5 Storylines To Follow During San Francisco 49ers Training Camp
5 Storylines to Follow During San Francisco 49ers Training Camp
The San Francisco 49ers came up five yards short of victory with under two minutes to go in Super Bowl XLVII. They were as close as a team can come to winning the big game and doing so in the most dramatic of fashions, after overcoming a 21-6 first-half deficit. In 2013, the 49ers are poised to return to the Super Bowl to claim their sixth Vince Lombardi trophy.
Coach Jim Harbaugh returns for his third season at the helm in San Francisco and brings back much of the same team from last season including quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Harbaugh has returned the red and gold to prominence within the NFL after a decade of missing the playoffs prior to his arrival.
Last year's starter at quarterback for the first half of the season, Alex Smith, was dealt to the Kansas City Chiefs after spending his first eight seasons in the Bay Area. But, Smith was not the only player that the 49ers lost in the offseason. San Francisco also lost players at key positions, including Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Ricky Jean-Francois, Ted Ginn Jr and Isaac Sopoaga.
Many pundits are already proclaiming San Francisco's biggest rival, the Seattle Seahawks, to be Super Bowl-bound. With injuries to key players and questions about PED use, it remains to be seen whether the Seahawks are a legitimate threat to the NFC West Division throne.
The 49ers started training camp last week in Santa Clara under the shadow of their new stadium. Here are five storylines to follow for this contender going into the season.
Lawrence Okoye: Will He Make the 53-Man Roster?
Lawrence Okoye has never played football before at any level, and now the English Olympian finds himself on one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. What type of impact can this athlete make for the 49ers?
Okoye is 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, but also ran a 4.78 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. San Francisco would definitely benefit from having that type of speed on their defensive line.
Battle of the Cornerbacks
Carlos Rogers had a disappointing 2012 season following a standout 2011 campaign, which he was rewarded for with a four-year $31 million contract. The 49ers also brought in Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason on a one-year deal to further crowd a talented secondary that includes Tramaine Brock, Tarell Brown, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver.
San Francisco's glut of cornerbacks will be battling for playing time as well as new contracts. This should bring a lot of competition for a secondary that got burned often last season. Harbaugh loves to create competition for his players so that they do not stagnate. This will only serve to increase the level of play for the defense in 2013.
Who Will Carry the Load With Frank Gore?
Frank Gore is not getting any younger at age 30, but he continues to be one of the top backs in the NFL. One of the ways that his career will be extended while remaining productive is by distributing some of his carries to other running backs on the San Francisco roster.
Harbaugh recognizes this and over the past two seasons, he has enlisted Kendall Hunter to help carry the ground game for the 49ers. After Hunter's achilles injury, rookie LaMichael James received most of the backup snaps. Now that Hunter is expected to come off the PUP list, it will be interesting to see how this position battle plays out in training camp, as the loser will likely receive minimal playing time.
Which Wide Receivers Will Step Up in Michael Crabtree's Absence?
Michael Crabtree is the latest 49ers player to experience an Achilles tear, which could be a huge blow to San Francisco's championship aspirations. The 49ers wide receiver core is still recovering from last season's injuries as Kyle Williams just came off of the PUP list, while Mario Manningham's return is still unclear.
This opens up opportunities for some of San Francisco's receivers such as A.J. Jenkins, Chad Hall and Ricardo Lockette to receive some looks. In addition, the 49ers nabbed veteran Anquan Boldin for a sixth-round draft pick. This acquisition will prove to be a valuable insurance policy following Crabtree's injury.
Another storyline worth keeping an eye on during training camp is that tight end Vernon Davis has been practicing and running routes with the San Fran wide receiver core. This will make Davis an even more dangerous offensive weapon than he already was, as he is sure to increase his speed and footwork by training with the wideouts. Davis will certainly soften the loss of Crabtree, and he will receive increased targets from quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Colin Kaepernick: One-Year Wonder or Legitimate NFL Quarterback?
Colin Kaepernick is entering his first training camp as the starting quarterback for the 49ers, and it should give them the momentum needed to return to the Super Bowl as redemption has been on his mind since the February loss in New Orleans. Many critics believe Kaepernick to be a flash in the pan and a one-year wonder while at the same time praising the much smaller, less dynamic Russell Wilson.
Both quarterbacks will be under extreme scrutiny as second-year starters. Kaepernick will have to prove his ability to adapt now that rival teams have film and research on the pistol offense. However, not many quarterbacks have the 10th start of their career fall on the Super Bowl, and that is just one thing that sets Kaepernick apart from the Robert Griffin III's and Wilson's of the NFL.