With training camp on the horizon, and the free agent period and draft in the rear view, the 49ers continue the drive towards the regular season, stopping for gas and possibly picking up some hot fries while they’re out. Also, if they can get blown by a tranny while they’re on the road, they might as well, because nobody believes anything that happens in Mascoutah, Illinois.
Where was I? Right. 5 bold predictions.
I’ve read the news, digested it, shit it out, examined it for clues, and come up with 5 things I see in the cards for the 49ers 2009 season. Write them down. Take a picture. Make fun of me in December if I’m way off.
1) Frank Gore will rush for 1700 yards
Of course Chad Johnson beat me to this, but I promise I was thinking this before his workout. Gore sure looks like a pile of bricks in a tornado right about now. It’s very clear that this offense is going to be a run-first, run-second, 60% of the time run-third operation, and with the expected improvements up front from young guys like Chilo Rachal, David Baas, and Joe Staley, the running game should be a force. If Marvel Smith can revert to healthy form, the offensive line could be a real strength, and Gore will be there to soak up the yards.
2) Michael Crabtree will not make a significant impact
Crabtree brings high expectations with him, and there is no reason to doubt he can fulfill them. In the long term. In the short term, he will be competing in a crowded WR corps with a future Hall of Famer (Isaac Bruce), the team’s top free agent signing (Brandon Jones), two young players who showed tremendous potential last season (Josh Morgan and Jason Hill), and a guy with skills and hunger (whoever makes the team out of Dominique Ziegler and Arnaz Battle). I expect Bruce to have similar production as last season, where he served as the security blanket, and I expect a big leap forward from Morgan. Add in the rest of the depth AND the strong TE group, and it spells limited output for the rookie.
3) The 49ers will finish in the top 5 in total defense
Patrick Willis made the prediction. How can I risk the safety of my family and friends and go against that? Also, the performance of the defense down the stretch last season spells success this season. With the simplification of the system and the return of every key piece with the exception of Walt Harris, it stands to reason that the unit will be a fearsome test for opponents. If Manny Lawson can return to the form he showed in 2007 before his injury, the LB corps will be the league’s best, without question. The addition of Dre Bly will help offset the injury to Harris, but so will the emergence of Tarell Brown. And with the playmaking ability of Dashon Goldson at safety, the turnovers should increase. Consistent pressure on the QB will remain the main issue, but everything else stacks up to become one of the league’s very best units.
4) Alex Smith will win the QB competition
Perhaps I have been buying into the faint praise that seems to be circling around Alex Smith of late, but I expect Smith to win the QB competition with Shaun Hill. Mike Singletary had every opportunity in the world to put his full confidence in Hill based on his performance last season, and it never came. It still hasn’t come. I will never discount Hill’s performances, in spite of his obvious shortcomings…he is a good football player who definitely has some intangibles. But if his conclusion to 2008 isn’t enough to secure the job against a guy who is perceived to be a complete flameout, then the coaching staff has clear reservations. I anticipate Smith will outperform Hill in practice, as per usual, and show the arm strength that Singletary and Jimmy Raye have said they’re searching for. As for Smith’s performance? I’m not that bold.
5) The 49ers will win the NFC West
The 49ers will be division champions, due in no small part to the struggles around them. St. Louis is still miles away from being competitive. Seattle is coached by Jim Mora Jr. and has gotten old on offense in a hurry. Arizona simply cannot expect the same year out of Kurt Warner as they got in 2008, and they had significant turnover on the coaching staff. Even with a “new” permanent head coach and the 7th offensive coordinator in 7 seasons, the 49ers are the only team with enough young talent to survive the 16-game foray. The schedule appears to be reasonable, and having the final two games be against Detroit and St. Louis helps if a late push is needed. As with the Cardinals last season, it very well may only take a 9-7 record to take the division title, and I believe the 49ers will be in that territory.
Bonus Prediction: Andy Lee will have one punt this season that hits Jesus in his nuts