Posted August 14, 2013

NFL Training Camp Snapshot 2013: San Francisco 49ers

NFC West, San Francisco 49ers, Snapshots
With Colin Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers enter the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites.

With Colin Kaepernick at the helm, the 49ers enter the season as one of the Super Bowl favorites. (David E. Klutho/SI)

With the 2013 NFL season rapidly approaching, we’re taking a spin around the league for a closer look at all 32 teams. Track all of our Snapshots here.

The San Francisco 49ers face some difficult decisions in the coming months. The downside to having a roster loaded up with young talent is that it becomes much harder to keep everyone under contract when they develop.

Such is the case in San Francisco. Next summer, CB Tarell Brown, C Jonathan Goodwin, WRs Anquan Boldin and Mario Manningham and S Donte Whitner, among others, could hit free agency. The 49ers will have to spend wisely, because the contracts of Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and Aldon Smith all are set to expire after 2014.

This is a perfect illustration of why it is so impressive when a franchise maintains success over a prolonged duration … and why a loss like the one San Francisco suffered in last season’s Super Bowl, when the 49ers came within a whisper of victory, can sting so much.

Those roster woes remain off in the distance, for now. The immediate future is chock full of promise for the defending NFC champs, who again shape up as one of their conference’s Super Bowl favorites.

Biggest storyline: All Colin Kaepernick, all the time.

Twas a different time, during the first half of last season in San Francisco, when Alex Smith was the 49ers’ starting quarterback and Colin Kaepernick merely a precocious backup. A concussion suffered by Smith in Week 10 forced Kaepernick into the lineup, changing the story arcs for both QBs and altering the direction of the San Francisco offense.

You know the rest. Kaepernick led the 49ers within five yards of a Super Bowl title, Smith hooked a trade to Kansas City and San Francisco now enters 2013 in the full control of its third-year QB. Nothing about Kaepernick’s performance last year or his work in camp indicates any sort of problem with that scenario.

And yet, this is a different animal for the former Nevada star. Defensive coordinators have had all offseason to scheme for him and the 49ers’ creative offense. Playing a full 16-game slate, as opposed to seven starts and a postseason run, could prove to be a challenge, too, especially for a QB who likes to get out of the pocket.

Kaepernick proved sensational during the second half of the 2012 season, joining Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III on that list of quarterbacks helping to change the face of NFL offenses. What does he have for an encore?

Most intriguing positional battle: Cornerback.

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, San Francisco is surprisingly unsettled at a key spot on the field. The starters here should be Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, who apparently has sidestepped the possibility of being cut due to a bloated contract. That pairing teamed up in every 49ers game last season, with Brown turning in an impressive showing.

The team’s depth took a substantial hit at the start of this month when No. 3 cornerback Chris Culliver tore his ACL. The 49ers continue to hammer out exactly who will replace him, with the list of candidates including Nnamdi Asomugha and Eric Wright. Both of those vets are in on one-year, prove-your-worth contracts — Wright only after he failed a post-trade physical and was cut by Tampa Bay.

Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox are fighting to get in the discussion, as well. They combined to play 88 snaps in San Francisco’s preseason opener, per Pro Football Focus.

There is talent and several options for the 49ers at cornerback. They badly need at least one more guy to force his way into the lineup with Brown and Rogers.

New face, new place: Anquan Boldin, WR.

Boldin may have been Joe Flacco’s favorite target during Baltimore’s playoff surge. He now looks like he’ll be Kaepernick’s go-to weapon this season, if only by default.

The 49ers traded for the proven, 32-year-old Boldin this offseason, in hopes that he could complement Michael Crabtree in the starting lineup and ease the burden felt by Mario Manningham’s continued absence. With the preseason now underway, Boldin is the lone sure thing at WR — Crabtree could miss the year with a torn Achilles, while Manningham’s rehab from a knee injury continues.

Kaepernick ought to learn quickly what Flacco came to know: Boldin is as safe a target as there is, even when he’s covered. On the flip side, it is fair to wonder how much Boldin has left in the tank. He is coming off a Super Bowl win and will turn 33 in October. The 49ers are counting on him to fight off Father Time for at least one more season.

Impact rookie: Vance McDonald, TE.

Safety Eric Reid might stand as the distinct choice for the 49ers’ key rookie, when all is said and done. Reid is penciled in as the starting safety, where he has to replace two-time Pro Bowler Dashon Goldson. Because of those issues at wide receiver mentioned above, though, McDonald has a chance to be a surprise rookie star.

The 49ers’ second-round pick certainly jumped out to an encouraging start in the preseason opener, catching all four passes thrown his way for a team-high 66 yards. As the 49ers experiment with their offense (including moving Vernon Davis out to WR), the opportunities could come fast and furious for the smooth, 6-foot-4 McDonald.

Looking at the schedule: Well, the 49ers sure are not easing into 2013.

They open with a playoff rematch against Green Bay, travel to Seattle in Week 2 for a crucial NFC West showdown, then host Andrew Luck and the Colts in Week 3. No rest for the weary in Week 4 either, as the 49ers visit a St. Louis team that beat and tied them in two games last season.

There’s a respite after all that. Over the following five weeks, San Francisco should be favored in all four games (Arizona, at Tennessee, at Jacksonville, Carolina) and will enjoy a bye. The schedule then ratchets up again, with New Orleans, Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and all three divisional foes spread over the final seven weeks.

Add it all up, and the 49ers will have their work cut out for them to repeat last season’s 11-4-1, NFC West-winning mark. One other wrinkle in there: Gaining home-field advantage over Seattle could be critical, should both teams reach the playoffs. The Seahawks were 8-0 on their home turf in 2012′s regular season, compared to just 3-5 away.

18 comments
Darren1
Darren1

I think that as Kaepernick continues to master the Niners' offense and take control of the team, he will throw more and run a great deal less. That said, having the read-option to fall back on, and potentially gouge defenses for huge chunks of yardage, is a powerful weapon that should open up the passing game.

MichaelRayJaeger
MichaelRayJaeger

Kaepernick is ahead of the curve. If the offensive play caller had trusted Kaep to run his pistol read option at the end of the game after using it already for success in their come from behind - then a TD at the end he would have been the result but the dummy choked in the red zone and he relapsed to  old offense without Joe Montana and Dwight Clarke for maybe a corner Catch to have worked. Goal line read option with Gore pistol TD up middle if LBs play outside or Kaep keeps off tackle if LBs play middle hard or he passes if safeties play the run with man coverage = TD.

Nativebro14
Nativebro14

Steve Young is one of the best option QBs ever check the stats.....He also won a ring! 45-1

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

Don't ignore the Rams and Cardinals.  The division is not only a battle between the Niners and Hawks.  It is going to be fun to watch this division play out.  

The Niners biggest concerns are how is Colin going to play as defenses make their adjustments, the talent and performance at receiver, and the overall depth of the team.  Many good starters but not much good depth.  

Without Crabtree the receiving group is a huge concern.  Doesn't look good at all right now and that can adversely affect Collin's growth as a QB. 

Marchoir
Marchoir

"Kaepernick proved sensational during the second half of the 2012 season, joining Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III on that list of quarterbacks helping to change the face of NFL offenses." Yeah, and Andrew Luck threw for an all time NFL rookie record of 4,374 yard, led the worst team in the league to 11 wins and the playoffs, demonstrating some things are best left unchanged. QB's are paid to throw the ball. A QB who runs is as stupid as having a RB that throws. Forty-six Super Bowls, and not one of them won by a running QB. None. 46-0.  

Mood_Indigo
Mood_Indigo

 There is little chance that McDonald will have more impact than Eric Reid. Based on how he's playing, the chances are very high that Reid will be a starter on opening day. Based on how he's blocking, it's likely that McDonald will be getting very few snaps early in the season. He may be a future star for the Niners, but his current role has been to push Garrett Celek for the backup TE position behind Vernon Davis.

On the CB front, Brock and Cox (especially the former) are playing very well and Nnamdi will make the final 53 solely because of Cullivar's injury.

Finally, on the challenges of resigning the young stars, Burke leaves out Iupati, who may command far higher salary than the Niners will be willing to pay a guard. It all depends on how Joe Looney develops. There is little chance of Goodwin and Manningham returning, with Kilgore almost a lock on taking Goodwin's position next season, if not earlier. Whitner's return depends on how well he plays this season and on how far Trenton Robinson development progresses. Gore and Rogers will likely have to take pay cuts to stay with the Niners. The focus for resigning in the off-season for the Niners will be Kaep and Aldon,. followed by Culliver. Not sure what to make of Boldin's future.

TIM_
TIM_

Although McDonald did look great last week against the Broncos,he did not catch all the balls thrown to him as your article states. He had one perfect pass doink off his hands . Probably just first game rookie jitters,trying to turn and run before securing the ball. He will be a great one,even better than Delany Walker was for the Niners imho.

Darren1
Darren1

@Nativebro14 Young wasn't an option quarterback, he was a scrambler who could avoid a heavy pass rush and gain yardage with his legs. As someone mentioned earlier, unless it was a quarterback sneak on 3rd or 4th and very short, there were no running plays specifically designed or called for him.

luvfoozball
luvfoozball

@Marchoir You are blind if you think Kaepernick is not a good thrower. He killed the Packers with his legs in playoffs, then turned around and had only 2 attempts rushing with 76% completion and 127 QB rating the next week against the Falcons.

Kaepernick, RGIII and Russell Wilson... these are not the "running" QBs from your father's time. Each of them completed more than 60% of passes in their first year as starters. 

Yeah, but carry on spewing moronic statements.

jhoush9087
jhoush9087

@Marchoir - Did Steve Young not win a Superbowl?  Running QB's can win, just not a run 1st QB.  Kaepernick is not a run 1st QB.  The run is just an option on a few plays a game.  It just so happened that they played one game where he ran wild due to a team that had no idea how to defend the run option.

josh23
josh23

Very well written and good insight Mood_Indigo. I appreciated it

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@luvfoozball  Apparently you are too dense to understand what Marchoir was saying.  It was not a point regarding whether any of these other young qb's can throw the ball it was a point to refute what was written in the article suggesting they are changing the face of NFL offenses.  The fact that no qb that ever has running plays called for him has ever won the super bowl is a salient point.  The face of NFL offenses is not going to change.  They must win throwing the ball.  They are not going to win a title running the ball.  End of point.  

Your retort shows you have no clue what was being stated and why.  

JimCody
JimCody

@jhoush9087 @Marchoir Steve Young never won anything until he learned to limit his running to opportune moments. He became mostly a pocket passer and then became successful.

josh23
josh23

How can u possibly say that Kaep has sucked during the first two preseason games? It doesn't sound like u even watched. And if by chance u did, then I am even more concerned for u. Just ignorance....

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@jkearneyiii There have been running QB's.  Your response suggests there haven't been.  There have not been many, but there is a reason for that.  They do not have a shot at winning a Super Bowl.  They never have.  They can win in the regular season and maybe make the playoffs and even win a game in the post season, but they can not win it all.  

Kap can throw the ball, so can RG3 and Wilson.  So far in the first two preseason games, Kap has sucked.  We shall see how he handles the adversity of the regular season with crap receivers and defenses adjustments.  He will have to be able to read defenses and be very accurate.  Can he do it?  Who knows?  We will find out, though.  

jkearneyiii
jkearneyiii

@randomdeletion @luvfoozball 46-0 is not a salient point.  It presumes we have had running QBs historically.  FALSE.  New phenomena.  Your old school rules don't apply.  RGIII is a run-first running QB.  Kap is not.  SF will have less run plays, in that you are correct.   

Look SF will be nails again being led by Kap.  All those who hope he was a flash in the pan will cry when he tears it up this year.   Defenses adjusting will impact Wilson and RGIII more, Kap can throw in the pocket like Luck.  Unlike Luck, he is dangerous when he runs also.


jhoush9087
jhoush9087

@JimCody @jhoush9087 @Marchoir 

I agree, but Kaepernick is mostly a passer too.  His running ability is just as option.  One defenses have to consider, which helps open up the passing game.  Much like in Steve Young's day.  Defenses had to keep him contained, helping open up the pass game.

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

@JimCody Exactly correct, along with the reality that Steve Young ONLY scrambled.  There were no designed run plays for Steve Young to run the ball. Marchoir is right, it is 46-0.  The only way a qb is ever going to win a super bowl where he is an option in the run game is when the entire leagues is made up with qb's like that.