The 49ers’ will be back at practice today, learning more about the intricacies of the Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio playbooks and jockeying for position on the depth chart.
We will be back at work today, creating a bright and sturdy Super Bowl or Bust bandwagon for the 2012 season. Hopefully, the players will not be skipping practice to admire our handiwork.
Recent history suggests that the team does well in exceeding poor expectations (2005, 2006, 2011), but fares poorly when expectations are high (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010). Expectations are probably higher for the 2012 team than they have been since the final years of the Steve Young era, in a previous century. Gulp. Pass the Kool-aid. Pour a stiff one in there, too.
Everything points to this year’s team being better than last year’s. Better receivers, another year of maturity for the younger players, a second year in the same offensive and defensive systems, with the same coaches and players, and a full offseason to prepare. And yet we also know it is unlikely this team will improve on or even reach the victory total of last year’s team. The 2011 team so far exceeded expectations that it was almost criminal excess.
The reasons cited most for a drop off are a tougher schedule, the unlikely repetition of the gaudy turnover differential from last year, a tougher division, and the ever fickle nature of key injuries at the wrong time. But underlying these reasons is a fundamental doubt. A doubt that this team is a juggernaut in the mold of the dominant Patriots teams that have breezed through the league these past several years. A doubt mostly centered and rooted in one man: Alex Smith.
Almost nobody believes Smith will ever put up the wild and woolly passing stats of the league’s premier heave-hoers. But anybody slightly aware of Harbaugh’s offensive philosophy also knows he’s unlikely to ever field a team that solely depends on a HOF heaver type of QB to achieve success. So, it comes down to whether Smith is capable of having a Bart Starr or Troy Aikman kind of career. Has he really arrived as a big time, big game NFL QB?
To mention there are some skeptics regarding Smith’s arrival would be as obvious as mentioning Unca_Chuck has stinky feet. Doh, or D’oh for you persnickety types.
There is plenty of evidence pro or con this issue. Some of it even rational. But Smith will have to hoist more than one Lombardi Trophy if he ever wants to be considered a great QB or even a QB in the right place with the right coach at the right time.
And it is that coach that gives the most hope that this year’s team will break through the great expectations jinx and deliver the winner that everyone anticipates for the 2012 season. Mike Singletary had almost the same opportunity in 2010 — a full offseason in the same offense and defense — but when the regular season started, out came the exact same lumbering offense as the previous year. Turning the offseason advantage into a useless endeavor.
Smith may have his doubters, but at least in 49er land, there are almost no Harbaugh doubters. And that is the main reason this team is unlikely to crash and burn like its predecessors have when entering a season as the favored team. Plus, this is a really good team. Top to bottom, the best team the 49ers have assembled since the 90’s.