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With training camp underway, the 49ers have begun another run at the Super Bowl. As they attempt to repeat as NFC Champions and ultimately finish the deal, here are 5 predictions for the 2013 season.
Frank Gore bucks the trend of running backs hitting a wall at age 30
Gore is coming off of a season that saw him carry the ball 321 times over 19 games. Both are career highs. The only other time he eclipsed 300 carries in a season was in 2006 when he had 312. That workload, combined with him turning 30, could slow him down in 2013.
While a decline would make sense, I don't think it's going to happen. The reason I think Gore will buck this trend is because of the way the 49ers will use him. He's not a back who will carry the ball 20-25 times a game. In fact, over Harbaugh's two seasons as head coach, Gore has averaged 16.8 carries a game. Looking deeper, his regular season carries have declined from 282 in 2011 to 258 in 2012. Look for that trend to continue as Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James take some of the work load off of Gore. Keeping Gore fresh and effective through (what the 49ers hope) is a 19 or 20 game season will be the goal.
Nnamdi Asomugha will not only make the team, but START
Asomugha was a bad fit in Philadelphia. The Eagles played a lot of off coverage and zone which did not mesh with Asomugha's physical style. At 6'2 and 215 pounds, Nnamdi likes to rely on his long arms and strength to play man coverage. The 49ers coaching staff is very good at putting players in a position to play to their strengths and it's likely Asomugha could thrive again by the bay,
The other factor in Asomugha's resurgence is the fact that his career hangs in the balance. He signed a 1-year deal with the Niners that does not guarantee him any money. He'll be motivated to not only earn his contract this season, but to get set up for a bigger payday next year. The situation could be comparable to Carlos Rogers where the 49ers caught lightening in a bottle when he was signed to a 1-year deal in 2011. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has said that Rogers is his best slot corner. The 49ers may use him there exclusively after a down year in 2012. With Chris Culliver still developing, Asomugha has a great opportunity to start opposite Tarell Brown.
Vernon Davis will gain 1,000 yards receiving
By now everyone has heard that Davis has been taking snaps at wide receiver. What that means is that the 49ers view him as a candidate to play outside when needed (not exclusively) this season. Davis has always been a versatile threat in the passing game and because of his size and speed he is a matchup nightmare for defenses. The 49ers need Davis to be an active part of their games plan week in and week out. He will most likely be moved around in different formations as the team looks to replace the production they lost with the injury to Michael Crabtree.
Over the last six games of 2012, Davis only caught 6 passes for 61 yards. Whether it was by design or it just took time to get in sync with Colin Kaepernick, Davis appeared to be an afterthought in the offense. That all changed in the playoffs, however, as Davis exploded for 12 receptions with 254 yards and a score. The Vernon Davis that was on display in the playoffs is the one the 49ers will need to count on week in and week out. With his importance in the offense restored, Davis should eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career.
Glenn Dorsey will be one of the most underrated pickups in the NFL
Dorsey has been seen as a disappointment so far in his young career because he has failed to make the kind of impact he was projected to when coming out of LSU. Experts compared him to Warren Sapp, which may have been unfair. Dorsey is not a flashy, pass rushing defensive lineman. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Dorsey ranked 32nd out of 37 amongst defensive ends in pass rush productivity in 2011 and last in 2010. What Dorsey is, is a grind it out workman like player who eats up blockers and plays the run well. In the four games Dorsey played in 2012, he ranked second amongst defensive ends in the NFL in run stop percentage.
It's safe to say that the 49ers knew what they were getting when they signed Dorsey this offseason. They don't need him to provide a pass rush. It's likely he won't even see the field in passing situations as the 49ers would move Justin Smith and Ray McDonald inside. What Dorsey will be is a space eater who clogs running lanes and allows Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman to run around and make tackles. It won't show up in the stat sheet, but Dorsey will be a huge pick up for the 49ers' defense and help the players around him have big seasons.
Greg Roman will leave for a head coaching job after the season
Okay, so this is more of a prediction for 2014, but there is a good chance that Roman may have been gone already if the 49ers did not make the Super Bowl. He was heavily rumored to be at the top of the Jacksonville Jaguars wish list but the team decided to hire Gus Bradley instead of waiting for Roman. This season, deep playoff run or not, Roman will be a goner. One interesting landing spot for him would be with the New York Jets. Rex Ryan is the captain of a sinking ship and it's likely the team would want an offensive mind after years of Ryan's "ground and pound" producing poor results.
While the 49ers would miss Roman and his innovative offensive design, this is Jim Harbaugh's team and the offense (especially the quarterback play) is an extension of him. They could replace Roman in house with quarterback's coach Geep Chryst or look elsewhere, but either way it's likely the 49ers will have a solid plan in place should Roman exit.