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Here are a few reasons, in no particular order, why I am excited about the San Francisco 49ers' upcoming season. The 49ers fell short of a sixth championship and will look to redeem themselves this season. They will open up the 2013 season at Candlestick Park in San Francisco against the Green Bay Packers, a team that they eliminated from the playoffs last season.
Tickets to watch the 49ers host the Packers on September 8, 2013
Colin Kaepernick's second year as a starter
Kaepernick news during the offseason has been focused on the antics of the 49ers' young and talented quarterback. He was criticized for wearing a Miami Dolphins hat and followed that up with a nude appearance in ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue. With the regular season just around the corner, we can now focus on actual headlines that have to do with football.
Kaepernick stormed onto the scene in 2012 after a concussion sidelined starting quarterback Alex Smith during week 10. He quickly became a fan favorite as the 49ers continued to win down the stretch. He became a household name when he led a postseason charge that put the 49ers into the Super Bowl.
Amid his offseason headlines, Kaepernick passed Robert Griffin III as the top-selling NFL jersey. He will likely be a fantasy football favorite which will put even more eyeballs on him. Expectations are even higher and it will be interesting to see how the already exciting player improves.
Word out of training camp is that Kaepernick has improved and looks good. We'll see if that translates into the regular season.
Nnamdi Asomugha is out to prove himself
It will be interesting to see which Nnamdi Asomugha will show up in 2013. The 49ers acquired the three-time Pro Bowler on a one-year deal that could be worth up to $3 million if the cornerback proves himself. The deal didn't make the same kind of headlines that his signing in Philadelphia made just two years ago. Why? His performance with the Eagles was nearly forgettable. However, a lot of his early troubles may have been due to what Asomugha was asked to do in Philadelphia. He was asked to fit himself into the team's zone coverage defense rather than play to his strength -- press coverage. The Eagles positioned him away from the line of scrimmage, something that he did not do in Oakland. This took him out of his comfort zone and was likely a big reason for his Philadelphia meltdown. Even last year, when the Eagles tried to change things up for him, he was unable to match up well against elite receivers without help. His confidence had already been picked apart.
In San Francisco, he may fare much better. It was apparent that one of the 49ers' biggest weaknesses during the postseason was their pass defense, which ranked fourth during the regular season. The team's defensive scheme is more in line with Asomugha's strengths and comfort zone. The 49ers rely on a pass rush that leaves the corners free to play a little more aggressively, knowing that they will have some help in coverage.
If Asomugha can even remotely return to his pre-Philadelphia form, the signing will have a big positive impact on the team's pass defense. If not, the team is only committed to him for one season and he will be on his way out.
The 49ers will look to overcome adversity
The 49ers' 2012 season ended with the team just 5-yards shy of a sixth Super Bowl championship. I am still convinced that the Super Bowl ended with the lesser of the two participating teams winning and it took a while to get over that. Fresh in my memory are the images of heartbroken 49ers players on the sidelines and benches as congratulatory confetti rained from above onto the Baltimore Ravens. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to this level of disappointment.
The road back will not be an easy one. The 49ers have a very difficult schedule and they will attempt to be only the third team in NFL history to win the Super Bowl after losing it during the previous season. The last team to do it was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Perhaps Kaepernick should have pointed to this as the reason for his choice in headwear during the offseason.
Injuries are taking a toll on the 2013 49ers and the team has not even played a preseason game yet. The most impactful injury so far has been the injury to starting wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who tore his Achilles in May and will likely miss the majority of the season. Receiver Mario Manningham tore knee ligaments on December 23rd and is unlikely to play in any preseason games.
Two rookies, defensive lineman Cornellius "Tank" Carradine and running back Marcus Lattimore, are on the active/non-football injury list. Both are coming off of college knee injuries. Carradine is expected to contribute this season, but the 49ers are in no hurry to rush Lattimore back onto the field and may sit him until 2014.
On July 31st, linebacker Patrick Willis fractured his right hand for the third time in seven years. Both previous times, he played with a cast on his hand and he is expected to be ready for the regular season. More serious is the injury to cornerback Chris Culliver, who went down during practice and suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on August 1st.
Anquan Boldin switches sides
One of the most underrated acquisitions of the offseason had to be the 49ers trading for wide receiver Anquan Boldin in March. What makes this trade even more spectacular was the fact that the 49ers got a starting caliber receiver for a mere sixth-round draft pick. Boldin, who was playing against his current team in the Super Bowl back in February, had his way with the 49ers cornerbacks on his way to six receptions, 104 yards and a touchdown. Entering his 11th NFL season, Boldin has remained fairly consistent year after year. Although, his best years were clearly from his days in Arizona. He missed only three games in the past three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, where he had 186 receptions for 2,645 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Boldin has a reputation of being a tough and physical receiver with elite hands, something that the 49ers were lacking in 2012. However, at age 32, you have to wonder how much longer he can keep up his solid play.
The question mark appears to be on the opposite side of Boldin...
The wide receiver competition
Injuries to 49ers wide receivers should help the younger guys, who would otherwise get less snaps during training camp, improve and compete for playing time when it counts.
Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are watching from the sidelines. Williams recently suffered a hamstring injury. That has left second-year player A.J. Jenkins (0 career receptions), rookie Quinton Patton, Chad Hall (14 career receptions), Ricardo Lockette (2 career receptions), Kassim Osgood (44 career receptions), and Marlon Moore (12 career receptions) to compete for the X-receiver spot.
Even among that group, A.J. Jenkins and Kassim Osgood have missed some time with hamstring injuries.
The youth and inexperience among the 49ers' receivers has prompted the team to bring in free agents like Austin Collie and Laurent Robinson for workouts just to get some more experienced bodies into practices.
The nice thing about this competition is that even the losers will gain more experience than they otherwise would have. This will be useful for depth at the position once Crabtree returns later in the season.
The best group of linebackers in the NFL
The fact that they will be facing a linebacker group that consists of Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks has to make game planning a challenge for opposing offensive coordinators. Three of those four players cracked the Top 100 Players of 2013 as voted by NFL players. This group is fast, capable of creating a fierce pass rush and deliver devastating tackles.
With Willis signed through 2016, Bowman signed through 2018, and Brooks signed through 2017, this group could be together for a long time.
49ers versus Seahawks rivalry
Many consider the 49ers to be the best team heading into the 2013 season. If that is true, then the Seattle Seahawks are probably a close second and there isn't much love between these two franchises.
Seattle fans dislike 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. For San Francisco, if you don't dislike Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, then you probably dislike obnoxious players like cornerback Richard Sherman. Seattle fans feel that Russell Wilson is the best quarterback in the NFC West while us 49ers fans know that it is Colin Kaepernick that takes that crown. Seattle fans jumped on the news when 49ers starting receiver Michael Crabtree went down with an injury and were ready to declare themselves the 2013 NFC West Champions before a single game had even been played. Later, San Francisco fans were not disappointed by the news of Seahawks starting receiver Percy Harvin having to miss the majority of the season. The Seahawks stocked up on pass rushers to get to Kaepernick. Harbaugh took a jab at the Seahawks after their recent rash of PED suspensions -- and then went out and tried to trade for cornerback Eric Wright who had served a four-game suspension last year for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. But that's ok because that trade fell through, right?
Tickets to watch the 49ers host the Seahawks on December 8, 2013
The 49ers and the Seahawks are the two best teams in the NFL and are in what will probably be the best defensive division in the league. One of two things will happen to whoever comes out on top within the NFC West. They will either have some amazing luck by being relatively healthy and emerge battle tested, or they will be so beat up from facing top caliber defenses all season long that their postseason journey will be a short one. Either way, the race in the NFC West should be an interesting one and this rivalry will be one of the most watched this season.
A fond farewell to Candlestick
The 2013 season will be the 49ers' last at Candlestick Park. Next season, the team will move into their new home, Levi's Stadium, in Santa Clara. Candlestick Park was opened in 1960 and the 49ers played their first game there in 1971. The 49ers will play their final regular season game at Candlestick Park on Monday, December 23, 2013 against the Atlanta Falcons. This game will be the facility's 36th and final game on Monday Night Football, the most at any stadium used by the NFL.
Tickets to the final regular season game at Candlestick Park
During the team's final season there, a Farewell Candlestick logo will be placed on the playing field. During the offseason, the 49ers organization asked fans to vote on the top 10 greatest moments in Candlestick Park history. The winners of those moments grace the fronts of each game ticket this season (2 preseason and 8 regular season). The team will also feature a video prior to each game that corresponds to each great moment found on that game's ticket.
The return of the 49ers Quentin font
This one may just be for me, but OMG OMG OMG! The 49ers text logos in the end zones will return to classic Quentin font from the glory years! I despise the current text logos. I don't even care that the font used in the current text logo is the same as the S and F found in the team's primary logo. I am a fan of all things throwback. I loved it when the 49ers switched back their classic style jerseys (with a few minor tweaks). I still wish we could see a return of the team's 1994 season throwbacks every now and then.
This may just be a little thing and I may be in the minority when it comes to those that care about such things, but I think this is a nice little touch to Candlestick Park's farewell season.
My son's first 49ers season
I am a second generation 49ers fan. When my first child, Jacob, was born in May, I looked forward to making him a third generation fan. He already proudly sports his 49ers onesies and bibs, often spitting up on both. Not to worry, he likes to spit up on everything -- and then laughs about it. While he most likely will never remember it, this will be his first season watching the 49ers on television with dad. We only make it to a couple of games a year and he is much to young to attend with us so he will miss out on Candlestick Park's final season. Levi's Stadium will have to be his familiar sports home away from home. Hopefully, he grows up appreciating the team's rich history and when he is ready, we hope he enjoys attending games as much as mom and dad.