Niners general manager Trent Baalke has added players through free agency and the draft this offseason, extended the contract of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and put to rest reports of a feud with head coach Jim Harbaugh.
So, Baalke obviously feels good about his team’s makeup. He wouldn’t have brought in the likes of wideouts Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd and safety Antoine Bethea if he weren’t confident in their abilities.
But with the start of training camp two weeks away, Baalke is as curious as any fan about how this 49ers squad will come together starting with the team’s first practice July 24.
He’ll finally get a chance to see if the chemistry looks right during practices and exhibition games this month and next.
“The interesting thing about any sport is you can look better on paper but not perform as well as a team,” Baalke said this week in an interview with Taylor Price on the team’s website. “How we do in 2014 is going to be dependent on how quickly we can become a team. Individuals don’t win games. Teams win games. That’s all we’re trying to do is get a little bit better every day as a team.”
Baalke told Price he was encouraged by what he saw in the recent full-roster minicamp and organized team activities (OTAs), but those team workouts largely are about how players look in shorts and helmets, without pads and full contact. The real measure will come when players are going all out.
The Niners, after all, have a high bar for success. Just reaching the playoffs or winning the NFC West won’t cut it after getting to the NFC Championship Game three straight seasons. Niners fans expect this team to win a Super Bowl – and so does Baalke.
He has high expectations, but won’t have a great feel for this team until Harbaugh and his staff learn how to get the most out of the talent on the roster.
“It’s up to us to go out there and take it one play at a time, one day at a time, one game at a time and see where this team can go,” Baalke told Price. “But that’ll all play itself out over the course of the fall and give us an idea moving forward just how good we can be.”
Outside the organization, predictions for the 49ers are mixed. A recent Sports Illustrated analysis gave the 49ers and Baalke a C grade for their offseason moves, while a Bleacher Report story predicted Kaepernick would emerge this year as an NFL force and take San Francisco to a division title (past the champion Seahawks) and a first-round playoff bye.
Until this team gets through the exhibition season and past its regular-season opener Sept. 7 at Dallas, it’s all guesswork.
But Baalke is eager to see what his offseason work has produced.
“I feel real good about the team,” he said. “Real good about the offseason program that we had.”