Taking stock of the organization

Today’s the first break in the action of the 49ers training camp, so let’s take stock of the organization.

I apologize if this is redundant. It seems like the appropriate exercise for this off day.

Have the 49ers improved from last year?

They’ve lost six starters. They are: Nate Clements, Dashon Goldson, Takeo Spikes, Manny Lawson, Aubrayo Franklin, and David Baas.

They’ve also lost some backups: David Carr, Troy Smith, and Barry Sims.

Then there’s Michael Crabtree, who’s “working through” a left foot injury. And there’s also Taylor Mays, whom the 49ers want to trade.

Here are the replacements: Braylon Edwards, Jonathan Goodwin, Aldon Smith, Carlos Rogers, Donte Whitner, and Madieu Williams.

And of course, the main replacement is Jim Harbaugh for former head coach Mike Singletary.

So, have the 49ers improved? You bet.

Most of the players they’ve lost are on defense, and they’re mostly big, run-stoppers. In today’s NFL, you’ve got to be able to stop the pass, and this 49er team has improved in that area.

Why? Because the defense is just plain faster. Rogers is quicker and better in coverage than Clements. Whitner plays faster than Mays. And Aldon Smith, who may not be as fast as Lawson, will get to the quarterback quicker and more often. He should make the entire defense better against the pass. They may have more trouble against the run or covering faster tight ends, but overall they’re a better unit than last year.

On the offense, Goodwin is an upgrade over Baas, and Edwards is the perfect replacement for Crabtree while he’s injured. If the two mature and play up to their potential, the 49ers could have the best starting wide receivers in the NFC West.

The main reason the offense is better than last year, though, is because of the coaches – Harbaugh and Greg Roman. With those two designing and calling the plays instead of Jimmy Raye and Mike Johnson, the team has drastically improved. No longer will opposing defenses predict the 49ers plays at the line of scrimmage. Alex Smith, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis all should have the best years of their careers.

Here’s why I say that. Alex Smith still looks like the same Alex Smith in practice. But when he checks down to Gore, the play design usually gives Gore lots of space to run after the catch. And when Smith wants to throw his bread and butter, the seam to Vernon Davis, he’s usually open. This is a direct result of deceptive play-calling.

The deception comes from pre-snap shifts, and from Alex Smith’s eyes. In practice, he’s been staring down receivers less and less. When he checks down to Gore, it’s usually his third or fourth read, even if it seems like he wanted to throw to him all along. These progressions are designed and they’re effective.

It’s fair to say the 49ers have the most talent in the NFC West. If the coaching staff lives up to expectations, the 49ers should win the division.

So, all credit to Jed York, who let Trent Baalke do his job unhindered.

Baalke said he had a plan, he said he wanted to be patient, and he was true to his word.


Follow me on twitter @grantcohn.

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