NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers looks on as his team plays the New Orleans Saints during a preseason game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
In this piece I would like to breakdown why this year will be different from years past in the Bay Area for the San Francisco 49ers. Since the conclusion of last season, the 49ers have been in the process of a complete organizational makeover. The amount of changes would indicate a drastic difference from last season for better or for worse.
It all began with the courtship of Jim Harbaugh; duking it out with competitive suitors like the Stanford Cardinal, Michigan Wolverines and Miami Dolphins. The 49ers came out ahead in that first and perhaps most important battle. The coaching changes didn't end there either.
Harbaugh and ascending fan favorite General Manager Trent Baalke assembled what I like to refer to as the dream team of a coaching staff. Harbaugh kept his Stanford trifecta together by bringing in defensive coach Vic Fangio and offensive assistant Greg Roman to be the coordinators on both sides of the ball. These men have already maintained a professional working relationship, improving a once pitiful Stanford program to an elite contender.
(continue reading my Ode to the 2011 49ers after the jump)
Harbaugh and Baalke also brought in Jim Leavitt, former head coach of division-1 South Florida to be the linebackers coach -- if anything, Leavitt is overqualified. The move to bring in special teams guru Brad Seely will prove to be a genius under-the-radar one that should produce great results. Seely is coming from the Cleveland Browns where they relied heavily on the performance of their special teams unit to win games as an underdog in the AFC North.
Another brilliant decision by the new organization was to retain defensive line coach Jim Tomsula. Tomsula has been terrific for the 49ers, getting the maximum performance level out of every defensive lineman he gets his hands on. It is no secret that the Niners are strong in the trenches and we have none other than Tomsula to thank for that. I'd also like to mention the hiring of secondary coach Ed Donatell from the Denver Broncos, where he worked with elite players like Brian Dawkins and Champ Bailey.
With all respect to the previous coaching staff, especially Greg Manusky, I think the 49ers improved ten fold as a coaching staff. They also brought in a tremendous draft class; two of our rookies, linebacker Aldon Smith and tailback Kendall Hunter, have each had an outstanding preseason, placing first and second in rushing yards (231) and sacks (3.5).
The 49ers also acquired the services of a battering ram in another rookie standout in Bruce Miller, former collegiate defensive end for Central Florida. The understudy and eventual replacement to Moran Norris has been a force already and looks to continue his growth this season.
Anyone say a big-play receiver? Former New York Jet Braylon Edwards signed a one-year contract to provide an improving Alex Smith with a fair chance to finally reach his potential. Smith's core of weapons automatically improves with the addition of a player like Edwards. Teams can't double team Edwards and Vernon Davis because then theres former first round selection Michael Crabtree to clean up.
And say what you will about Crabtree, everyone has an opinion about the youngster, but the kid can make plays. Vernon Davis was called the same names as Crabtree (Diva, Primadonna) before he had his moment of clarity and now the sky is the limit for the tight end. This could be the year the Crabtree finally comes around, the timing makes sense -- it's now or never. One way or another, the league is going to find out who Crabtree really is this season.
The offensive line has also aged another year together. Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati are no longer rookies so there are no excuses to play like them, especially under the new regime where actions speak louder than words. On top of that, let's welcome a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl winning center in former New Orleans Saint Jonathon Goodwin. He will add veteran leadership amongst other things to one of the youngest offensive lines in professional football.
Last years secondary which was responsible for two of the NFL's best pass plays of the year, has had a complete overhaul of it's own. Only two possible starters really remain in Dashon Goldson and Shawntae Spencer. Harbaugh reeled in Donte Whitner after he almost signed with Cincinatti, while also bringing in former Minnesota Viking Madieu Williams and ex-Redskin Carlos Rogers.
This team will look nothing like last years team or the one before that. And it all comes full circle with Jim Harbaugh being an offensive minded players coach who lives and breathes football. The great coaches; Lombardi, Walsh, Landry -- they obsess and refuse anything less than a player's best. Harbaugh will take the team to the next level because he will not stop until he does. San Francisco should be in for at least two more wins this season, making us an 8-8 team. Then the year after, perhaps we will be 10-6.
San Francisco is in the midst of being saved, and we can thank Captain Comeback when the time comes.
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