The Death of the Ghost of Steve Mariucci is coming soon.
Since Mooch was fired at the end of the 2002 season (be careful what you ask for, fans), after winning a spectacular playoff game against the NY Giants (Yes, our last playoff win was nearly 7 years ago), the Niners have had 6 consecutive losing seasons, gone through 4 head coaches, 8 starting QB's: Garcia, Rattay, Dilfer, Dorsey, Pickett, Smith, Hill, O'Sullivan; 6 years running of new offensive coordinators: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. The parade of personnel is staggering.
The Niners seem to be building something we haven't seen since Mooch was canned, a winning season. And that day is coming soon...in 2010.
Many Niners fans expect the 2009 season to end of the Ghost of Mooch, but the team is not ready yet. Here is why?
1) The starting QB- This is the year the Niners find their starter, but we don't know who that person will be going into camp. Either Hill or Smith is going to emerge as unquestioned man to run the ship in 2010. If Hill emerges as the starter in 2009, he will have his chance to prove to the NFL world that he deserves to be classified as a starter in this league, not just a guy who comes off the bench mid-way through a season to salvage whatever is left in the year. If Smith emerges as the season starter, or replaces an ineffective Hill, he will be the guy to possibly regain the franchise QB tag. Skeptics will say that neither man is the guy to lead the 49ers into the playoff. I disagree. It just isn't going to happen this season. Teams with unsettled QB battles in training camp rarely emerge past the .500 mark (unless they have a studly defense, which we don't). A year from now, we will know our starter, and that stability will help.
2) The Niners' WR's are still a year away. The team should see the emergence of Josh Morgan, but the other side of the field is not going to be permanently occupied and satisfied until Michael Crabtree becomes productive. This is not going to happen in 2009. Crabtree is still recovering from his foot injury, will more than likely be a training camp holdout for some time, and has a LOT to learn before making an impact in the NFL. 2009 is his year to learn the game. 2010 is when we will see something. At TE, this is a big year for Vernon Davis. He has to show that he can run routes effectively, and be a player the team can count on. If so, the Niners have the complete package. If not, they are going to have to look elsewhere. Rookie TE's can make a sizable impact, so if Davis is not the answer, another player can step in and produce.
3) The Niners' OL will be fully ready to go in 2010. 2009 is an experiment at RT, and it could go many different directions. Either M. Smith could emerge as a healthy player who will lead the right side of our OL into 2010, or the Niners will install either a developmental player with upside (Boone, Bender) or use a draft choice. Staley, Heitmann (who Fox Sports stated was our best OL by far in 2008), Rachal, all look solid. At LG, either Baas will play well and pick up an extension, or the Niners will look elsewhere (draft, FA). The key is continuity, and the Niners have at least 3 solid guys going into 2010 that are written in stone.
4) The pass rush is not there, yet. The Manny Lawson experiment is ready to roll, and I'm hoping to be wrong in my prediction, but rushing the passer has never been Manny's strength (he is much better in coverage and running laterally), and I don't see anything to change my opinion at this point. If he has gained the supposed 15 pounds (which he supposedly stacks on every offseason...soon he should be approaching 300 pounds), and strength, we might have a decent pass rusher. However, Parys Haralson is this team's decent pass rusher. The team lacks a dominant pass rusher, and 2010 will be the year the team finally addresses this issue.
5) Dashon Goldson is going to have serious growing pains. While the board loves to bash Mark Roman (deservedly so in terms of forcing turnovers), Roman was a solid, steady and seasoned deep defender. Goldson gives playmaking ability, but expect a spike in deep home runs against the Niners. Spectacular versus steady. I'll take the risk on spectacular, but the Niners may need to visit the draft next season if Goldson does not work out.
6) Singletary, Raye, and company need time to get it all together. I expect the Niners will retain all of their main coaches (Sing, Manusky, Raye) for 2010, and that continuity is going to help us. This season, we are going to see the growing pains of transition, once again. A new OC means a new start again, and that typically spells trouble for a franchise that has not adapted well to the continual line of OC that spin through the team every year.
7) The Niners will have 2 first round selections next season. I believe the team will still need to draft some playmakers in 2010 (maybe a Will pass rusher, maybe a reliable TE, maybe a stable RT, maybe a stud FS). But, slowly, the amount of new talent needed to make a run is shrinking. The Niners appear to be set at virtually every position on offense (outside of RT, LG and maybe TE), and defense (Will, NT, maybe FS and CB). The club has wisely extended players to keep them from running away, and that bodes well down the road.
I could be wrong on my prediction for 2010. The Ghost of Mooch could be killed off in 2009. The curse of the Super Bowl loser ALWAYS kills off their victim (Cards better watch out), the Rams and Hawks appear weak. However, I just don't see this year as the year, and I hope fans do not become discouraged in 2009.
The run begins in 2010.
[ Edited by MadDog49er on Jul 23, 2009 at 19:53:23 ]