Aldon Smith could not have described it better:
Happy hunger games. Good Luck— Aldon Smith (@AldonSmith) July 24, 2013
Here we are at the beginning of training camp. It is the NFL’s version of the Hunger Games. Although, to be perfectly honest, there are much fewer questions to answer at 49ers camp then the number provided by the plot holes in that dystopian mess of a movie. Like, why do the contestants have the worst mentors ever? And why is Seneca so bad at managing a game, as if his decisions were based purely on a need to move the plot forward? Also, how did Peeta turn into Ray Harryhausen all of a sudden just by decorating cakes?
Training camp may not be life or death, but it certainly fits in the Hunger Games mold if for no other reason than to satiate our blood-lust until the actual season begins. Think about it this way: the established veterans are like the Alphas of the group, the Catos of the team. Kaepernick, the Smiths, Gore, Boldin, the entire O-line, etc, are the guys everyone expects to win and most likely will win. Everyone behind them on the depth chart is a long shot who, in some cases, just wants to survive and make the roster. Then there’s John Doe wider receiver who is playing our Katniss. They’re the dark horse that needs to emerge to take this team to the promise land; the last piece in the puzzle. We also have the nameless guys who don’t stand a chance of making the active roster; they are the adorably ambitious ones who meet a violent doom when they go after the Cornucopia instead of running for cover. Finally, there is Peeta, who is Craig Dahl, because he’d rather pretend to be grass then make a tackle (naw, I’m just kidding, he is a solid addition).
These are the NFL hunger games and, for some teams, they are incredibly dramatic theater. The 49ers? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to be sorted out at camp. However, the majority of battles have more to do with depth and spots in rotations than the core group of thoroughbreds that got us within 5 yards of a Super Bowl. And if you’d rather trade that kind of comfort and security in your starting players for, let us say: Geno Smith vs. Mark Sanchez, Jerry Jones vs. Jason Garrett, or a murder trial, then you must be some kind of football masochist.
Sure, free safety will be interesting when you have the talented rookie versus the wily veteran, who is really good at camouflage, and possibly another veteran switching positions to safety. There are jobs to be won along the defensive line, the Kendall Hunter coming off an injury versus LaMichael James who started to emerge in the playoffs battle will be interesting, and considering how much of a runner Kaepernick is I think the back-up QB battle should be one to watch as well (I know he avoids contact well but my chest still knots up every time a defender gets within 5 yards of him). Of course, the main event will be answering the question of who replaces Crabtree?
Before the ghost of Mike Singletary fired his Achilles seeking arrow from his hunting perch (more Hunger Games references!), the consensus was that Boldin and Crabtree would be #1 and #2, even though they are essentially the same player. The real battle would have been for the slot receiver and #3 spots. Candidates were, in no particular order, Kyle Williams coming off an injury, mystery man Ricardo Lockett, AJ Jenkins, and an extremely enthusiastic rookie named Quinton Patton. Not to mention Mario Maningham if he is healthy in time and a few long shots like Chad Hall (Okoye?) or a free agent to be signed later. Now all those guys are singing Rue’s Lullaby while Crabtree rehabs like a boss.
The biggest take away from all this is: FOOTBALL IS BACK! No more darn OTAs, or rumor mills fueled by nothing but imaginations run amok, and no more speculation. Well…maybe a little speculation. Now we get to really test those theories about who plays where and why with actual football! It’s a wonderful thing and a glorious feeling. If you aren't up for that then watch ESPN for thrice-an-hour updates on the Patriots’clusterf**k (they have Tebow AND a guy who probably killed a few people. Wow, it’s like Skip Bayless is living his own version of Stranger than Fiction) or you can spend all your free time drawing up your Fantasy Football big board, which is way more productive than watching ESPN. Either way, don’t fight the feeling, football is back!
I can’t believe I wrote this article. I didn't even like The Hunger Games. Pitch Perfect was, by far, the best movie of 2012.
Other random thoughts:
-As much as I love Harbaugh’s bravado and his willingness to take jabs at opponents, I was a little put off by him calling out Seattle on their banned substances record. Is he really so sure that no one on the 49ers is using a banned substance? I certainly hope no one is using and I have no evidence pointing to anyone doing that sort of thing, but in this day in age it is a realistic possibility.
-Aaron Rodgers needs to pay up, or at least donate a couple game checks to charity.
-Least patriotic moment of the summer: ESPN showed a Canadian Football League game on the 4th of July.
-The Oxford English Dictionary credits the Beastie Boys with coining the term "Mullet." I’m pretty sure only Justin "Big Country" Smith knew this before it hit Reddit.
-Predictions for the WR battle: Boldin #1, Williams #2, Jenkins in the slot, Patton #3, Manningham #4 (if he is healthy), Lockett #5, and Osgood #6/special teams. If Manningham isn't ready by the time they break camp then I would expect to see Hall or maybe even Austin Collie, if he passes a physical.