Back in December, NFL analyst Greg Cosell saw the 49ers as a team that had lost its way.
En route to an 8-8 season, the 49ers were struggling in the running game, on defense and with an inconsistent quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.
“The most important thing in my opinion, based on film study, is Colin Kaepernick has played very poorly,” Cosell said to KNBR’s Tom Tolbert at the time. “And when your quarterback plays poorly it’s like starting pitching in baseball. When you’re down 6-0 every night in the fourth inning, it makes your team look really bad.”
Now, after an offseason in which several key players have left and a new coaching staff is in place, Cosell again is looking closely at a new-look version of the Niners.
Cosell, the senior producer for NFL Films, recently watched several 49ers practices – and came away with a different view than many, who believe the 49ers are in for another disappointing season.
Cosell told a writer for the 49ers website that he was “struck by how talented a team the 49ers are.”
He pointed to the return of inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, the addition of defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, Aldon Smith’s superb conditioning, an improvement by Kaepernick and Jim Tomsula’s coaching staff as reasons for optimism. Plus, he believes tight end Vernon Davis – a forgotten piece of the offense in 2014 – will be rediscovered.
Said Cosell about Kaepernick: “He’s still a young quarterback, he’s still learning the craftsmanship of the position and the subtleties of the position. With a new coordinator, I think Geep Chryst, my sense is, I think he’ll try and be a little more expansive and explosive with the pass game.”
Cosell noted that the 49ers missed Smith’s pass-rush presence in 2014 when he first was suspended and then came back without ever finding his rhythm.
“Smith is a great weapon,” said Cosell to 49ers.com. “He’s got a great body. He looks the part. You can move him around. He can rush the quarterback. Aldon Smith is a really, really good player. And if he can play 16 games, that’s a vast improvement over last year.”
Though the 49ers have lost Vic Fangio -- a very successful defensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh – Cosell believes the new defensive staff under coordinator Eric Mangini can get the most out of the talent on hand.
“They have two other defensive coaches now who were coordinators in this league, Jason Tarver and Clancy Penergast,” Cosell said. “And they’ve been successful coordinators. So this is a coaching staff that I think is very, very good and being overlooked.”
Many Raiders fans might disagree with Cosell on his assessment of Tarver's success in Oakland, yet his overall point about the ability of Mangini and his staff could be solid. It could be a much more aggressive, blitzing and gambling defense under "Mangenius" than it was under Fangio. And if players such as Smith and Bowman are at their peak again, the unit could indeed be much better than some are predicting.