The optimism of this post is based on things that were proven last year and the things that will be done differently this year.
1st the 49ers defense was ranked highest of all teams in the NFC west last year. (49ers 13th.. next highest Arizona 19th.). This is after a horrible start of the season where the 49ers gave up 29 or more in 7 of the first 9 games. What's exciting about this defense is in the last 7 games the 49ers ranked 7th in points allowed and 3rd in pass defense. This defense will be returning all of its starters from the end of last year except for Walt Harris because of injury. There has been added depth to the defensive line which will help improve the run defense, and there is an upgrade at safety where Roman has lost his job to up and coming Goldson. There is no reason that there shouldn't be the same type of production as the end of the year.
2nd the 49ers offense will be more focused on a power running game which best fits the 49ers personal. Gore is coming into the season injury free and in tip top shape. The running offense installed this year is a lot like the offense where Gore had a pro bowl season. Moran Norris is back and in a blocking scheme that fits best to his abilities, that is to go and smash the guy that is in front of you. There is added depth in the backfield, Glenn Coffee, a good power runner himself, is expected to be a much better back than Foster was last year and there's a chance the 49ers may have found a 3rd down back in Sheets through free-agency. But overall its still Gore's job and because Jimmy Raye's offense is so much like Norv Turner's two years ago I believe Gore will be more comfortable knowing he will have his opportunities to do what he does best.
3rd the QB situation is better than it was last year. Even though there is a quarterback competition going into this year, its more structured than in years past. This year Shaun Hill has been taking all of the first string snaps unlike last year when Martz had 3 quarterbacks taking the first string snaps. This year only way Alex Smith will take over as starting quarterback at the beginning of the season is if he is showing to be a better quarterback than Shaun Hill was last year, not by potential. If Alex Smith starts to regain some of his form then he will obviously be a better option than JT was last year. This years offense is less about the quarterback making great timing throws and more about the play makers getting the ball in space.
4th Better play makers on offense this year compared to last. This year Vernon Davis will be used less like a WR and more like a TE. Last year he struggled with the precision in the routes that was required in Martz offense. Most people can agree that when Davis gets the ball in his hands he can be the best run after the catch player on the team. This year his routes will be routes where he does run after the catch and is able to make big plays out of short ones. He will be going out much more than last year, because Jimmy Raye's offense takes more advantage of the TE. And if he isn't able to be that pass receiver Delanie Walker is ready as the back up. There were no great play maker to improve the offense in free agency. So the 49ers brought in the best play maker in college football in the last two years. Crabtree was the best skilled offense of player hands down in this years draft. He was either 1st or 2nd best overall player on every experts draft board. He may not be in the pro bowl next year but I can guarantee that he will make at least 2 or 3 game changing plays next year ( Bryant Johnson had 0). Along with the young recievers getting another year under there belt, this years skilled players as a group compares to the best teams in the NFL.
5th No more Martz. I know he is considered a offensive genius but last year it showed that title has gone to his head. I count two games easily where he did not give the 49ers a chance to win at the end. One obvious one was Arizona where instead of maybe spiking the ball and having time to run another play or having more than one play called when you know you don't have any time outs left. Martz looked unprepared and runs a full back dive to make it the last play of the game. The next game was against the Dolphins, where he was using Vernon Davis all game to stay in and help block on pass plays. Usually on a play down the field you will see at least a RB in the backfield so there will be time for everyone to get up the field. Martz calls a play that left the third string RT alone to block the best pass rusher in the AFC last year. Joey Porter got around Sims like he was standing still, and Hill didn't even get a chance to look up field. Jimmy Raye has already been praised by the players by paying attention to detail where it counts. This should pay off in close games this season.
6th Special teams will be there like always. The special teams have been the one constant in the past and this year should be no different. Andy Lee is one of the best punters in the NFL which will show to pay off with the improved defense. Joe Nedney has made the pressure kicks and has been as accurate as any kicker since he has been a 49er. Alan Rossum added another touchdown to his resume last year and wasn't given enough credit for catching most punts rather than allowing them to roll for 15 or 20 more yards.
Being on Summer break from school has given me a chance to think this out.. And I am excited to see all this come together next year. The beginning of the season will be important for the players confidence. But one thing I know is that Coach Sing will not allow his players to pack it in on him, a la Mike Nolan. In 2006 that 7-9 season was all on Frank Gore's shoulders and expectations were on progression of other players and new starters. This year coming off of 7-9 the talent was shown last season all over the field. The 49ers returned almost every starter from last year. The only great season from any player last year was Patrick Willis who is a great player so that's expected every year. The only way the 49ers aren't a better team this season is if players performance regress.
[ Edited by tmg808 on Jun 2, 2009 at 15:46:11 ]