When Mike Singletary took over head coaching duties from Mike Nolan halfway through 2008, it was clear the San Francisco 49ers were going to be a different team. Singletary made headlines immediately following his debut, lashing out at underproductive TE Vernon Davis in an emotional and constantly-replayed postgame presser. From there, San Fran went a respectable 5-4 down the stretch, giving much optimism for the future.
This year, the Niners hope to turn Singletary’s podium histrionics into on-field success. The coach brings his fiery, no-nonsense attitude to a young team loaded with talent at most skill positions, but with a big fat question mark at the quarterback position. It makes the Niners a tantalizing, yet very unpredictable, proposition when it comes to sports betting.
Key Departures: TE Billy Bajema, LB Tully Banta-Cain, DE Ronald Fields, OT Jonas Jennings, WR Bryant Johnson, S Keith Lewis, QB J.T. O’Sullivan, CB Donald Strickland.
Key Acquisitions: Free Agents – CB Dré Bly, DE Demetric Evans, OLB Marques Harris, QB Damon Huard, WR Brandon Jones, FB Moran Norris, OT Marvel Smith. Draft – WR Michael Crabtree, RB Glen Coffee.
As mentioned, the QB situation in San Fran remains murky. J.T O’Sullivan, who started eight games a season ago, signed in Cincinnati this offseason – that left Shaun Hill and the much-maligned Alex Smith to duke it out for the No. 1 job. Veteran signal caller Damon Huard was also added to the mix, but all indications are that he’s auditioning solely for a backup job. If (and that’s a big if) the Niners can get some productive play from the QB position, this could be a very dangerous offense. RB Frank Gore is one of the best in the business, and the team got a steal when freakishly-athletic WR Michael Crabtree fell to them in the draft. Veteran presences like Isaac Bruce, Arnaz Battle and Moran Norris should provide some stability for the youngsters.
Defensively, the 49ers look solid. Linebacker Patrick Willis continues to be a tackling machine and seemingly invigorated veteran Takeo Spikes, who had a monster year in 2008 (96 tackles, three interceptions) playing alongside. The presence of these two also elevated the play of little-known Parys Haralson, who finished (and led the team) with eight sacks. The secondary has some depth with Nate Clements and the newly-acquired Dre Bly; they’ll have to compensate for the loss of Walt Harris, who tore his ACL in the offseason. Many forget that this defense carried the Niners through that impressive 5-4 stretch run a year ago; they allowed a meager 14.2 points per game over the last five contests. The defense is the reason for renewed optimism when it comes to NFL betting – currently, San Francisco is listed at 5/2 to win the NFC West outright this season.
Notable 2009 Games: Two big primetime games highlight the 49ers season – on November 12, they host Chicago at Candlestick Park in a Thursday night affair. Three weeks later, the Niners host another big one – Monday Night Football – at the Stick, facing off against heated divisional rivals Arizona.
2009 Outlook: If last season was any indication, this collection of 49ers responded beautifully to Singletary’s fire-and-brimstone approach. Whether or not San Fran can make a charge for the NFC West crown simply comes down to its ability to win at home – the Niners went only 4-4 at Candlestick a year ago. An 8-8 season would be seen as a nice step forward, but that’ll require some solid play at the quarterback position, and it’s unclear if the Niners will get that. A more realistic record is 7-9.