2012 training camp preview: San Francisco 49ers

The Sports Xchange
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More NFC West training camp previews: Cardinals | Rams | Seahawks

Training camp goals

1. Stay healthy. This is a tired axiom for every team in camp, but for the 49ers, this is more true than the last several years. One reason for their 13-3 season in 2011 was their ability to avoid injuries. On defense, Patrick Willis missed three games and most of a fourth game with a hamstring pull. Free safety Dashon Goldson missed the first two games with a foot injury and Ray McDonald missed one with a tight hamstring. That's it. Offensively, the team was hit hard at receiver with the knee injury to Braylon Edwards that finally knocked him off the roster and the season-ending, early-October broken ankle by Josh Morgan.

The 49ers have fixed their problems by stacking the receiver position with the addition of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and the drafting of A.J. Jenkins in the first round. The 49ers did the same at running back, fortifying starter Frank Gore, who hit a midseason wall, with Brandon Jacobs, and an exciting rookie in LaMichael James. They join the emerging Kendall Hunter. Nevertheless, should injuries hit the wrong position at the wrong time, the 49ers could struggle to win the division.

2. Get quarterback Alex Smith comfortable enough to throw deep. If Smith can't shirk his conservative proclivity to hit the check down receiver then Moss, Manningham and tight end Vernon Davis will get frustrated. Last year, Smith excelled at throwing deep, he just didn't do it often enough. 

Player to watch
Wide receiver Randy Moss. He has the potential to catapult this team into their first Super Bowl in nearly 20 years. He also has the potential to destroy. Just ask Brad Childress. It was just two years ago that Moss flamed out spectacularly in his second stint in Minnesota.

[Related: Ex-Niner Terrell Owens pays back child support]

On the hot seat

Quarterback Alex Smith. Smith is here every year. What quarterback isn't? However, for the first time in his eight-year career, Smith has no excuses. This will be his second year in coach Jim Harbaugh's offense, and he also has weapons. He consistently found the revitalized Moss in offseason practices. Davis is catching everything in sight and could be poised to join Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski as the next prolific receiving tight end. Manningham eagerly wants to establish himself as a starter after playing behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in New York. Not only that, the 49ers have an emerging offensive line, led by Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, that can protect Smith. The team is ready to take flight offensively, and Smith needs to be the pilot.

Strategy and personnel 
Harbaugh ran the offseason program, and particularly minicamp, like training camp. It included 12-hour days, two-and-half hour practices, film study, weight-lifting, and wind sprints after practice.
"It was very intense," strong safety Donte Whitner said. "I don't know how many plays coach was trying to run, but if we didn't run the most plays of any other team, we were definitely top five."

The team appeared on board with the intense pace. During the nine weeks of mostly voluntary workouts, 30 players had perfect attendance, including veterans like Justin and Alex Smith.

During the mandatory minicamp only two players missed out: Goldson, who has yet to sign his franchise tender, and James, who was finishing his degree at Oregon.
Full 49ers team report

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