SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the week leading up to the 49ers first home game at Levi’s Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys, the biggest concern for some reason was in regards to how the turf was going to hold up. While the concern was relatively legit, it seemed odd that the focus moved away from the football itself and on to the turf; especially considering how poorly Candlestick had been for forty-plus seasons.
Either way, the grounds crew worked miracles and the field was fine. Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner even had made some comments on his concern for his players on the field and shortly after, made a formal apology on Twitter to the 49ers organization and in the public eye.
“Anything I’ve said about that grass, I’m wrong, I take it back. It’s a great playing surface. They’ve done a lot of work.”
Now that the field seems to be functional, we can move all our focus toward the team itself. And there is plenty of optimism surrounding this team by the fans.
The outside world and national media goon squad has really hammered the Niners in to the ground making it seem like they will be the NFL’s laughing stock. But most have not been keeping tabs on things that are happening behind the scenes because they’re too busy paying attention to the soap opera going on behind the scenes in Houston with the Texans.
None the less, the Niners themselves are very optimistic which has slowly but surely trickled on down the chain in to the fan base. The organization took blow by blow this offseason and it very much seemed like the avalanche was coming down. But general manager, Trent Baalke and owner, Jed York never flinched. They believe in their draft ability and have been borderline genius in manipulating the draft boards, gaining extra or future picks, and keeping the roster stock piled with talent.
It showed last season when the Niners were without several key players and starters (i.e. Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Tramaine Brock, Ian Williams, Jimmie Ward, and others) while others like Chris Borland, Dontae Johnson, and other first year players stepped in and contributed to a defense that wound up 10th in points allowed and a secondary which ranked 5th in the entire NFL in passing yards allowed and 1st in interceptions with 23.
The stalwart for the defense was Justin Smith. He was the rock and cornerstone of the defense that all the younger players and back ups rallied around. With his decision to retire this year, many people saw that as a blow to the defensive line. But again, Baalke and York had been planning for this decision for the past 3 years. Players like Quinton Dial, Tank Carradine, Ian Williams, and others have been soaking up knowledge from Justin Smith and watching his play on the field learning both his technique and mindset that he approached each game with. The 49ers could very well have the deepest and best rotation in the NFL with Dial, Dorsey, Williams, Dockett, Armstead, Carradine, Purcell, Jerod-Eddie… that is a lot of fire power and players to keep each other fresh against the same 5 offensive lineman each game. So yes, Justin Smith retired, but he is being replaced with an army of talent.
With Bowman back and healthy, the defense will be able to rally around him the same way they did with Justin Smith.
The one area of concern is probably the pass rush. Even though Aldon Smith only played 7-games last year and only totaled two sacks, he was expected to have a big time bounce back year. Many expected him to get close to 20-sacks again this season. So when he once again got himself arrested, he put the Niners in to a bad predicament. However, with that said … Baalke and York had put an insurance policy in place by drafting Aaron Lynch (South Florida) in the 5th Round of the 2014 Draft and Eli Harold (Virginia) in the 3rd Round of this years NFL Draft. Lynch totaled 23 tackles, 4 pass deflections, and 6 sacks in very limited action. He can get after the quarterback. Eli Harold is a player who while at Virginia, gave quarterbacks nightmares coming off that blind side edge. I’m sure plenty of QBs heard phantoms just knowing that he was back there and coming. So far this preseason, Harold has looked like a Von Miller type of pass rusher. Extremely quick and crafty enabling him to penetrate the pocket on several occasions in just two games.
Eric Mangini has earned the nickname “Mangenius” for his elaborate and creative blitz scheme attacks as a defensive coordinator. York and Baalke brought him on as a “tight ends coach” last year but we all know that the real reason they brought him in was to study what Fangio was doing and implement/ keep some of the things he was doing that were effective along with bringing his own style (which in and of itself was effective). Another insurance policy that both the general manager and owner had planned for.
So while on the surface, everything to this point has seemed like a crap storm to everybody on the outside looking in, a lot has been taking place over the past few years to prepare for eventual losses to the roster.
Alex Smith even recently said,
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to keep everyone.”
Which kind of leads you to believe that behind the scenes, he knew that everyone that was being drafted were to replaces guys who had laid a foundation for success.
Now with all of that said, expectations still should probably be tempered. In other words, there is plenty to be optimistic about and plenty to be happy about but it all still needs to gel and come together; which it seems to be so far.
I believe that the defense will be very, very good with Bowman being the rallying piece that everyone thrives off of. You could see it in just 3 plays against the Cowboys first team just how fired up he was to be back out there blowing plays up. More to come on that front.
With the 49ers finishing with a .500 record amidst all the chaos and turmoil between the players, coaches, and front office, it seems likely that everyone can take a deep breath and exhale and just get back to playing Niners football.
Adding players like Torrey Smith, Reggie Bush, Darnell Dockett, Arik Armstead, Eli Harold, Jarryd Hayne, The Belldozer, and others are only going to help the Niners get stronger in areas that were needing some attention.
Probably the most annoying thing to watch for Niners fans last year was the constant rushing to the line of scrimmage to get the snap off with very little time or no time at all left on the clock which led to an all time franchise high on delay of game penalties and unnecessary timeouts wasted left and right. The challenge flag wasn’t thrown very strategically in the past couple of seasons as well. Obviously, Harbaugh was responsible for the turn around in Ninersland but he was as equally responsible for the turmoil and chaos that ensued last season.
Fresh start, fresh slate, same foundation, healthy players, new faces, cleaning up on the field errors, team chemistry… all things that are happening with this organization.
If you are a Niners fan, there are a good many of reasons to believe that this will be a bounce back season from a down year and very seemingly strange offseason. Despite what many of the national blowhards want you to believe, you Niners fans, have much reason to be optimistic about this season.
This team could very well be a team that shocks everyone and wins anywhere between 10-14 games this season.