In 2011 and into 2012, we saw the 49ers offense develop into a dependable unit that excelled at ball control and creativity. Even though it was a shortened offseason, and the 49ers were in the midst of a total makeover, there was clear growth and an identity began to take shape. In the upcoming 2012 regular season, I think the 49ers have reason to believe there will be an even grander leap from the offense.
I'd like to identity a few rumored changes that might take place and open up opportunities for the offense.
1. The 49ers will carry one full back
I think it's pretty evident Moran Norris will not be returning to the 49ers this year; not only because of the emergence of Bruce Miller but in packages where the 49ers use 2+ blocking backs, Isaac Sopoaga has found a place on the offense. Because the team has so many versatile players, there is no reason to use a roster spot for an aging full back. This will allow the 49ers to fill that spot with say, an extra tight end or wide receiver -- this means more depth for offensive weapons.
2. The right guard position
Whatever the 49ers decide to do at this position, I believe there will be improvement from 2011 to 2012. With the end near for Chilo Rachal and Adam Snyder's contract being up, the position needs to be addressed. I'm not opposed at all to bringing Snyder back as that will mean some continuity at perhaps the most important place for it on the offense. To have the 5 same offensive linemen together from this year to the next would be a positive.
However, the other routes San Francisco could go would be free agency where someone like Carl Nicks would be available. Also, if the 49ers missed out on Nicks and Snyder, they could trade up for Stanford's David DeCastro in the first round. Whatever Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh decide on, I will feel confident.
3. Only 2 wide receiver's remain
San Francisco has some serious decision making to do when it comes to the wide receiver position; only Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree are signed on for the upcoming season. That means 2011 WR's Ted Ginn Jr., Joshua Morgan, Braylon Edwards (CUT), Brett Swain and Joe Hastings may not be back. I don't feel Baalke has really focused yet on bringing in a long-term solution to the wide receiver woes, but we've seen what he's capable of when he's looking to fix something. I expect his attention to be geared toward the offense this offseason, particularly at the receiver spot. I'd like Morgan back but feel Ginn is more replaceable.
The 49ers could do a number of things in different combination's. The big question is whether or not they address the WR issue in free agency or draft. If it's free agency, I think most fans would like Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson or Stevie Johnson. If it's the draft, I think its more diverse but folks would likely be praying for Alshon Jefferey to fall to #30. I also think Michael Floyd could get it done at the next level, but I believe the 49ers should draft two receivers regardless. There are some mid to late round prizes to be had, and I expect San Francisco to know who they are.
4. Alex Smith's return
If you caught the pictures of Alex Smith caddying for Jim Harbaugh, you're probably as certain as the rest of us that Alex Smith will be the 49ers starting quarterback next season. Furthermore, I expect him to progress rather than regress. What I fear most is a Josh Freeman-like regression that turns our season on itself, but I don't expect it. I think Harbaugh will be hands on working with Smith a lot more this offseason and we could be once again wowed by Smith's performance.
5. Open up the playbook
I really liked what I saw in terms of play design and play calling from San Francisco for most of the season, especially toward the back half. With a full offseason in place, key players added and excess baggage subtracted, I believe they will open up the playbook even more under Greg Roman and Harbaugh's direction. Smith will be even more comfortable and the year to year consistency should really help plays blossom on the field.
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