It was incredibly disappointing to come so close and stumble with the Lombardi Trophy just out of reach. The 49ers season was filled with ups and downs, but even with some personnel decisions this offseason, the team is situated to remain a contender for the near future. The coaching staff remains in place, the base of the team is locked in and Trent Baalke and company remain in position to do great things with the team's numerous draft picks.
As we look ahead to the 2013 season, the team will need to make adjustments along the way. Even if the entire roster returned, there were flaws on this team that need to be corrected. Part of that is coaching and part of that is execution.
Nobody had a perfect season, and even a Lombardi Trophy would not have had some of the flaws on this team (although it certainly would have helped!). I've broken down some specific labels to describe players and coaches, and what is needed for the coming season.
Enforcer - Dashon Goldson
The 49ers defense has plenty of talent, but part of their play is predicated on the intimidation they bring. Nobody exemplified this more than Dashon Goldson. He is a free agent, but I think the 49ers bring him back in 2013. He has personified the physicality of this team. Opposing fans call him a head-hunter, but we know him to be a technically sound big hitter. There is a dramatic difference between the two.
Brain - Greg Roman
The 49ers have a host of intelligent players, but heading into 2013, much of the important work this offseason will come from Greg Roman, and really the entire offensive coaching staff. The 49ers provided as many looks on offense as any team in the NFL. Defenses will spend the offseason breaking down 49ers film and figuring out how they operate. Greg Roman and his staff will be tasked with making adjustments
Technician - Colin Kaepernick
Although Colin Kaepernick has endless physical gifts, he is still learning a lot of the technical things that make for a successful NFL quarterback. The 49ers do not need Kap to be perfect, but they need him to take the needed steps forward from a technical aspect. A big key is reading defenses better, both pre-snap and post-snap. He has had a variety of instances where he stares down receivers. Generally he avoided devastating mistakes, but natural talent will carry a quarterback so far. There is no question about his drive and determination. There is no question he will spend the offseason turning himself into a better quarterback. As long as he can recognize the weaknesses in his game, the 49ers are in good shape moving forward.
Loose cannon - Anthony Davis
The 49ers right tackle had a breakthrough campaign in 2012, showing strong improvement as the 49ers offensive line grew into one of the best in the NFL. However, Davis still found himself getting into scrapes after the whistle. He avoided stupid penalties for the most part, but he needs to watch out if he wants to avoid becoming a guy officials keep an extra closer eye on. It hasn't really happened yet, but enough complaints and he could develop that kind of reputation. It is great that he has everybody's back, but sometimes there are better ways to go about this kind of thing.
Motivator - Patrick Willis
Colin Kaepernick might be developing into the face of the 49ers franchise, but Patrick Willis strikes me as the heart and soul of the franchise. He has proven himself as arguably the best linebacker in the NFL, which gives him as much cache as just about anybody on this team. Coming off such a tough loss there will be plenty of motivational figures, but in my mind, Patrick Willis remains the guy who fuels this team.
Prankster - Anthony Dixon/Joe Staley
Although Justin Smith has gotten love as one of the funny guys on the team, Joe Staley and Anthony Dixon seem to be the guys who appear to have the most fun. The 49ers are a business-first team, but they have enough characters to keep things from getting too uptight. More importantly is that both Dixon and Staley have made strides on the field. Dixon in particular is a guy who could have become a nuisance if he didn't show improvement, but as we saw this past year, he is committed to whatever is needed for the team. He cannot let up as he remains in a perpetual dogfight for a roster position.
Muscle - Justin Smith
If there were any remaining question about Justin Smith's this season, it was proven quite convincingly following his triceps injury. The 49ers defense was a shell of its former self for the second half of the Patriots game, and moving forward. Smith came back in the playoffs, but it was clear he was not 100%. That's not to say there were not other problems with execution, but Smith's absence was felt dramatically. A successful return from triceps surgery will be a big part of how this defense rebounds in 2013.