The long off season is nearly at an end (gasp, wheeze). Before we forget about it completely, except to scour blog archives for damning rebuttals to posters that peeve us, let’s trot through it for one last recap before training camp opens on Sunday afternoon.
In January, 49er fans again watched the playoffs from a distance, setting up an off season wrangle about the two victories the team let slip through its fingers, one at Minnesota and the other at Seattle — victories that would have gotten the team into the playoffs. Other topics that rose to the top of the bitch & moan list were:
- 1. Lack of speed in our secondary (Atlanta, Green Bay, and Philadelphia games)
- 2. Awful play calling by Jimmy Raye (led the league in 3 and outs)
- 3. Atrocious O-line play (David Baas & Adam Snyder allowed 17.5 sacks, and the line could not push anybody an inch on 3rd and 1)
- 4. Disastrous punt return team
- 5. Whether an 8-8 record was improvement or just treading water.
For the first time in several years, who our starting QB was, or should be, did not dominate the blog wars. Alex Smith was the man and those that didn’t like him either resigned themselves to the coming year or began to edge away from their previous nastiness towards him by throttling down from grenade launchers to pea shooters. Nor was the pass rush a dominant topic, since the 49ers finished fourth in the league in sacks last year.
The villain selected to represent topic number one was Nate Clements. The trouble with playing CB in the NFL is that when you screw up, it is disastrous, obvious, and replayed over and over in slow motion. It tends to burn an image in the casual fan’s mind. Clements has had two disastrous games in his three years with the 49ers. One came against Dallas in 2008 and the other against Atlanta in 2009.
Basically, we are talking about 3 plays in a three year span. Other than that, he has been our best CB, the best tackler, and was a tremendous boost to the secondary when he was signed as a FA in 2007, especially against division rival Arizona. Other CBs on the team have muffed the patooney more than once, without drawing lasting fan outrage, but Nate got paid $80 million to be a shutdown corner and Joe Blow gets kind of huffy when $80,000,000 does not buy perfection. It does buy Nate just about everything else he needs, however, so this stalwart player is probably not losing a whole lot of sleep over what Joe Blow thinks. Some fans rashly would like to see him cut, which would deprive the secondary of its first or second best CB. This is called “are you nuts?”
At any rate, the missing speed was addressed by drafting super fast Taylor Mays and bringing in Karl Paymah as a FA corner back. Neither will be starting, but both are expected to get into the mix as the season rumbles forward.
Point number two is a classic blog favorite. Unbeknownst to coaches and owners of NFL teams, guys-who-blog just happen to be incredibly astute play callers. They are almost never wrong when it comes to what plays should have been called when the ones that were called didn’t work. They are not nearly as astute when it comes to admiring plays called that did work, since these plays are hardly ever mentioned. Presumably, these expert blogocoaches would have called the same play themselves, especially on Monday morning when these fellows call all of their plays. At any rate, Jimmy Raye has been put on notice by the blogosphere to humm some baby this year or face the guillotine.
Points number three and four were resoundingly addressed in the draft and via the FA period trade with Miami. Posters are not used to getting what they scream for, so the reaction to these events was a bit muted — compared to the volume of sound that would have been generated had these needs not been addressed. Which makes me wonder, should the 49ers achieve success this year, will the blogs go quiet and wimpy?
The final point is a classic half-full, half-empty debate, and no doubt fitting as the team now prepares for the 2010 season and its date with destiny or doom. There can be no middle ground this year. That line in the glass has got to go up or the enthusiasm burning so brightly now in 49er land will fizzle out as quick as a politician’s promise the day after an election.
Go get ’em, Niners! This is your year!