This has probably been the worst offseason that the 49ers have ever had – and it's most definitely the worst offseason the majority of 49ers fans have experienced. We're hearing the same thing from the likes of ESPN, ProFootballtalk.com, NFL.com, SI, and the other "Big Boys": it's all gloom and doom for the 49ers this year. The losses the Niners have incurred have been discussed to death and there's plenty of negativity out there. However, with training camp just around the corner, let's just put on our 49ers colored glasses and look at some of the reasons the 49ers WILL make a run at the playoffs.
Coaching changes could be a breath of fresh air
The premise is this: If the 49ers are a fundamentally sound football team on both sides of the ball, they'll make each other better because they practice against each other all week. "Iron Sharpens Iron", said Jim Harbaugh. Look, we've all heard the stories about how Harbaugh rubbed people the wrong way. We know how the team was divided and saw the chaos on Sundays, most notably on offense when the team was wasting time outs as the play clock ran out. The team ran almost as hot and cold as he did on the sidelines.
For all of the good that Jim Harbaugh did, I feel like we could have been better if a few simple things were addressed; things that Jim Tomsula and the new coaching staff are addressing now. The new staff will have different game plans, different ideas about personnel, and I can bet that Jim Tomsula won't let his ego get in the way of finding the right way to deal with Richard Sherman and the hated Seahawks.
One could argue that the Niners would be 6-0 in Super Bowls if the coaches simply managed the clock better. That 2nd down play from the 5 yard line in the Super Bowl keeps replaying in my head and every time I replay it, I'm still yelling at the TV for them to get the play off before the clock expires.
It seems like the current group is making it a priority to take care of the little details like tempo and clock management. Add in the experience that the assistant coaches like Jason Tarver and Eric Mangini bring and there is tremendous potential for the team to get better.
Now, I'm not setting any expectations or making any bold comparisons but in the glory days of the 80s and 90s, the 49ers took care of the little things and it showed on the field. I recall re-watching the game against the Patriots in 1989 that was played in Stanford Stadium. Bill Walsh was the analyst in the booth that day and had mentioned that Joe Montana had remarked that George Seifert coming in was like a "breath of fresh air". Sometimes, we just all need to breathe.
Players returning from Injury:
The 49ers led the league in players placed on IR last year. I'm almost positive that I received a text from Trent Baalke asking me what my 40 time was. At one point, the team was missing 8 out of the 22 starters during the Denver game last year. This year marks the return of Kendall Hunter, Vance McDonald, Daniel Kilgore, Glenn Dorsey, NaVorro Bowman, Jimmie Ward, and Tremaine Brock amongst others.
Just from a sheer numbers standpoint, the 49ers figure to stand a better chance with less injuries to key players and less injuries overall. Injuries forced the coaching staff to deviate from their normal game plans to account for the talent drop off that you may see going from a starter to, say, a third string tight end who was just activated from the practice squad (no offense, Derek Carrier). It's no surprise that the healthiest teams are usually the most successful. Count on the 49ers being healthier this year.
Key performers rebounding from a bad year:
A number of players underperformed last year. The following key contributors had career lows:
Colin Kaepernick* (QB Rating, QBR, YPA, TD/INT ratio)
Frank Gore**, Vernon Davis (receiving yards)
Patrick Willis** (tackles)
Michael Crabtree** (YPC)
Aldon Smith (tackles, sacks)
Justin Smith** (tackles)
*since becoming a starter in 2012 **no longer with team
Part of this can be attributed to injuries, part of it to scheme, but when the go-to-guys aren't performing like their usual selves, the team usually suffers.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Seattle Seahawks roster is littered with players that have set career bests in various categories over the last 2+ years. It's no secret that a big reason that the Seahawks are on top of the NFC is that they've been able to stay relatively healthy and get a high level of production from every one of their key players.
It is indeed odd that so many key players underperformed for the 49ers, but I feel safe in calling that a deviation from the norm. One of the downfalls of the previous regime was that they could not recognize players' strengths and put them in the best position to be successful. I trust that the hold overs from that regime – Geep Chryst, Mangini and Jim Tomsula – have learned from those mistakes and the players will respond. It's highly unlikely that, with a new coaching staff, this many of the team's top players will have back-to-back bad years.
Creating home field advantage at Levi's
The 49ers went 4-4 at Levi's last year, with 2 games against the Bears and Chargers that could have gone either way and came down to the last play. I understand that the "Field of Jeans" wasn't the most intimidating place to play but historically, the Niners have played well at home and I believe that will continue this year.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Athletes are creatures of habit and, as crazy as it sounds, maybe they'll feel more comfortable in their new digs after having a year to get used to it. Heck, the field had to be re-sodded 3 times before the players even got to play a regular season game on it! Additionally, it's adjusting to a whole new routine: waking up at a different time, driving a different way to work, playing in a different stadium than they're used to, and so on. Players shouldn't have to worry about that stuff every year and I trust that this year it's all sorted out.
Jed York had mentioned that Levi's Stadium was just a house right now, and that he wanted to make it a home. I'm confident that the 49ers can finish with a winning record at home and if that happens, they'll be right in the thick of things.
This team reminds me of the one we had in 2011. Expectations were low that year as well and we found a way to sneak up on the league and make it all the way to the NFC Championship Game. I get that same vibe from this year's team. Listening to the players and the beat writers who cover the team on a daily basis, it's almost like they know something that we don't. So let's put our pitchforks away for a little bit because this has the makings of a really special season.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
Comment: Just keep watching after the season starts mbniner, keep watching.
Date: July 22, 2015 at 10:46 AM
Comment: It was 2 championships and a Super Bowl appearance (remember the Crabtree-Sherman play?). There are many things to like about Harbaugh and I was enthused when he was hired. He sparked a talent loaded team and on the basis of a great defense and a very conservative offense achieved great things. However, he was touted as an offensive minded coach and a QB guru. That did not manifest itself. He helped Smith turn into a decent QB by limiting him to safe passes (remember the constant check-downs?) and pounding with Gore. But when we really did need the offense to step up on a consistent basis, it didn't happen. When did the last team without an offense win a Super Bowl? That's the bottom line. And his stubborn refusal to change was the last straw for management.
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: July 20, 2015 at 1:28 PM
Comment: Marty & mbniner if you were unhappy with Harbaugh and company after 3 straight NFC championships and a Super Bowl appearance, you better tape your ankles with this new bunch. You haven't even seen horrible yet.
Date: July 19, 2015 at 12:15 PM
You're right on. Harbaugh spent time at Stanford where he allegedly learned the Walsh Offense from the creator himself. He proclaimed after being hired by the Niners that the West Coast Offense will be the prime offense. Instead, he brought us the Bo Sclemiel Michigan offense which was so predictable that everyone soon caught up to what he was doing. You can get away with that offense in college if you recruit outstanding talent which can overwhelm the less-talented opposition. It doesn't work that way in the NFL. Everybody puts the Blame on Roman (and he was certainly an inferior OC) but he was acting on Harbaugh's plan. Remember, all play calls went through Harbaugh so he could easily veto and change them if he wanted. I look forward to see what the new coaches do with this talent.
Date: July 19, 2015 at 10:06 AM
Comment: In 2011 five 49ers were voted All Pro. Thats nearly half your defense. How can you not win. In the Championship game all 49ers receivers caught one pass for three yards. The offense was one of thirteen on first down attempts. No those two turn cost the 49ers the game. It was Harbaugh's offense. For three seasons 49ers had the best roster in the NFL. The playoffs & SB loss were on the coaches. 49ers were behind 28 to 3 in the third quarter was Kaepernick was turn loose. 49ers scored 4 TDs. Play calling end loosing the game.
49ers problems have not been the personnel. Its been about the coaching. In 2014 as the players were injured & the coaches failed to do their job , the 49ers became a 8&8 team.
Date: July 17, 2015 at 10:49 PM
Comment: Nothing to worry about folks. Well, unless you think coaching and veteran leadership is important.
Date: July 17, 2015 at 10:08 PM
Comment: Even Jed York knows they'll win 3-4 games? When has Jed York known anything about anything? The worst of the worst. Tough offseason, a lot of up and downs but there is definitely still some talent there. A lot of it is really gonna ride on Kap, and he needs to show up take control and prove his worth. It's his time to lead. If and when Tomsula fixes time clock issues credit will be given. Remaining cautiously optimistic. Levi's is an absolute joke btw, how do you play in Seattle at least once a year and not put two and two together to give yourself a noise advantage, another botched job by York. Regardless, kick some arse and prove everyone wrong! Go Niners!
Date: July 17, 2015 at 3:24 PM
Comment: With the departure of Trent Baalke at the end of this season ( he has informed York that he wants to pursue other interests outside of football) and the almost trade of Kapernick last month to the Browns (the Browns nixed the deal at the last minute) the 49ers are in free fall. Yes the team is trying to put a good spin on the 2015 season but even Jed York knows that they are only going to win 3-4 games this year.
By: James Brown
Date: July 17, 2015 at 12:12 PM
Comment: It's sad that so many so called nine fans are throwing in the towel. This year will be epic. Fairwhethers are not allowed.
Date: July 17, 2015 at 10:19 AM
Comment: It is amazing how many 49er homers we have on this site. Why can't we all accept they are going to suck this year. Plain and simple. People here would follow blindy follow this team off a bridge.
Date: July 17, 2015 at 10:13 AM
Comment: Nice to see the positive outlook for the Niners. If one analyzes the roster closely they will see that Balke did an amazing job at assembling alot of potential talent to fill the holes we have suffered. Once the youngsters gel this will be good football team for a long time.
Date: July 17, 2015 at 9:05 AM
Comment: I went through the same depression then to somewhat optimism. This offensive line can't possibly pass block worse than last year. Kap has many more weapons, will be able to run more and not having Roman I think is a huge plus (many like to say that DCs have figured out Kap's game and disagree. I think they figured out Roman's game). When the front office undermined the coaching staff things fall apart. Players are men and team starts with the top. Last year was an outlier, yet the national press is thinking that is what are new talent level is then minus the offseason we are now terrible. Niners under/over 7 games 110 ... I'm jumping all over this. Just can't decide whether to bet $100 or $200 on this.
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: July 17, 2015 at 8:20 AM
Comment: Fact is that success comes from the top. Until we get decent upper management at the top this team is going nowhere. Take off your rose colored glasses and smell the coffee.
Date: July 16, 2015 at 7:34 PM
Comment: The season could go either way. Camp is so short to successfully pull a bunch of new guys together and clicking. And this must be accomplished with a host of new coaches.. On the other hand three of their first four games can be won with the type of talent on their roster. I think all stars must align in order to get off to a fast start otherwise it looks like a team that could take some time to gel. Just so hard to predict. Their level of motivation should be very high both players and coaches. Can't wait..
By: Dan Waterman
Date: July 16, 2015 at 6:58 PM
Comment: It is a terrific, well thought article. I also had no hope earlier in this off-season, I guess it was my initial shock of those changes that were happening. I am still curious to see what this new coaching staff can do, I hope they can do better than 8-8 if stay relatively healthy. If the players want to play for this coach, they will be better than last year. After all as John Madden says, 90% of the game is mental readiness to play on a Sunday.
By: Dietrich from maui
Date: July 16, 2015 at 5:12 PM
Comment: The rams game also should have been a win making it 7-1 at home if the other two were wins as well
Date: July 16, 2015 at 4:58 PM
Comment: I feel the positivity of this article.... I cant wait to see the faces and hear the reactions of all the critics.... I love the 9ERS as a whole team! We WILL turn a lot of heads this upcoming season!
Date: July 16, 2015 at 4:32 PM
Comment: It's refreshing to read a piece that isn't negative and cynical. There are challenges. big ones but I have high hopes and I'm tired of them being stepped on. Thanks
Date: July 16, 2015 at 2:18 PM
Comment: See, while I appreciate your optimism (and can't really argue with your facts), the central point is that the Niners downgraded the coaching staff from one of the top three in the league (outside of Greg Roman) to arguably the worst in the league.
We all liked Tomsula as a position coach, and he's surely a nice and knowledgeable guy, but giving players time every thirty minutes or so to check their smartphones in practice goes a long way to actually win a NFL game.
Other than probably you, I've actually seen Tomsula coaching in the NFL Europe (his Rhein Fire gig in Düsseldorf), and wasn't impressed at all. If you don't believe me, believe in the market, as the Niner's coaching staff is the cheapest in the NFL.
Date: July 16, 2015 at 1:41 PM
Comment: I don't mind the Niners being written off this year. We have a very underrated roster. Our secondary is stronger than anyone may first think and we have the potential of new leaders rising up on Defence. Losing Willis and J. Smith was huge, but Bowman, Reid and A. Smith are all capable of stepping up as our new leaders on D. Having Dorsey back with Dockett and a young Armstead should also give our line a big boost. I'll be repping the faithful hard in Detroit and Cleveland. Go Niners!
By: Reg Brown
Date: July 16, 2015 at 12:06 PM
Comment: Thank you for the positive article.
Date: July 16, 2015 at 9:38 AM
Comment: In addition, Iupati and Boone played like *&@# for most of the season and J. Martin was a disaster at RT. We also have Ian Williams returning from injury. I can't wait to see the "red shirts" step up and it looks like we have some talent in this years draft class. Add in the signing of T. Smith, Simpson, and Dockett. This team is loaded and if people will take off their blinders they will see it.
Date: July 16, 2015 at 9:22 AM
Comment: Amen Brother! Can't wait...
Date: July 16, 2015 at 9:21 AM
Comment: Terrific article! I also believe the niners have what it takes this year to win the superbowl. Some of the media out there don't follow this team as closely we we do. These unknown names that the media don't know about will soon find out who they are. Some players have been waiting for their chance. Add to the fact that the Niners have money to spend on big contracts if some of these players play up to their potential. The quest for six continues this season!
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