Last season the San Francisco 49ers saw themselves one play away from potentially achieving the ultimate prize in the National Football League, a Super Bowl victory. The heartbreaking 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens may seem like it happened yesterday to die-hard fans, but the Niners aren't looking back; they're 100 percent focused on the season ahead.
“I am a firm believer that if you have to talk about what you did yesterday, no matter how good it was, then you haven't done much today," 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said. "So, that's where we're at today, going forward, trying to achieve things today."
Harbaugh took a team with a record of 26-38 from 2007-2010, and pulled out a 24-7-1 record going into his third year as head coach. His first two years with the Niners included a NFC Championship playoff appearance in 2011, and a Super Bowl appearance the following year. The only thing left to do is win the Lombardi Trophy, but with a new season comes new acquisitions on the roster — making up an entire new team.
Since the NFL began, there have been only two teams that have lost a Super Bowl game and then returned to win it: the 1971 Dallas Cowboys and the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
After a special teams meltdown last year, which included David Akers hitting only 69 percent of his kicks, missing critical opportunities, including a possible game winner against St. Louis in their 24-24 tie, the 49ers brought in veteran placekicker Phil Dawson to fill those shoes. Dawson finished the best year of his 15-year career last season hitting 29-of-31 field goals for the Cleveland Browns.
The loss of injured wide receiver Michael Crabtree will be a huge blow to the offense, but with the acquisition of Anquan Boldin from Baltimore, it is safe to say that quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers have their go-to guy. Tight end Vance McDonald will also be a key contributor coming in as a rookie from Rice University to help take the work load off Pro Bowler Vernon Davis.
In addition to filling out the offense, San Francisco also addressed perhaps its one weakness that doomed the club a season ago: the secondary.
While the 49ers ranked second in total points allowed and third in total defense, and was one of only two teams to rank in the top five in all four defensive categories, the Niners' defensive backs struggled to contain big plays throughout the playoffs.
With the key loss of free safety Dashon Goldson, the 49ers have brought in veteran Craig Dahl from the Rams, along fourth-year man CJ Spillman and the first-round draft pick out of LSU Eric Reid, to battle for the starting position.
“I have been doing a lot of studying, just trying to get better every day that we go to practice. I am very fortunate in the fact that we have a lot of veterans that are here and that have done it for a long time and have eased the learning curve for me,” Reid said. “I am learning the playbook and hopefully not making mental errors when I am out there.”
Ian Williams, Lamar Divens and Glenn Dorsey will be filling the hole left by Isaac Sopoaga at the nose tackle position.
What this next year has in store for the reigning NFC Champions is unknown, but with a deep and balanced team that returns nine guys on defense, including their entire offensive line that held the trenches for the 49ers en route to 2,491 rushing yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, there is no telling what the big up front can do.
The 49ers are able to pound the ball so well because they have such a forceful offensive line. Joe Staley and Anthony Davis each surrendered eight sacks in 2012, but they compensated for that by blasting open huge running lanes.
The interior of the line is also stout. Right guard Alex Boone was a pleasant surprise in his first season as a starter. Left guard Mike Iupati excelled at blocking, but committed way too many penalties at nine. Twelve year veteran and center Jonathan Goodwin is the weak link up front, but the 49ers are hopeful that 2011 fifth-rounder Daniel Kilgore can beat him out for the job.
The big question is how third year man Kaepernick will respond to a full 16-game schedule, but offensive coordinator Greg Roman has already seen improvement.
"I think Colin is getting better, at really everything he does just because of the approach he takes; and he's definitely somebody with a live arm and I think he's really focused on all his throws: short, intermediate and deep," Roman said.
The 49ers will be hosting the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Candlestick. The regular season opener will be on Sept. 8 against the Green Bay Packers at home.
QB Colt McCoy, WR Anquan Boldin, G Adam Snyder, DT Glenn Dorsey, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, S Craig Dahl, K Phil Dawson.
Early Draft Picks:
S Eric Reid, DE/DT Tank Carradine, TE Vance McDonald, DE/OLB Corey Lemonier, WR Quinton Patton, RB Marcus Lattimore, DE/DT Quinton Dial. 49ers Rookie Forecast
QB Alex Smith, WR Randy Moss, TE Delanie Walker, NT Isaac Sopoaga, ILB Larry Grant, S Dashon Goldson, K David Akers, KR Ted Ginn.
DB Chris Culliver, WR Michael Crabtree, LB Darius Fleming