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Will Colin Kaepernick take a step back in his development?
@chans206 "Can Kaep avoid the ("sophomore") 2nd season slump common to young NFL QB's?"
Kaepernick was nothing short of amazing last season. From the moment he took the field as a starter, he dazzled fans with his rocket arm and gazelle like strides. But the two things that really made Kaepernick special were his decision making and his ability to bring the team back from a deficit.
In 298 attempts, the young quarterback was only intercepted five times. Some of the credit for that has to go to Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman as they put Kaepernick in situations he was comfortable in. But Colin deserves a lot of credit too for not making the mistakes so many inexperienced quarterbacks do. The only real blemish that sticks out is the late lateral fumble against the Rams that cost the team the game, but that was more an isolated incident than any kind of a trend. In the playoffs, Kaepernick showed he had ice in his veins bringing his team from behind against the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons. He did it again on the biggest stage of all in the Super Bowl. Even though he came 5 yards short, it shouldn't diminish the guts and poise he showed bringing his team back.
With all of the buzz around Kaepernick, it's easy to forget how inexperienced he really is. All of his early success does not mean he won't have some growing pains along the way. With any young quarterback, there are going to be some bumps along the road. Teams will have plenty of tape to study on the 49ers' offense and defenses will adjust to what they see on film. Also, the 49ers open the season with two very tough games against the Packers and the Seahawks. If the team starts 0-2 does any kind of panic set in?
Ultimately, Kaepernick has the talent, drive, and coaching to overcome any trials and tribulations that might come his way. He's on track to be the next NFL superstar, but that doesn't mean their won't be rough patches ahead.
@isaacl6718 "How much will the offense expand with Kap getting a whole offseason?"
The 49ers will be able to use more of the playbook with Kaepernick getting a full offseason as the starter. Greg Roman is one of the most imaginitive play callers in the game and with an athlete like Kaepernick behind center, the sky is the limit. Having said that, I think the Niners will still do what they do. They are going to run the ball and feature two tight end sets. The addition of Anquan Boldin will help in the passing game, but don't expect the team to be airing it out every week. One variable that can make a huge difference is the consistent involvement of Vernon Davis in the passing game. Vernon is a matchup nightmare for defenses and can dominate a game. I'd like to see him used in the game plan similar to the way they did in the payoffs rather than the end of last season. The offense is just more explosive when Davis is getting the ball down field.
Can Frank Gore still carry the load at Age 30?
Frank Gore is an "All Time 49er" in every sense of the phrase. It's likely no other player will wear the number 21 once he's gone. Gore, who will be 30 when camp opens, has carried the ball 2,003 times in his career (including the playoffs). He's coming off of a season where he played 19 games and had 321 total carries. The only other time Gore eclipsed 300 carries was his second season in 2006 when he had 312. That workload, coupled with his age, could slow his production in 2013.
It's hard to believe that the 49er's expect Gore to be a 20 carry a game work horse back in the regular season. The past two years under Harbaugh, he's averaged 16.8 carries per game. He's also seen his carries dip from 282 in 2011 to 258 in 2012. That trend will continue as Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are mixed into the offense.
Gore hasn't shown any signs of slowing down but running backs can hit a wall quickly. The 49ers will count on him as they always do to be the complete back that he is, but will limit his touches enough so he stays fresh throughout a long season. Odds are he has enough left in the tank for one more productive campaign.
@caseydraftnik "Does Gore reach the 10k club this year? If not does he reach it with the 49ers at all?"
Gore is only 1,161 yards away from 10,000 career rushing yards. He's rushed for 1,211 and 1214 yards the last two season so if he has similar production it's possible. Gore is due to make over six million dollars in 2014. With looming Kapernick and Aldon Smith contract extensions, you have to wonder if the 49ers would go the cheaper route with Lattimore, Hunter, and James (assuming Lattimore is healthy) next year. Could this be Gore's last season in red and gold?
Did the 49ers do enough to address depth on the defensive line?
Glenn Dorsey could really end up being a steal in free agency. If anyone can get him to reach his potential, it's Jim Tomsula. But Dorsey projects to play nose tackle and he lacks experience at the position. Dorsey is intriguing as a backup to Justin Smith and Ray McDonald at defensive end as well and it will be interesting to see how, if at all, they rotate the line. The 49ers rarely substitute on defense. Ian Williams has never played meaningful snaps but looks to have an inside track to at least be the back up nose tackle. The wild cards here are the rookies. What can the they expect from Tank Carradine? Can Quinton Dial even make the team? They will bring Carradine along slowly, most likely mixing him in on passing downs at defensive end. Tank could be a star, but it may take some time. If Smith or McDonald go down for an extended period of time, the 49ers could have some of the same problems they did last year keeping teams off the scoreboard.
Will the secondary bounce back after a tough post season?
It's hard to say the secondary will be better because they lost their best player in Dashon Goldson. Whether it's Craig Dahl or rookie Eric Reid starting, there will likely be a drop off at free safety. The 49ers need a good year out of Donte Whitner to help on the back end. What's going to be interesting is seeing how cornerback plays out.
The 49ers had a lot of trouble with big, physical receivers in the playoffs so they went out and signed a big physical corner in Nnamdi Asomugha. Come September, Asomugha could be starting or he could be looking for work. Given his non guaranteed contract, he may not even make the team if he has a poor preseason. While Carlos Rogers' play could slip again because of age, Chris Culliver and Tarell Brown could be in for career years. Super Bowl aside, Culliver has played very well over the past two seasons. In his third campaign, he could come into his own as a solid NFL starter. For Brown, he's most likely auditioning for other teams. While not spectacular, Brown is a solid corner and will get a big contract when he hits free agency after the season. It's unlikely the 49ers break the bank to bring him back.
The real answer to this question though doesn't have as much to do with the secondary itself as it does with the pass rush. If Justin and Aldon Smith are themselves and the 49ers front seven are getting pressure, the secondary will be fine. If there isn't a consistent pass rush, it doesn't really matter who is back there covering.
@ElvinPritchard "Can AJ Jenkins make an impact or is he truly a bust?'
I'm not even sure the coaching staff has an answer to this one yet. Wide receiver is one of those positions where it may take a player three years before the light goes on. The issue with that for Jenkins is the 49ers are in the Super Bowl hunt year in and year out and they don't have time for him to go through growing pains for that long. Even worse for Aj, newly drafted Quinton Patton seems to be the antithesis of Jenkins. While Jenkins showed up to rookie mini camp out of shape last year, Patton impressed the 49ers with his eagerness to get on the field when he tried to report to the team almost right away. Aside from media introductions after they are drafted, rookies are not allowed at the team facility until the start of rookie mini camp. The team told Patton he had to wait, but this quote from Jim Harbaugh says it all:
"The fact that he would buy his own ticket, fly out here, just speaks volumes about him. To be honest with you, he reminds me of me. That's something I would have done. I love it." Jenkins better show up to camp ready to play this year.
Can the 49ers get over the hump and win the Super Bowl THIS year?
It's gotten to the point with the 49ers where anything less than a championship is going to be disappointing. Under Harbuagh, they've gotten close and then closer only to see the season end in heartbreak. While this team should be seen as the front runner to win it all in 2013, it's not necessarily the end of the world if they don't. In the NFL, it's extremely difficult to make it to two straight Conference Championship games, let alone three in a row. With Alex Smith at quarterback, the 49ers had more of a window to try and get it done. Alex needed to have things neat and tidy around him. If Kaepernick continues to develop, he's the type of player who can take over a game. He can have the same affect a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers has where just having him behind center can mean a ten win season. Combine a franchise quarterback with a great head coach and smart front office and the 49ers will be in the championship hunt for a long time. So while they have a great chance to win the Super Bowl this year, odds may be stacked against them.
***Thanks to the great 49er fans on Twitter for submitting some of the questions for the article***