Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports



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.