As 49er fans we can fall on the more critical side when it comes to evaluating the play of our team. I have never seen so many fans as skeptical about a 3 win streak especially when we are putting up 30+ points on teams. Of course there are still worst (Aka Pittsburgh fans weren't even satisfied with there 6th super bowl ring and another super bowl appearance) but I think it would be nice to highlight some of the players that have progressed this season. Here are my candidates, Tell me what you think!
--Donte Hitner: After last year many people including myself were calling for Donte Whitner's release, especially after the poor performance in the super bowl. He was great in run support but he don't ask me to cover anybody. He was routinely abused by T.Es last year. During the offseason I was hoping we would cut him to make room for Goldson's contract but obviously that didn't happen and I think we are better off for it. Some things I noticed this year is he looks a lot leaner, which I think led to his ability to cover better. You don't see too many passes get passed him this year and he is still a force when he is reacting to short passes. I am very impressed and hopefully he doesn't cost too much money to resign as I think him and Reid are shaping up to be a great safety duo.
--Alex Boone: Last year I was a little worried about having a practice squad guy step up and fill a guard role. He was pretty solid last year and set himself up to have a great year this season. It may be because of the other linemens health issues, but I think the Rhino is turning out to be the best O-Linemen on the team this year. Just having a monster performance in the trenches and is consistently grading out on PFF as one of the best linemen. Don't be surprised if he gets selected to a pro bowl.
--Carlos Rogers: Last year Carlos seemed to regress playing in the slot, and I was a little worried about him coming into this season. This year, I hardly here his name called, which is a good thing when it comes to being a corner. Even in his worst game against the Packers, he still kept Randall Cobb slightly quiet given the fact he was up against a young dynamic playmaker. Big ups to his play. I don't think he makes the cut this year due to salary cap, age, and the depth of CBs that will be entering the draft this year, but I won't let that take away from his play so far.
--Ahmad Brooks: Quietly having a monster year, he is becoming an anchor on stomping runs from getting outside and his pass rush has much improved this year. IDK what his off field incident did to him over the summer, but he seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
--Frank Gore: He is definitely becoming the MVP of the team. I know its kind of hard to say Frank the Tank is playing better, but it seems he is definitely playing with a chip on his shoulder. As he continues to age, desperately wanting a SB ring, and a young RB chasing his spot (Lattimore), He continues to show why he is such a valuable asset to the team. Not just his running but his old man savvy on the field. His pass blocking has been great, when CK7 decides to run he always seems to be throwing a key block, and I always like it when he knows to abandon the play action to pick up a blitz (although it usually looks kind of goofy when CK7 fakes a handoff to nobody).
****Players on the bubble that seem to be progressing on a week to week basis
-- Jon Baldwin: Although his production has been limited, he doesn't seem to have a case of the drops as he makes the most of his limited opportunities. I actually think he is going to turn out to be a great asset for the team as he becomes more experienced in the niners offense and develops a relationship with Kap. He has the size and strength to outmuscle CBs on the outside and if he isn't a perfect fit to run a Slant route to pick up some necessary yards I don't know who is. He will also be able to use his body to make those nice fade route catches as him and Kaps relationship builds. His development could be huge going forward for the 9ers, as we certainly will not have Boldin next year and would be a great compliment to Crabtree going forward.
--CK7: **Disclaimer: I have a little familiarity with the QB position from playing college ball, so I like to evaluate the position. Last year CK7s deficiencies were masked by the coaching staff curtailing the offense to his college style and the coaching staff giving him the green light to run whenever he wanted as we had a very capable back up. In college he ran the pistol and ran a lot of quick release passes so he never really developed pocket awareness, footwork, getting the ball out and the ability to go through progressions. Even if you go back and look at the green bay playoff game he had trouble throwing in man to man coverage so he just ran anytime he saw this coverage. To be sure, last year he had all of these problems but again they were masked.
This year he is being asked to play the classic old school michigan style of offense as we saw the rest of the team struggling to make the adjustment as the personnel is not suited to run a heavy dose of pistol offense. He is also being asked to run less, which some people have a problem with, but lets be honest if he were to miss two weeks for a bruised shoulder, its almost a guaranteed loss for those games. Most people would say you always curtail the offense towards your qb as he always has the ball in his hands, but I think the coaching staff trusts in his ability to adjust. He started out shaky, but in the last 3 weeks or so, it seems that he has made significant strides and hopefully he will continue. He seems more comfortable with his footwork in the pocket (especially when it comes to "Climbing the ladder"), trusting what he sees and getting the ball out, and knowing where to place the ball when it comes to throwing in Man to Man coverage. One play I think summed up his progress was the fade route he threw for a touchdown to VD against the Cardinals.
On this play he looked off the safety, came back to the route, and threw a perfectly placed fade route to VD where he could make a play on the ball. Last year I thought this throw was his kryptonite as he was just too uncomfortable with throwing to a covered guy in single man coverage and giving him a chance to make a play. He still has some work to do, especially with going through progressions and staring down receivers, but I just wanted to point out that he is evolving as a pro style QB and will continue to be more dangerous.