Monday, May 23, 2011

San Francisco 49ers: 5 Bold Predictions For the 2011 Season

The 2010-11 NFL Season was franchise-changing for the San Francisco 49ers. The 0-5 start to the season was the first step, and losers in six of their first seven games was the next step, causing them to ultimately fall out of the terrible NFC West division race.

It took until Week 16 for the 49ers to finally yank the cord on Mike Singletary's tenure as head coach, which has led to a total team makeover in Santa Clara, CA.

The 2011 NFL offseason has sprung recent hope into the hearts of 49er fans.

They hired Jim Harbaugh in January and have built him up to be the second-coming of Bill Walsh, another former Stanford coach that has come to save the day in San Francisco.

But the 49ers may be the team that has been most affected by the NFL Lockout.

They have a new coach trying to learn his way in the NFL, a quarterback that has said he will sign with the team but cannot until the lockout is over and a quarterback from the NFL Draft that needs to learn an NFL offense as soon as possible.

So what should we expect from the 49ers in the 2011-12 NFL season?

Nobody knows.

For now, here are five bold predictions for the 49ers' upcoming season, whenever that is.

1. Alex Smith Will Start the Entire Season For the 49ers

Alex Smith is not even apart of the 49ers yet, and still it feels like Smith will be the man under center in 2011.

Smith recently said that he would like to sign with the 49ers as soon as the lockout ends, but who didn't see this coming? The 49ers had no other choice with the lockout still intact.

With David Carr as the only quarterback under contract for the 49ers, it was only a matter of time until the 49ers went knocking on Smith's door, or vice versa.

Still, with the drafting of Colin Kaepernick from Nevada, Smith's stay in San Francisco this time around may be short-lived, although it is not clear if Kaepernick is the 49ers' quarterback of the future.

But in the 2011-12 NFL season, Alex Smith will start every game for the 49ers.

There are two methods to my madness: The 49ers do not have any other NFL-caliber quarterbacks on their roster, and Smith is sure to benefit from Jim Harbaugh's tutelage, even if their preparation time for the season is at a minimum.

Get used to Smith under center. Whether the fans like it or not, Alex Smith is here to stay in 2011.

2. Anthony Dixon Will Have an Impact

In his rookie season in 2010, Dixon had 70 rushes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. In 2011, he will play an even bigger role than that.

Right now, Dixon is the 49ers' second string running back behind Frank Gore. Dixon gives the team a tough running back with power at the goal line, which is where the 49ers will be using him most.

And with Brian Westbrook looking to be fully out of the picture in San Francisco, this opens the door for Dixon to get some work in behind Gore.

Trent Baalke has come out and said that he wants another running back behind Gore and Dixon, and he got one in Kendall Hunter from Oklahoma State. They did this not because Dixon will not be able to carry the load of back-up running back, but because the 49ers cannot risk a Gore injury again.

Gore will be receiving a lighter workload this season because the 49ers do not want to risk another injury like he had last season, which is why I see Dixon getting a consistent amount of carries in 2011.

In 2010, Dixon ran for 237 yards. In 2011, Dixon will run for over 400 yards with over five touchdowns.

Sure, it is not a crazy prediction, but Dixon will receive a larger workload and it will show that Dixon means business in 2011.

3. Nate Clements Will Have A Break Out Season

How many years have 49er fans been waiting for this to happen?

In 2007, Clements signed an eight-year, $80 million contract with the 49ers.

Now, in 2011, the 49ers want him to re-do his contract, thus putting Clements' 2011 season with the 49ers in jeopardy.

Clements has never, at any point, lived up to this gargantuan contract since signing with the 49ers.

Clements likes the Bay Area, and although I do not see him restructuring his contract in the foreseeable future, he will be playing in San Francisco for the remaining three years of that contract.

But Clements is due for a break-out season. He earned all that praise in Buffalo and could not live up to it in San Francisco. But in year four in San Francisco, Clements will be earning his paycheck.

It sounds crazy, but Clements will be fueled for a break-out season after being asked to restructure his contract, which is the 49ers' way of saying that he has not lived up to what they are paying him.

If Clements wants another high-paying salary when his seven to eight years are up in San Francisco, he will produce. And 2011 looks like an ideal time for that.

4. Offensive Line Will Prove To Be a Solid Foundation

The 49ers' 2010 draft focused on the offensive line in hopes of creating a stable force around their quarterback of the future.

Still with no quarterback of the future to protect, the 49ers' offensive line is a mix of solid athletic bahemoths that are looking to make a name for themselves in 2011.

Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati were at the center of the 2010 draft for the 49ers. Solid rookie seasons from both players, especially Iupati, has this offensive line looking up.

Mix those two linemen at around 6'5" and 330 pounds in with the likes of a healthy Joe Staley, David Baas and Chilo Rachal for yet another year, and the 49ers may have something up front in 2011.

5. Vernon Davis Will Have Over 1,000 Receiving Yards in 2011

I base this prediction on one thing and one thing only. Alex Smith will be the quarterback for the 49ers in 2011, and is going to want to produce, or else his days as a second-stringer for the remainder of his NFL career may be coming.

Smith will want a sure thing in regards to the offense in order to produce, and what is more of a sure thing than a pass to Vernon Davis?

Davis is a constant match-up nightmare for the opposing teams, which is why Smith should throw to Davis early and often, and I have no doubt that he will.

In the last year, the 49ers have gone away from the obvious pass to Davis and have tried to mix in passes to Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan.

For Smith's sake in 2011, he better pass the rock to Davis who will haul it in, no questions asked. He is a sure thing, and Smith needs that now more than ever.

This, again, is not a crazy prediction.

In 2009, Davis had 965 receiving yards, and in 2010, he had 914 receiving yards.

With Smith needing a consistent season to save his career, the likelihood of Smith passing to Davis for a good majority of passes seem very likely.

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