Head coach Jim Harbaugh (left) and general manager Trent Baalke will try to repeat their 2011 success in 2012. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Soon, offseason speculation, post-draft hype and the small tidbits of news that filter out of minicamps and team workouts will be things of the past.
While Bay Area sports fans still are focused on their summer vacations and the Giants’ chances in the National League West race, the first chapter of the long 2012 NFL season will open later this week.
Rookies and selected veterans are due to report for 49ers training camp in Santa Clara on Saturday, with the first official practice scheduled for a week from today on July 23. By next Thursday, veterans are due to report, and the entire team will begin practicing together for the first time the following day.
The 49ers’ first exhibition game will soon follow on Aug. 10 against the Vikings – just 23 days away.
After losing to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game in January, the Niners faced an offseason full of questions.
Could they improve their receiving corps? Would they be able to retain their key free agents? Could head coach Jim Harbaugh keep his coaching staff together?
Months later, with real preparation about to begin for the coming season, the answers have been yes, yes and yes.
Free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and top draft choice A.J. Jenkins have bolstered a thin receiving group. Quarterback Alex Smith, who had his finest season in the NFL in 2011 while working on a one-year deal, is back with a new contract and ready to take another step forward. San Francisco’s entire defensive unit is returning. And Harbaugh’s coaching staff, so effective in turning this team around, returns intact.
Beginning with the first training camp practice a week from today, talk of contracts and offseason roster moves will be replaced by news of strained hamstrings and rookies who appear ready to make a contribution.
Niners General Manager Trent Baalke performed the necessary work in the offseason to make improvements to a team that went 13-3 last season. Now, it will be up to Harbaugh and his staff to put it all together.
Will Moss show he still has the “it” factor? Can LaMichael James make an impact as a playmaker as a rookie the way he did as a star at Oregon? Is Alex Boone the answer at right guard? How will Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman use a deep running back corps that now includes Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs, James, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon?
Is second-year standout Aldon Smith ready to assume a full-time role at linebacker? Will receiver Kyle Williams be able to shake off his mistakes in the NFC Chamionship Game loss and retain a job on the roster?
When speaking recently about the 49ers heading into 2012, Baalke talked about the team’s versatility, depth and talent. He’s happy what the team has accomplished the past few months.
But now it’s time to prove it on the field, beginning with training camp.
“We’ve had success, but it’s one year,” Baalke told KNBR recently. “The success you had in the past doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in the future. Each year you’ve got to try to get a little better.”