With the conclusion of organized team activities at Santa Clara, the San Francisco 49ers, now coached by Mike Singletary, are enthusiastic about enjoying their time off right before official training camp convenes. The tempo and mindset of the mini-camps and team activities illustrates that every player on the unofficial roster know that the hard work is still yet to come. Several areas of speculation have created heated competition that has pitted veteran against new and inspiring talent. What seems evident to Mike though is that a playoff gene is now alive in each player, actively cultivated to explode in training camp.
Can the San Francisco 49ers end the long six-year drought that has cost them a post-season playoff berth year after year? Mike Singletary has gone on record that he believes they can. So many aspects of what makes a team a champion are evident from mini-camps to organized team activities. Mike made reference to that at the end of (OTA's), in that he predicted that the 49ers, with what they had in current personnel, would make a playoff run this season. According to him, there is no doubt in his mind.
However, he also made reference why he believes the 49ers are still behind the elite teams that are already inside the league. Teams like Dallas, New England and Pittsburgh, in that their players are always hungry for the ultimate prize, which is the Super Bowl year in and year out. The vision is always highlighted within each player and the work ethic is never compromised.
Reaching that this off-season has been Mike Singletary's focal point. He has stopped and intervened on many a scenario and plays in action to voice his opinion and counteract the sense of reverse motivation that is damaging to one's psychological urgency to remain sharp and focused. Every specific detail of every single play must be met with defined execution or the percentage of error could have disastrous affects on the final outcome.
Players aren't biting their lips and murmuring under their breath about how hard they have to work under Mike Singletary. They are simply realizing that, in order to reach that elite level of play, many sacrifices must be made on the part of one's mindset first and foremost above all things. Identifying the willingness to compete and win each and every play on each and every day while practicing creates a championship mentality that is undeniable. Where we currently are as a team is something of a matter still in transition on many fronts.
Having so many offensive coordinators has been one. Not having an established quarterback or who are the leading wide receivers is yet another. Simply put, we have yet another new head coach which puts us back on a learning curve that can only be overcome through healthy competition and game time experiences. These are the identifiable blocks that have caused us to be a little behind the elite teams within the NFL.
The new offense under offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is expected to be a more balanced and disciplined offense in terms of establishing the run and using the passing attack as a way to pick-up the tempo. Mike sacked Mike Martz at the end of the 2008 season because he felt their mindsets on offense were more contrasting than comparable. Establishing Frank Gore back to prominence as he was in the 2006 season under then offensive coordinator Norv Turner is Singletary's focal point and imposing one's will to run the ball on any down necessary.
Jimmy Raye is excited to have such an array of depth at running back, tight end and wide receiver. The competition will intensify as training camp gets underway and pre-season opens this August. The offensive line meanwhile has to come together as a unified front to execute and force its personal dominance while in the trenches on any given Sunday. Right tackle remains a weak spot that has to be solidified.
Then you have the so called "friendly quarterback competition between last year's starting quarterback in Shaun Hill to the now injury free first round draft pick in Alex Smith." Both are close friends outside the practice facility and supportive of each other while on the practice field together as well. Both Mike Singletary and General Manager Scot McCloughan have made note that Alex Smith has closed the gap in the competition between the two with incredible command and precision on the practice field in terms of rotation and getting time with the first team.
However, Shaun Hill hasn't done anything bad in practice to equal a demotion either, causing one to think, as Mike said, "it is his position to lose literally." Calling the "playing field between the two is now level." It leaves one to think that the coaches are resuming having an open mind about this contest.
Remember back in October when Mike Singletary took the reins of the 49ers, he benched then quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill to help rejuvenate the offense and he stuck with him throughout the remainder of the season with encouraging results. Hill also rallied the 49ers back in 2007 when he came in and replaced the injured veteran Trent Dilfer, winning two regular season games before getting hurt himself.
Since being named a starter, he has come back in with a 7-3 record overall, going 5-3 this past season which might have been better considering the weird game clock managing antics of then offensive coordinator Mike Martz. I believe that he was that close to beating the NFC West Champion Arizona Cardinals and in all reality deserves the shot to do it again in this season's opener against them. Shaun Hill, in my opinion, deserves the start barring a complete meltdown this training camp and within the first two pre-season games that are played. The uncanny ability to make a play out of nothing excites me about Shaun Hill, he is so Steve Young like in many ways in that he is able to diagnose a play as it is being broken down and is not afraid to use his legs if need be to further positive yardage.
Any way you look at it, the spirit of competitiveness is a welcomed situation in Mike Singletary's mind as he wants to keep those juices flowing inside the veins of both quarterbacks to excel at all turns in their development. I will admit that throughout the pre-training camp trials, Alex Smith has carried himself in a dignified manner and has honed in on what sets him apart in this competition. Alex has orchestrated the long throw that is highly accurate and his ability to lead by example thus far.
In the wide receiver unit, we have veteran Isaac Bruce back who is already mentoring our prime time number one draft pick in Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree. Michael is expected to take part in training camp activities and is a shoe-in to start this season. Isaac's main reason for coming back is to see another Super Bowl. He likes the 49ers chances much like when he was with St. Louis and they made a Super Bowl run after having a losing record the previous year.
The depth at the wide receiver position has never been deeper than it is now. Who will be cut towards the end of training camp is a mystery, but the odds on favorites to remain besides Isaac are: Josh Morgan, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones, Arnaz Battle and Dominique Zeigler, the last of who has turned some significant heads lately in practices. Turning up the heat will be Michael Crabtree where very high expectations are once training camp commences.
Finally, will Mike Singletary, who became the head coach a thrid of the way into last season, have enough to bring us into the promised land of post-season play? I have to tell you I wouldn't want anyone else other than Bill Walsh to comeback and coach all over again. This is a man built and bred from conviction and old fashioned morals.
This is a coach born to be a player first and a coach to always be remembered later. He is surrounded by a staff that is highly endorsed and has contributed exclusively to building a new foundation here in San Francisco. A foundation we have been dreaming about for far too long. With the focal points for success identified, we now know what needs to be done. Mike's sleeves are rolled up and the pressing hard work of getting things done has just begun.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.