With only eight Sundays without regular season football remaining, it's time to turn our focus to training camp. Rookies report this Wednesday, with quarterbacks and injured veterans following a couple days later. The rest of the roster will be in the house on July 23, and then things really start to get serious from there on out.
It's so close, we can taste it.
So, what should we be looking for as all eyes intently focus on the squad over the next several weeks? Here's a sampling of the things I will be watching.
Running Back Competition
It's a safe bet that Frank Gore will be the starter when camp breaks, right? I think that's an easy call, unless something completely unforeseen happens. In fact, I would still wager on Gore getting the lion's share of the carries once the season begins, even if his percentage of snaps goes down moderately (which is completely reasonable to expect as well).
After that, what we really want to keep our eyes on is what goes down with a healthy Marcus Lattimore and rookie Carlos Hyde. Should we expect Lattimore -- with a full season of playbook study and a healed knee -- to capture the heir apparent status we bestowed upon him at last year's draft? Or, is Hyde the kind of horse that the team may want to ride more often than just third-and-short, redzone and goal-line situations?
Don't forget, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James are still on the roster. It's anyone's guess at this point as to who will fill which roll, and how much playing time each will get. It's of course not out of the question that one of these guys could find themselves not on this roster by the time camp breaks.
New Look Offense?
Now, we know that the media and other folks who might share such things won't be present for every snap of camp practices and scrimmages, but there might be some things seen to show what the team is planning to do with the offense.
Smart money seems to be on Jim Harbaugh not getting away from the things that have made him a successful coach, but then he's not had these sort of weapons for a potent aerial attack before. Yes, he had Andrew Luck in a power run offense at Stanford, but he didn't have a beefy receiving corps like he does now. A healthy Michael Crabtree with the dependable Anquan Boldin, the dangerous Vernon Davis and now Stevie Johnson have us all salivating a bit.
It's easy to see them sticking with their bread and butter, but there's also reason to think that the stacked backfield will only make the passing attack that much more dangerous and tough to predict and stop.
How will the 49ers make due without all-universe inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman? As we get deeper into camp, the pre-season and finally the regular season, we should learn more about a projected timetable for Bowman's return. Until then, we will see how deep the team's depth is at the position.
Also, we'll see how much of Bowman's responsibilities are taken on by Patrick Willis and/or his companions inside. And, with that, would there be any sort of a scheme change or will the team just take a plug-and-play approach?
Along with Lattimore, Tank Carradine is the "medical red shirt" that people will be watching. How much has he healed, and did a year of playbook study and a small batch of activity with the team help him prepare to seize a significant role with the team?
Jim Harbaugh's Pants
Now on to what really matters. Khakis? Pleated, or nah?
What will YOU be watching?