Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary almost destroyed what was once the shining franchise in the NFL. Then a man who coached Stanford back to respectability named Jim Harbaugh came along, and once again the 49ers were a team to be reckoned with.
But 2014 was a tumultuous year for both Harbaugh and the Niners. His message was no longer getting through, and it the players and their head coach were at odds. So when the season ended, Harbaugh bolted to coach his alma mater, Michigan and the Niners are now in the hands of long-time assistant and head coach for two games in 2010, Jim Tomsula.
But do not expect the same team that took the field last year to be at Levi’s Stadium this year when they take the field. For better or worse, this is an entirely different team with an entirely different feel to it.
Gone are long time 49ers Frank Gore (Colts), Mike Iupati (Cardinals), Michael Crabtree (Raiders), Chris Culliver (Redskins), Patrick Willis (retired) and Aldon Smith (released).
New faces include WR Torrey Smith, RB Reggie Bush, DT Darnell Dockett and WR Jerome Simpson.
Yes, Colin Kaepernick is still the man under center. Top targets Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin are still there. The defense will still be led by LB Navarro Bowman. But other than that, these are not your slightly older brother’s 49ers.
The question is, will this team be the one that battled the Seahawks for NFC West supremacy for the past 5 years or so, or are they a team on the downturn that has to hit bottom before they can rise again?
The players seem to love the choice of their new Head Coach, and that is a great first step, but I am not so sure they have the staff to be competing at a high level again just yet. Especially on defense, where losing guys like Willis and Smith are huge blows.
But this team seems to have a certain resilience that maybe, they have not shown before. If ever a team deserved to have a chip on their shoulder, it’s these 49ers. Right now, they are being totally written off.
Most pundits have them finishing fourth in their own division, behind even the Rams—no knock on what Jeff Fisher is accomplishing there—but I am not so sure I would write this team off just yet.
Kaepernick will be out to prove that is was him, and not Jim Harbaugh that made him the big threat on offense. With Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith catching passes, Kaepernick has all the weapons he needs to succeed.
Then when you add the fresh young legs of running back Carlos Hyde—who has Frank Gore’s big shoes to fill—to help take the pressure off of Kaepernick, then the offense can really start to click.
Yes, a lot of big names and big time performers have left the defensive side of the ball, but it’s not like the team is exactly barren either.
Darnell Dockett is a big time performer who needs to prove he still has it after missing last season. Antoine Bethea, Bowman, Tramaine Brock and Ahmad Brooks are still there and can be big time players as well.
Is this 49ers team good enough to go back to the Super Bowl? I wouldn’t think so. But can they be a force to be reckoned with in the NFC West? I wouldn’t want to be the team that looks past them.