This year’s training camp and preseason games will be quite a bit different than the previous seven years have been. The 49ers are the reigning NFC West champions, not the team that might be good or might be bad. They’re good. Last year’s 13-3 record exorcised a whole heap of doubt and frustration. The burden is now on the other teams in the division to measure up to the Niners, not the other way around.
And “up” is the measurement, too. Not who is less worse from a quartet of mediocre mud wrestlers.
So, while the other three NFCW teams go to camp looking to establish themselves as contenders, the 49ers go in with a set roster and nothing much to do but get ready to defend their crown. Still, there is one fun competition that awaits us, and that is the battle to see who will take the lead in the yearly effort to run Alex Smith out of town.
Seriously, guys, this will be fun. We haven’t seen as much QB talent on the team in many, many years. It’s a whole different level than Shaun Hill vs Trent Dilfer vs J.T. O’Sullivan vs Nate Davis. We’ve got some young guns in town, itching for a shoot out.
Colin Kaepernick enters camp as the top second banana, but mostly because Harbaalke traded up in the second round of the 2011 draft to select him. He hasn’t actually played much, but if Harballke likes him, he must be good. Right? And unlike the Schmall Four listed above, he’s got all the tools. More tools than Smith. A bigger arm, faster feet, a cooler name, and better looking, too. I, for one, can’t wait to see him play in the preseason games.
I’m less intrigued by Josh Johnson, Jim Harbaugh’s QB while they were both at San Diego U. Josh has a big arm and great tools, too, but he’s short and his star has dimmed a bit since entering the NFL in 2009. He knows Harbaugh’s offense, but that edge won’t last long.
And then there is the sleeper QB, Scott Tolzien. He’s more of the game manager type QB that Smith was tagged with last year and his stock was lifted by showing good QB instincts in his 2011 preseason with San Diego, before getting snatched off the waiver wire by Harbaalke to serve as the 3rd QB last year.
Kaepernick has already been christened “Cappy” by the adoring Faithful, but that may not be in his best interests. After all, Shaun was a “gamer,” Nate was “The Great,” J.T. was “OMG!,” and all of them are gone. Smith, the guy who has outlasted them all, has never been dubbed with an endearing moniker, other than some form of *$%*@%#$#!! And it doesn’t take much imagination to squeeze an “r” into Cappy if his play flies south with the geese.
At the very least, one of these guys will play well enough to give the team legitimate insurance should Smith get injured this year. The 49ers dodged a bullet last year by going through an entire season with two backup QBs who had never played a down in the NFL. Fortune might not be as kind this year.
And at the very best, the guy with the greatest upside, Kaepernick, will look so good when he plays that the future of the team will stretch out gloriously into the future, far past the week to week journey of the resilient Mr. *$%*@%#$#!!.