Many unproductive years preceded last playoff run. Essentially, the same players took the field and failed to produce. Criticisms abound when failing is the trademark. The transition to success was: Unexpected? Shocking? Overdue? A direct result of leadership and Can Do philosophy? All of the above? What makes players perform well? What prompts them to play to win and do it week, after week, after week? God given abilities and Character are my assertions. Character breeds success. It is contagious. It is the pursuit of excellence in the face of adversity and failure. It is also a burden. Success in the NFL carries a weight - in the form of expectations. The fans... The organization... the individual player... are all laden with expectations - following success. We will learn which players have character. Some are known.
Alex Smith will always have my respect. Smith is a man who ignores the madness surrounding him and plays his best. His play is open to evaluation - but his heart is not. I know of no other player who was persistently dogged, criticized, maligned, and those negative comments continue. During the off season, despite his best season, the team considered his replacement. His behavior during that spate showed a lot about Alex. He kept his comments in check. He remained loyal to his team. The Miami trip was a blatant exercise in futility. Some may say Alex is stuck with San Francisco. I say GOOD! I want a QB who will suffer the slings and arrows and let his play speak. Secretly, I imagine Smith and Moss accomplishing much this year. I imagine Coach Harbaugh expanding the play calling. I expect much from this team - that's the price of success.
The defense is a collection of measured, maniacal, mad men who had their finest efforts snuffed out by Kyle Effing William's mistakes. Williams is the antithesis of The Catch… Montana’s drive against Cincy in the final minute… and many more examples of consistency – doing your job when it matters most. Williams is, and always will be, a Choker – IMO. 16 games of hard won effort were wiped away in a matter of minutes. Their play this season will expose their characters. I anticipate a frightening display - dominance from the first snap. The cohesion of character will play out. Last season's play will improve. Frightening...
The right O-Line and WR corps were weak last season. There are players who did not earn a roster spot and keeping them is a mistake IMO. Matching the play and intensity of the defense - the commitment to excellence and production are rendered suspect when players known for half-hearted effort and prone to errors (in critical moments) are retained. Ginn and Williams both bring Murphy's Law into the squad. The potential improvements with new players, and a year of experience, and trust, are burdened with suspicion that need not be. I’m hoping Harbaugh understands this maxim.
The players who occupy the right side of the offensive line must prove their worth to a team with championship talent; and ambitions. Those positions were also hampered with players lacking character. Rachal is emblematic of quitters who failed to dedicate and commit themselves to raise their play to match their teammates. Whomever Harbaugh chooses to fill those roles are immediately placed in a spotlight. Their play will predicate depth the offense – what they are permitted to play. Will they contribute in a manner that compliments the talent surrounding them? We will soon learn the depth of their character.
Occasionally, the planets align and a team is blessed to see the talent chosen mature and blossom. A spark ignites the will and desire to excel. Unfortunately, the NFL is burdened with a few franchises that conduct their operations with no commitment to the fans - or the players. That is WHY the Salary Cap exists - to push, and potentially punish teams that refuse to pay market value for the talent they own. The downside is a team will not always employ the talent needed to win. A collection of superior talent is fleeting. Teams must apply their talent when the opportunity exists. The Niners are ripe. This is a critical year; a revealing year.
This year's version of the Forty Niners are challenged to repeat their successes and improve upon them. Nothing less than a Championship will suffice. This team's substance will be evaluated. Can they handle the pressure and assert themselves? Do they have the character to take the Championship. That is how it's done. The talent is obvious. The ability to silence expectations remains unknown. I look forward to an interesting season. My gut sez this team will dominate.