The Vikings take on the 49ers in front of a national audience Sunday night in San Francisco in the "all-important" third preseason game for each team. The game still doesn't count but we'll see more of the starters for each team than we will the rest of the preseason. Want to know more about the Niners straight from someone that knows the team inside and out? You're in luck. David Fucillo (aka Fooch), head honcho over at Niners Nation, was kind enough to answer our questions.
1. Colin Kaepernick is good at football. He runs well. He throws well. He looks better than us naked. He has a cool signature touchdown celebration. (MUCH better than Aaron Rodgers' stupid Discount Double Check in my completely unbiased opinion.) But nobody's perfect. What the biggest area of Kap's game that you would like to see improve heading into the 2013 season?
"He looks better than us naked" - Speak for yourself!
But seriously, his biggest area for improvement after last season was on touch passes, and really just reigning in his arm strength. He has a cannon for an arm, and all too frequently he would fire off shorter passes without providing a bit of touch. For example, last season he dislocated one of Randy Moss' fingers on such a pass. This preseason, it seems like his touch has been better, so hopefully that is not going to be as big an issue.
The thing for fans to keep an eye on more than "what to improve", is how Kap and the 49ers adjust to the inevitable adjustments defenses will make this season. The 49ers face the Packers the first week of the season, and after Kap embarrassed them in the divisional round this past January, you know they have been focused on containing him. The corresponding adjustments we see from Kap and OC Greg Roman will be a pretty significant indicator of where Kap's season might be headed.
2. The 49ers recently traded away A.J. Jenkins for Jon Baldwin. At first glance it seems like a "both these guys are busts, maybe a change of scenery will help" type of trade. However, it looks like you're getting some pretty positive feedback on your site about your new wide receiver. Do you think Baldwin can fill some of the void left by Michael Crabtree's Achilles injury? Speaking of Crabtree, what are the chances he'll be back on the field this season?
I think both sites are getting positive feedback about the new wide receiver. In the initial comments after the trade, you could have traded out Jenkins for Baldwin in the AP and NN posts, and it would have sounded very similar. Both fan-bases were as much hoping for the change of scenery as anything else.
Although there are some similarities in the Reid and Harbaugh offensive schemes, he is still behind the curve in getting ready for the season. I think the 49ers will be looking to him as a contributor a bit later in the season once he and Colin Kaepernick have gotten on the same page. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis are the two guys the 49ers are looking at to fill the void left by Crabtree's injury. Baldwin has the size to step in and make an impact, but it's too early to tell if he'll work out.
Crabtree's rehab timeline could get him back in late November, although even then, I don't think the 49ers will be counting on huge contributions, even come playoff time.
3. The Niners had one of the most formidable defenses in the league for majority of the 2012 season but they were gashed fairly often toward the end of their Super Bowl run. What do you think was the main cause of the defense taking a step back? What has the team done to make sure that the defense remains one of the best in the NFL?
The 49ers defense took a hit with the injury to Justin Smith. The 49ers defensive lineman suffered a torn triceps that cost him the final two games of the regular season, and then kept him from being 100% in the playoffs. Aldon Smith suffered because of that, but he also dealt with a labrum tear late in the season. The 49ers defense lacked depth, which meant the starters were playing huge snap counts. The 49ers addressed that this offseason, as they added several options in the secondary and the pass rush. The 49ers signed defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. They also drafted outside linebacker Corey Lemonier, and defensive linemen Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial. Carradine and Dial will likely start the season on the NFI list, but Lemonier has looked very solid in a pass rush role thus far.
4. While the third preseason game showcases the starters and Sunday's game will be on national television, the main focus for coaches will still be filling out the teams' respective depth charts. Give us a couple of your biggest positional battles going on right now and who you think the favorites are to win the jobs. Are there any household names that are in danger of getting cut?
The biggest position battles are at cornerback and wide receiver. The 49ers signed Nnamdi Asomugha to compete at cornerback, but when they lost Chris Culliver to a torn ACL, it became that much more significant. Nnamdi is competing with Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox for playing time. All three have looked very solid in the first two preseason games, leaving it that much more wide open. I think we end up seeing a bit of a rotation at the third spot, but it's kind of hard to tell right now.
The wide receiver position is about the guys after Anquan Boldin. The loss of Michael Crabtree left the team trying to figure out who will catch passes alongside Boldin and Vernon Davis. Kyle Williams and Marlon Moore appear to have locked up spots, but even those two are somewhat questionable entities. Neither has had a ton of snaps in their careers, so the 49ers competition for playing time even behind them is a big deal. The 49ers have guys like Jon Baldwin, Austin Collie, Chad Hall, Lavelle Hawkins, Ricardo Lockette, Kassim Osgood and Chuck Jacobs competing for no more than two roster spots. I think Baldwin and Collie should be considered the favorites for now, but it's not entirely clear otherwise.
The veteran most in danger of getting cut might be Colt McCoy. The 49ers signed him to back up Colin Kaepernick, but he has struggled in two preseason games. Scott Tolzien has not impressed much either, while B.J. Daniels had one big drive in the fourth quarter last week. The 49ers backup QB position is clearly questionable when the team is reportedly looking to kick the tires on Seneca Wallace.
5. Most NFL fans are familiar with the 49ers' many stars: Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, and so on. Let us know about an "unsung hero" on each side of the ball that will help the Niners make another run at the Super Bowl. Finally, give us your prediction of who will win Sunday's game. (Just kidding! I'm just really excited for games that actually count to start again.)
The unsung hero on offense could prove to be Vance McDonald. 49ers fans know who he is, but he could be the guy who really takes this offense to another level. The rookie tight end is going to replace Delanie Walker as the No. 2 tight end behind Vernon Davis. McDonald is improving his blocking, but where he really excels is as a pass catcher. He won't be leading the 49ers in receptions anytime soon, but he could be a key playmaker for a team that likes to employ two-tight end sets. Delanie Walker was an excellent blocker, but an inconsistent pass catcher, so this could be a big improvement.
The unsung her on defense could be Ian Williams. The 49ers let incumbent nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and his backup Ricky Jean-Francois both walk in free agency. Williams was given a modest two year contract extension, and a chance to compete with Glenn Dorsey at nose tackle, and depth elsewhere on the line. The 3-4 nose tackle can be incredibly under-appreciated, but in two preseason games, Williams has been a monster in the middle, consistently collapsing the pocket, and opening holes for the inside linebackers. The 49ers defense is already strong, but improved nose tackle play could take it up a notch.