He’s an established veteran, earned a Super Bowl ring and from all accounts a very good human being. Throwing all that out the window, I felt like he really lapsed in pass blocking this past season. I felt like play after play he got beat more and more often as the season went on. If it was an issue of conditioning, I might feel OK, I just felt like more and more it related to losing some skill. We’ll see next season, I suppose.
I feel like things get a little muddier on defense. I can essentially ignore the entire stable of linebackers and defensive ends. I’ll focus first on Carlos Rogers. Picked up in free agency before the 2011 season, he looked like a bit of a liability. He answered that first impression with a very good season and was rewarded with a four-year contract. Unfortunately, his play was not sustained at that level this past season and made it hard for the 49ers secondary to be a legitimate threat.
Again in the secondary, I point my finger at Donte Whitner. As much as I love the hard-hitting safety, I can’t help but think someone just a little faster to adjust wouldn’t serve the 49ers a little better. The addition of Eric Reid after the departure of Dashon Goldson helped Whitner a significant amount, but lapses certainly factor in.
Honorable Mention: I feel like I can’t help but add Greg Roman to this list. I will say it to anyone who listens; there is a time to be cute and there is a time to be aggressive. The 49ers roster favors an aggressive play call, and if I can determine what a play is going to be prior to the snap you can bet the defense can to. Some consistent, smart, play calling is going to make a huge difference in the clutch games next season.
All in all, there were a few random issues for every player like there is every season, but few were catastrophic. Clearly the talent level is high, and that makes mistakes seem less costly. Hopefully the coming additions via free agency and the draft will improve the team and finally see them hoist their sixth Lombardi trophy.