When the 49ers start the 2014 season, almost half the defense will be different than the one that started the 2013 season. DC Vic Fangio will have his biggest challenge since taking over the job in 2011.
The team will have a new base CB to replace Tarell Brown, slot CB to replace Carlos Rogers, ILB fill-in for a rehabbing Navorro Bowman, and a pass rushing ROLB to replace a suspended/released/jailed Aldon Smith. Fangio will also be working Tank Carradine into the D-line rotation. Chris Culliver was supposed to fill the base CB role, but he’s facing a possible league suspension.
Most teams use the Free Agency period to improve their teams, but the 49ers have taken the novel approach of weakening theirs. I’m sure it’s just a cunning new strategy from our all world GM Trent Baalke.
For the past decade, the defense has been the better half of the team, but that may change this coming year. The addition of Brandon Lloyd gives the offense three veteran and productive wide receivers — an almost unheard of situation. On a team that rarely uses three wide outs, however, let alone four, how many opportunities is promising 2013 draft pick Quinton Patton going to get? It will be an important Training Camp for him.
With LaMichael James on the trading block, the entire 2012 draft class can be considered a total bust. Not an all world performance from Baalke that year. The 2013 class will be more or less good or bad depending on the the performance this year of Carradine and RB Marcus Lattimore, and the growth of TE Vance McDonald. If these three guys do well, joining first round pick Eric Reid, then 2012 can be viewed as an aberration and not a trend.
All in all, a challenging year ahead. It might be difficult for HC Jim Harbaugh to maintain his streak of finishing three straight seasons with the second best team in the league.