Because you really can't begin a blog such as this without a picture of one of the biggest No. 1 busts of all time without his shirt on:
Welcome to the preview special. I'm Tim Livingston. I write about minor league baseball for a living. Hence my phenomenal qualifications to write for a football blog about my hometown team. Especially one I haven't been able to cover as much considering I live 3,000 miles away from said team. But, here I am, anyways. Looking up news and stats for you, the fan of this blog, in order to prepare you for the things to come with the 49ers. So here we go.
The 49ers franchise has been the source of malcontent in recent years. I mean, how many times in the Mike Nolan era did we hear that they were going to be the sleeper team in the NFC West? Yeah, well, fuck that nonsense. This time out, the 49ers aren't anybody's sleeper team at all. They are an inferior version of the Minnesota Vikings: No QB worthwhile at the helm, a decent offensive line (as opposed to great), a decent defense (as opposed to great), a top-10 running back (as opposed to the best back in the league) and the best middle linebacker in the league. Well, I guess that's a good thing.
So, you're a team that COULD be on the rise in a division that COULD be wide open (If Arizona doesn't figure out that whole Quan Boldin thing). So, let's take a look, shall we?
So the biggest story coming into camp is that the former Golden Boy That Never Was is in contention with Shaun Hill: Everyman Quarterback for the starting job. But they're best friends! They think it's going to be a friendly competition! Yeah, well, considering what's at stake here, I don't think anybody wants to be friendly here. Hill got the extension on his contract, whereas Smith was not granted his extension and instead signed for MUCH less money, making Hill the Wunderkind's #1 guy coming into camp.
The question is whether or not Hill will be able to lead a team throughout a season. He was good coming down the stretch last year, and Samurai Mike seems to like him most of all, even if it's been said that both Hill and Smith are on even terms coming in. Unless Smith can miraculously turn things around in camp and the preseason, it's Hill's team to lead.
The most intriguing part of the quarterback situation is the inclusion of Nate Davis into the fold. With him and Michael Robinson and this whole Wildcat/Single Wing stuff coming to form, he could be a great weapon in certain sets. Damon Huard is signed just in case somebody loses a throwing arm.
Frank Gore is good. Really good. He's been injured because that's just how he is (two major knee operations while at Miami and then offseason shoulder surgery will do that to you) but guaranteed, when healthy, he's good for 300/1300/10 tugs. Thanks to the entire NFL somehow going to the two-back system, his numbers won't be that guady, but Mike Singletary is also that old-school type that perhaps thinks that using his best running back as much as he could would be beneficial to his team. You know, unless that back has trouble staying healthy.
Behind Gore, there isn't too much depth and/or known quantities outside of Michael Robinson, whose a short yardage back at best (and one of those guys who fits in to the Wildcat scheme). Glen Coffee is a rookie out of Alabama who might have been an overdraft. Thomas Clayton is someone who had a great preseason last year, but missed out on having any significant playing time during the regular season. Of course, he would be a GREAT change of pace back for Gore, but now that the 49ers went and drafted Coffee, Clayton is probably shit out of luck. He'll be the first guy off the practice squad if need be.
The receivers are going to go one of two directions this year. You have the two veteran stalwarts in Isaac Bruce and Arnaz Battle, and then you have guys like Josh Morgan and Dominique Ziegler who are looking to prove themselves, with Morgan looking like someone who could possibly break out at some point. Of course, Michael Crabtree is the guy everyone wants to hear about, but, of course, his dumb ass wants crazy money because that decrepit old fuck Al Davis decided to throw ridiculous money at Darrius Heyward-Bey. So Crabtree, knowing he's better than Heyward-Bey is, wants more money than the ridiculous money that Davis gave him. The Niners aren't budging. Gotta love the salary structure of the NFL, right? That's why 2011 could mean lockout, folks. Brandon Jones got hurt, but I don't see him as big part of the future for the team, anyways, so it's not that big of a deal.
Of course, the Crabtree drama is going to take over most of the media's time (Because why talk about anything else but Crabtree signing when you have nothing to report? I swear, sometimes, I think I picked the wrong profession.) but once he signs, that gives the 49ers a pretty good 4-WR group, and since Vernon Davis is seen basically like a giant WR anyways, if they spread the field, they should be fine between Bruce/Battle/Morgan/Ziegler/Crabtree, with Ziegler being the team's fifth WR.
Vernon Davis is the team's starting TE and (surprise, surprise) hasn't been worth the potential he was drafted as. You mean, a guy who was basically a Combine superstar wasn't worth the 6th overall pick in that year's draft? Funnily enough, he's a great blocker, but he's not paid to be a great blocker. He's paid to be the guy who can beat linebackers and safeties up the middle of the field. Except that he can't catch. Figuring out the hands of stone problem he has would be a good start on his way to finally living up to his potential. No more of this "flashes of brilliance" bullshit.
Bear Pascoe is the interesting TE in this bunch of back-ups, with him being semi-famous for converting from QB to TE while at Fresno State and being productive, if not still a project. Joe Jon Finley has a funny name and was the practice squad TE last year. Delanie Walker is the only returning TE to the squad and was used more as a return guy for some fucking reason. He'll be the main backup to Davis on the squad.
I really don't know what to think of the offensive line. Joe Staley is good, but not great, and will be asked to take on the left tackle spot, which he might be able to do well. Barry Sims and Kwame Harris might as well be the same person, and I would like to think that Adam Snyder will get the look here over the aging, slowing, non-blocking tackle on the right side. Alex Boone might get his shot at winning the spot as well, seeing as he's 6'7", 330, but since he's also raw like sushi, I don't see him taking the spot right away. Staley was a polished guy coming of college, and Boone, while playing for a top program, was just a mauler. Look for him to get into the fold halfway through the season or so.
The guard situation should see Chilo Rachal and David Baas take their spots on the inside, with Tony Wragge being the back-up there. Eric Heittman is the class of this offensive line and will probably fall to an injury early in the season just to make Frank Gore's job that much tougher. Fantastic. Overall, the line has a chance to be good, but not great, although there is a great chance that running behind Staley and Richal is gonna be what the 49ers do on about 80% of their running plays. I'm not thrilled at the prospect of Hill or Smith dropping back 500 times a year with this line, though.
Patrick Willis is the fucking truth. I don't know how else to say it other than that. He is going to be the best middle linebacker in football for the next 10 years. I don't care who you think is better. Pat Willis will truck your ass if you say differently. Ask AP how it felt going up against him and getting -2 yards rushing, including him getting run over by 52. He does it all. He'll even return INTs for touchdowns because he's a stud like that. All over the place. And he's coming into his prime. Fuck yeah.
Outside of Willis, Parys Haralson was the guy who really showed up last season in the place of both Manny Lawson (who seems to only be good at blocking field goals nowadays) and Tully Banta-Cain, who turned out to do jack shit with that deal as a pass rusher extraordinaire from the Patriots. Takeo Spikes will play weakside from Willis and handle blitzing duties. He's about 64 years old. Lawson will play outside and will be the floating LB, much like Julian Peterson in the past. The linebacking core is actually strong if Lawson can come up with big plays and Haralson continues to mature as the 3-4 pass rusher, but good lord, there won't be many teams running up the middle on the 49ers thanks to Willis and Spikes, even with Spikes needing a walker on some plays.
The front line will see Abruyo Franklin and Isaac Sopoaga at the nose switching off, with Justin Smith at the side opposite Haralson and Kentwan Balmer is gonna be the other DE in this alignment. He's turning out to be solid, but not exciting. The line will be doing all they can to hold things up for the linebacking core, which is a stronger unit, by far. Sopoaga is great on third downs and can actually go outside if need be. Smith is great at his job and will move down in pass rush situations when Haralson moves up on the end.
The secondary will see the most question marks out the defense this year. "Is Nate Clements still a #1 DB?" "Does 'Dre Bly not suck?" You know, things like that. Of course, if the answer to either of those questions is "No", then the 49ers are screwed because their DB depth is not good. The phenomenal sucking of Shawntae Spencer has been talked about enough. Tarell Brown is a decent nickel back, but can't be counted on as a starting corner at this point. Dashon Goldson is still on the fringe. Marcus Hudson? Right.
Mark Roman and Michael Lewis will man the safety spots. Lewis is basically a fifth linebacker and Roman has trouble in some pass coverage and has been known to get mixed up back there. As I said. Secondary depth? Not fucking there right now.
When Joe Nedney ain't flipping the bird at people who are booing him, he's a good kicker and comes through when the game is on the line more often than not, which is something that has helped the 49ers get those close victories that push them ever closer to not going over the .500 mark. Andy Lee is a great punter. He's someone who works well with the swirling winds at Candlestick and he's generally underrated. Somehow, Brian Jennings gets lots of notoriety for being a long snapper. I figured I might as well give him some ink here, too. There you go, Brian. Hope you're happy. Allen Rossum is a dangerous returner and is an asset in both the punt and kickoff return game. Also, he's from Notre Dame and isn't a prick. That's a good thing. He avoided that somehow. I don't know how he did it.
The 49ers have had the same problem for the last couple of years: the offense has tried to be run-oriented, but since they haven't had a pass game, the defense is on the field too long and they get exploited as the game goes on. So, with the addition of Crabtree to the roster, the 49ers should shore up their wide receiver woes. That should allow Davis to take over the middle of the field and allow Frank Gore to be facing boxes with less than 8 guys in it. Of course, what will probably happen is Crabtree's foot will fucking fall apart and he'll see little playing time and complain about it, Gore will get hurt and the running game will suffer, and then it won't matter who plays QB because the offense wouldn't be able to do anything anyway. Oh, and Vernon Davis will drop passes. Lots of passes.
A LOT of things have to go right for the 49ers to be the team that they think they could be. There's a good core here, but there's a lack of depth at a lot of spots. The division is still a bit on the weak side, what with Seattle old and hurting and St. Louis being Stephen Jackson and 54 other guys at this point. Arizona is still the favorite to win because they have the best receiver in football, although there are questions on defense there. I like 8-8. Of course, I could also see them shit the bed and go 4-12. I could also see them rise above and go 10-6. They won't win the NFC West, but damn it, we'll sure have a lot of fun watching them fall on their faces when they try.
And Michael Crabtree, take the fucking money already. You're starting to piss us all off.