The 2013 NFL regular season is right around the corner. With that being said, it’s time to launch our team previews. FOXSports.com contributor Taylor Jones will answer important questions for every franchise.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ers
2012 Record: 11-4-1. Lost in Super Bowl to the Baltimore Ravens
Which player is under the most pressure?
Forget the fact that he was wearing a Miami Dolphins hat a few weeks ago, Colin Kaepernick is under the most pressure because he is entering the season for the first time in his three-year career as the clear-cut starter. With no Alex Smith to fall back on, his style of play adds to the pressure, because if he gets hurt, there is nobody behind him capable of taking this team to the playoffs, let alone a return trip to the Super Bowl. As the defined starter, Kaepernick is going to have to rely on his arm more than his legs, and that’s not to say he isn’t capable of just that. Kaepernick has one of the most live arms in the NFL and has the accuracy to complement it. It will be on even more display this year as Jim Harbaugh protects his prized quarterback. Kaepernick rushed the ball an average of nine times during his seven regular-season starts last season and I would assume that number is closer to five in 2013.
The 49ers have Colt McCoy, who left Thursday night’s game early with a shoulder injury, second on the depth chart with Scott Tolzien and BJ Daniels as the other quarterbacks on the roster. For those three reasons alone, Kaepernick must remain healthy.
What is the position battle to watch?
Cornerback, more specifically, Nnamdi Asomugha. Two years removed from carrying the title as the best cover corner in the NFL, Asomugha is in trouble of not making the final 53-man roster at the end of preseason. The 49ers started three corners on their defense Thursday, none named Asomugha. Add in the fact that the 49ers signed Eric Wright, even after a failed physical nullified a trade that would have had Wright in San Francisco two weeks earlier. Wright wasn’t with the team Thursday as he attended to a personal matter, but he could be the final blow to Asomugha’s chances … and that is saying something. Wright was a starting corner on the league’s worst pass-defense last season and has a history of nagging injuries and off-the-field issues. The 49ers are already down Chris Culliver to a torn ACL and seem to be reaching for help in a secondary that was supposed to be deep with talent after the Aosumugha signing. Now they seem desperate.
What must the team accomplish to consider the season a success?
This is a team that lost in the NFC Championship Game in 2011 and then the Super Bowl last season. If this was a standardized test, the next phase to the pattern is the 49ers winning the Super Bowl in 2013. There are obviously multiple factors that could derail those plans, but they have as good of a chance as anyone. Staying healthy is critical and something that they did abnormally well in 2012. The 49ers played with the same starting five offensive lineman for the entire season and 17 players started all 16 games. Only one NFL team in the past 30 years had more starters start every game of the schedule: the 2003 Chiefs. If healthy, this teams boasts the best offensive line, the best pass rusher, and the best middle linebacker in football. That means the 49ers expect to win the Super Bowl, anything else would be a disappointment.
Which rookie stands the best chance to succeed?
Vance McDonald was the 49ers’ third pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he may prove to have the most immediate impact in this offense. He will play the role of the departed Delanie Walker and that means he will line up in the backfield, on the line or in the slot. With the depleted receiving corps, that means there are more targets for other players and Vernon Davis may end up as the team’s leading receiver. And while Davis draws the majority of the attention, McDonald may sneak in a couple of big plays in every game. McDonald’s athletic ability reminds me a lot of Dustin Keller and that is the type of speed and balance he can bring to this offense.
What is the team’s biggest addition/loss from the previous season?
Anquan Boldin is well beyond his prime, but he is still one of the rare receivers that are always open, even when they are covered. He isn’t going to run by anyone and he doesn’t have eye-popping quickness either, but his subtle movements and body positioning allow him the best chance to come away with the reception. Boldin’s acquisition via trade was a nice addition when it happened, but without Michael Crabtree for the season, it has become a necessity. Boldin is much more of a possession receiver than Crabtree’s big-play potential, but Boldin will be asked to run every route in this offense, simply because they have no one else to do it.