It's funny, as I think about it, what concerns me the most as it pertains to the 2011 version of the 49ers. On the offensive side of the ball we've been oft-criticized for not having enough talent, outside of Frank Gore. On the defensive side, we had studs like Aubrayo Franklin, Justin Smith, Takeo Spikes, and Patrick Willis.
Yet, as I think of the unknowns going into this presumed (because of the lockout) new season it's interesting and perhaps illogical the things I'm worried about.
You see, we don't have any new great talents on the offense, yet I'm not worried about the personnel aspect...it's performance, execution, timing that I'm eager to see. I'm not worried about if a guy can beat his man for a TD or break four tackles on a run because he's that talented.
At this point I'd be stoked to just see a well-oiled machine, with no superstars per-se, grinding down the field and scoring points.
On the contrary, on defense I'm not worried about their performance. I'm worried about personnel. Sure we have great talents, but we also have some areas that need more production. We have guys who could (probably) leave the team in free agency. Now shouldn't the immense talent we have in terms of signed players trump the few who might leave?
It makes little sense...or does it?
My only theory as to why I feel this way is that the offense has struggled to look even competent the past few years. It's not for a lack of talent because it doesn't take a pro-bowler to know the snap-count or catch a pass that hits you in the hands.
Plus I think that perhaps we DO have talent on the offense that's as of yet undiscovered due to the putrid handling of said unit over the past few regimes. We've seen Josh Morgan make some nifty moves, big catches, etc. Does he turn the "suck button" on the rest of the time, or just disappear in an uncreative offense?
Can elite-speedster Ted Ginn, Jr. learn to catch the ball consistently, giving the team a true deep threat? The team didn't appear to coach many offensive players to the next level recently. I think that could change, and may be all that's necessary.
Defensively we've performed well with the same group of guys over the past few years. This is why it worries me to see guys like Manny Lawson, Franklin, and Spikes potentially leaving the team. Despite being unspectacular, we've always stopped the run and mostly had a chance to win games in which the offense scored a few touchdowns prior to the end of the game.
Can Isaac Sopoaga hold down the NT position, building on the progress he made in 2010 at the 5-technique position? His leverage looked good and he was making plays in the backfield, even sacks, SACKS!
Maybe Ricky Jean-Francois is finally ready to be a big-time contributor on the defense? He was the backup NT in 2010 and practiced well, played well in the pre-season even against first-string players.
Or will the loss of experienced players who have been together for years affect this group so much that all the talent won't be able to make up for it?
So what concerns you most on either side of the ball, talent or execution?