The temperature hit triple digits around the Bay Area yesterday, but the 49ers held a late afternoon practice anyway. Michael Crabtree was back in action, but Abrayo Franklin continued to be a no show.
Franklin’s attempt to avoid getting injured in Training Camp is making me nervous. The football gods are fond of irony and often provide precisely the opposite of what a person seeks, or in Franklin’s case, avoids. How often have we seen these late arrival guys step out on the field and get precisely what they sought to avoid, a serious injury. If they kept stats on this, someone could look it up and tell me I’m FOS, which would be reassuring. But I’m a closet superstitious guy and when a player puts his wallet first on his agenda, the little bells go off in my oh-oh room.
All of which makes Ricky Francois’ emergence this off season a very good thing. The 49er defense is poised for an outstanding year, but a hole in the nose would torpedo the entire operation. There may be lots of argument about who’s got the best offense in the NFC West, but there is none regarding whose defense is best. This is a No Contest No Brainer.
The 49ers defense was the 4th hardest to score against in 2009, and right out of chute, just like last year, they stonewalled Peyton Manning in the Red Zone once again. Manning marched in for 6 later on, but our first team Dee was no longer on the field. Then last week, on the Vikings first possession, the defense laughed Farve off the field.
The opening game in Seattle has had me worried all off season. Two new O-line guys in a spooky stadium. Super hyped team biting hard on the first game of the Pete Carroll era. Fans going nuts. Hasselbeck not yet injured. Not a good mix. The 49ers were far better than the Seahawks last year, but they still managed to cough that game away up in the north.
Then I think of our defense and my heart calms down a bit. There is no music so beautiful to a visiting team’s ears than the sounds of silence in a packed stadium. On teams like Indianapolis and New Orleans, these sounds are produced by four touchdown deficits. But the 49ers have the tools to produce them with a stone wall defense.
Doom and Gloom are not my favorite fellas, so our defense has become my best friend this off season. The Niner pass rush will be better this year and so will the secondary. For all the well known offensive system turmoil in Ninerland these past few years, just the opposite is true for the defense. The same system has been in place since 2005, tweaked a bit by Manusky from mid-season 2008 onward. The same players, by and large, are operating in that system and maturing into veteran NFL guys.
Yesterday, out of the blue somewhat, Mike Singletary said Manny Lawson would have a breakout year. Whoa. Lawson has been flying under the radar this Training Camp, except for wondering whether he will be on the team next year or not. Fans expected a breakout year from him last year, but it was more like a got a few doors unlocked season than a true breakout. He did have six and a half sacks to lead the team, but it’s fair to say all of them were coverage sacks, not in your face deals.
I certainly hope the Coach has some inside poop on Lawson, and isn’t just blowing smoke here. If Lawson were to become a serious sackman, along with the addition of Reggie Smith to the nickel defense, and the continued growth of Ahmad Brooks, this defense could be a challenger for number one in the NFL in 2010.