COMMENTARY | The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2013 season as one of the best teams in the NFL. They have a head coach, quarterback, offense and defense in place to make another run at the Super Bowl. But that does not mean that they do not have any doubts or concerns.
The upcoming season will present its own unique set of challenges and obstacles, so let's take a look at five burning questions surrounding the franchise.
5. Which Wide Receiver Will Step Up?
Perhaps the team's most glaring concern comes at the wide receiver position. Since Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles in May, the 49ers are left with the newly-acquired Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis as its top pass-catchers.
The rest of the main receiving unit is comprised of A.J. Jenkins, Quinton Patton, Ricardo Lockette and Kyle Williams. Coming off multiple knee surgeries, Mario Manningham may not be ready to contribute by Week 1. With the number two receiving spot open for competition, someone needs to step up and grab hold of the job. While the group lacks NFL playing experience as a whole, they each have something to offer.
The 49ers lost an All-Pro safety in Dashon Goldson and hope to replace him with rookie free safety Eric Reid. The LSU standout was a playmaker in college, but he'll have big shoes to fill.
Like Goldson, Reid is stout in the run game, but the question lies in his pass coverage. Goldson excelled in roaming the field, coming up with interceptions and deflecting passes over the past two years. In that time frame, Goldson came up with six picks on throws of 15 or more yards. However, the 49ers' pass defense struggled in the playoffs last season, surrendering 306 yards per game.
Expectations are high for Reid to step in and shore up that area.
3. Will the 49ers Find that Extra Pass Rusher?
Aldon Smith was a one-man wrecking crew in 2012, compiling 19.5 sacks. Ahmad Brooks was second in team sacks with 6.5. If San Francisco wants to get to quarterbacks more often in 2013, they'll need to find others who can complement Smith.
In the draft, San Francisco added Cornellius "Tank" Carradine and Corey Lemonier to bolster its defense. Even though Carradine is coming off a torn ACL, he has outplayed former Florida State teammate Bjoern Werner (first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts) at times. While Auburn's Lemonier lacked discipline at times, he possesses a non-stop motor. With some grooming, he can develop into a quality prospect.
The 49ers will need all of the edge rushers that they can get. As they prepare to face off against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, San Francisco's pass rushing unit will be tested quite often throughout the upcoming season.
2. Can Colin Kaepernick Build on Last Year's Performance?
The third-year signal-caller has received a lot of media attention since he helped propelled the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Throwing for 798 yards while accumulating 264 rushing yards in the postseason, he certainly caught the eye of opposing teams.
Set to make just his 11th-career start on opening day, Kaepernick must prove that last season was no fluke. With some film on his tendencies and style of play, defenses should be better prepared for him. Losing his top target in Crabtree will make life harder for him, but given Kaepernick's relentless work ethic, don't be surprised if he makes the proper adjustments and finds a new "go-to" guy.
To help Kaepernick ease into his first full campaign as the unquestioned starter, he will be surrounded by an elite offensive line and a dominant ground game. Frank Gore is still a workhorse even at age 30, and LaMichael James possesses big-play ability. If Kendall Hunter can return to form from a torn Achilles, he will provide his quarterback with another explosive weapon in the backfield.
1. Has the Gap Closed Between the 49ers and the rest of the NFC West?
The competition level between the 49ers and the rest of its division may be closing. In 2011, San Francisco went 5-1 within its division. Last season, they fell to 3-2-1.
Arguably the greatest threat to the 49ers is the Seattle Seahawks. Led by Wilson, the Seahawks have found their franchise quarterback who is a threat both through the air and on the ground. Adding the dynamic Percy Harvin to his arsenal will only make Seattle's offense more diverse.
The St. Louis Rams may be young, but they have building blocks in defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Laurinaitis. Last season, the Rams were tied for the most sacks in the NFL at 52. To address their offensive struggles, the organization selected wideout Tavon Austin with their first-round selection in the 2013 draft. Head coach Jeff Fisher is guiding his team in the right direction, which should lead to plenty of intense battles between the Rams and 49ers.
Lastly, the Arizona Cardinals seem to be putting the pieces together on both sides of the ball. After ranking 32nd in total offense, the team is looking to surround star receiver Larry Fitzgerald with veteran talent in Carson Palmer and Rashard Mendenhall. Head coach Bruce Arians should also help rejuvenate Fitzgerald back to All-Pro form. Arizona's defense and special teams unit is on the rise as well, highlighted by cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Jim Harbaugh's ball club has claimed two straight NFC West crowns, but the task of winning the division will become much more challenging this season. However, the 49ers have the resources and winning experience in place to secure that goal.
Travis Chan is a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers. He is currently covering the team on the Yahoo! Contributor Network.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- San Francisco 49ers
- San Francisco
- Dashon Goldson
- Michael Crabtree
- Colin Kaepernick