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Training Camp Preview - By Bryan Hersh July 22 2006

THIS CONTENT IS COPYWRITED, REDISTRIBUTION OF IT (including copy/pasting it to a message board, forum or bbs) IS PROHIBITED AND COULD RESULT IN LEGAL ACTIONS - feel free to quote up to 1 paragraph providing a source link to http://www.49ersparadise.com is included

Well folks we are now just 5 days away from the very beginnings of training camp 2006. It is at about this time each year that I really begin to get excited about the season. I can feel the excitement building for that first game. Football season is near. The long boring months of the off-season are nearly done. And while the team did it’s share to keep us entertained, nothing compares to when these guys actually go to work and take the field.

So where do the 49ers stand? Are they still in the slumps of the NFL? Is resurrection around the corner? Of course, we can only speculate as to the answers to these questions, but of course, how can the team be any worse than it was last year?

The 49ers have signed all but three of their rookies, and are expected to be working feverishly on the remaining rookies, Davis, Lawson, and Williams over the next week. Ideally, the team will have all these players ready to go for the start of training camp. There is no doubt, that coach Nolan’s agenda for the past 2 off-season was to get a quarterback and give him the players he will need to succeed with. Getting the rookies into camp is vital for that very reason.

The addition of Norv Turner at offensive coordinator this off-season was a solid move for the club. Turner has a pretty good reputation working with young quarterbacks, had lots of experience that Nolan will be able to bank on if needed, and typically has offenses that are ready to compete with most defenses they face. Of course, much of that will come down to how well the 49ers players can execute Turner’s plans – but any way you slice it, the 49ers did not take a step backwards when they added Turner to the team.

Alex Smith has been working hard with Turner to improve his game, learn the new offense. Smith is also learning from, and competing with veteran backup QB, Trent Dilfer, added as a mentor for Smith this off-season. Dilfer’s addition brings some reliability to the back-up QB position that was very shaky over the past few seasons. Smith’s progress this season should be a large factor in the team’s success.

Of course Smith cannot have success if he has no time to throw, much like last season. The 49ers are hoping they have an improved offensive line that will stay healthy this year. Jonas Jennings and Jeremy Newberry are expected back from injury, and the team added mammoth lineman Larry Allen this off-season. These players should help the team establish depth along the line that was absolutely decimated by injury last season. If the line improves, Smith will really benefit.

Competition in the offensive backfield is going to be quite intense this training camp. Both Frank Gore and Kevan Barlow believe they are legitimate number one backs, and will compete hard to beat each other out. The addition of fullback Moran Norris should make up for the loss of Fred Beasley. The team is also hoping that one of their rookies, Michal Robinson or Delanie Walker will be able to step into a new hybrid back position that Turner wants to install into the offense. The hybrid back could be an excellent safety net for Alex Smith.

The 49ers also believe that they will have a more competent group of receiving options for Smith this season. The team essentially replaced receiver Brandon Lloyd with Antonio Bryant, who they expect to be an upgrade, and a more consistent player. Arnaz Battle is healthy again, and expected to start – but is receiving strong competition from free agent acquisition Bryan Gilmore and rookie Brand Williams. In all likelihood, if this group can stay healthy they should be an upgrade for Smith. Smith will also benefit from the return of Eric Johnson, a receiving tight end, and rookie Vernon Davis, also a tight end who is know as a real playmaker.

Rounding out the offense, the team has taken steps to try and improve its self. It will however come down to how much, if any Smith has improved. If Smith made the strides the team reports he has this season, the 49ers may not have lay claim to the “worst team in the NFL title” for long.

Defensively the 49ers believe they have improved too. Notably the defensive backfield will benefit from the return of some players to health. Shawntae Spencer, Mike Rumph and free agent acquisition Walt Harris are expected to be the teams top cornerbacks. Safety Tony Parish will be teamed with either: Mike Adams, Derrick Johnson, or free agent acquisition Chad Williams. Bruce Thornton is also expected to figure into this mix, and in all, it should allow the 49ers to field a far more competent defensive backfield than in the past few years.

The team was faced with a tall task having 4 free agents at the linebacker position. At the end of the day, Jeff Ulbrich, Derrick Smith and Brandon Moore will be back. Julian Peterson and Andre Carter will not return. The team also added Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson via the draft and expect both to help make up for the loss at linebacker.

The 49ers did not make much noise along the defensive line. Marques Douglas is expected to return from injury and should be a welcome addition. Bryant Young will of course return and likely continue to lead the defense. The team will be counting on Anthony Adams and Isaac Sopoaga to emerge along with Ronald Fields. The performance of this group should set the tone for the rest of the defense.

The 49ers are expected to continue using a 3-4 base defense, but like last season will often revert back to the 4-3. Under the guidance of Nolan, it is expected to continue to make progress. Last year it was plagued by having to be on the field for three quarters of the game. The defense can seriously benefit from a strong offense able to provide them with some rest.

No major changes are expected on special teams. Andy Lee and Joe Nedney will see camp competition, but neither is likely to lose their roster spots. The team is hoping a real kick returner will emerge either from the rookies or through some of its free agent acquisitions.

So there you have it folks, a quick run down of where the 49ers stand today. Will they be able to climb from the bottom of the NFL? Only time will truly tell, but the team seems to have taken strides to improve itself, and hopefully that will show on the field as well.

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