Given the success last year, I (like every 49er fan, I suppose) head into the next season full of optimism -- if couched with a typical fans worry. Critics of the team point out a few obvious flaws - the team was notably weak at Wide Receiver (to the point that diehards were genuinely rooting for Brett Swain to turn into something special), the Offensive Line gave up far too many sacks, and that the quarterback throwing to those wideouts and ducking those defensive pass rushers was Alex Smith. But ... that's sort of why I'm optimistic.
Sure, the team flirted with Peyton Manning in the offseason, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit I got caught up in the hype and wonder...but I think Alex has a real chance for success. (Though, I also know that if I did a search on Smith in this blog's history, I think that phrase shows up about four or five times before the last four or five seasons...) Here's why - he had nobody to throw to last year, with Josh Morgan getting hurt early and Vernon Davis admittedly not getting the new offensive system until the last quarter of the season. There was no training camp to speak of. His offensive line was a bit of a sieve.
And still, Smith had his best season ever - throwing 3,144 yards, with 17 TD and just 5 INT. Not jaw dropping numbers (aside from the incredibly low turnover rate) but efficient -- and towards the end of the season (especially, of course, in the playoff game versus the Saints), he was a serious part of WHY the 49ers won.
For what it's worth, Smith has also been getting offseason coaching from the guy who tutors Drew Brees, and he's never looked better, getting rid of a throwing motion apparently nobody has ever noticed. Sure, this is par for the course of "offseason stories to keep you interested," but hey - it's working! He also clearly has a great relationship, something that can't be understated after dealing with coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary (I use the word 'coach' liberally here) who openly despised Smith, and belittled him often and publicly.
Simply put, how can't the offense be considerably better? Frank Gore still has a lot of gas in the tank, and he's now backed up by James, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs (!), plus Rock Cartwright and fullback Bruce Miller.
The entire defense - the one that was, for all intents and purposes, the best in the league - is back.
It's hard not to think this is a team that will once again go deep into the playoffs, and quite possibly get its sixth Super Bowl trophy.