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Top 10 Reasons to Look Forward to 2014 49ers

Posted Jan 24, 2014

San Francisco's dissapointing end to the 2013 season is brightened by what's on the horizon in Santa Clara and beyond.


You are disappointed by the end of 2013. We all are. Cheer up. The start of 2014 is going to be awesome. Here's 10 pieces of evidence:

10. The Development of Reid at Safety
Jim Harbaugh has said a player can make the most strides in his career after year one and before year two. That's why it will be so interesting to watch the progress of Eric Reid. The LSU product said he couldn't have done it all – earning a starting job for the 2013 opener, creating six turnovers and overcoming two concussions – without the mentorship of fellow safety Donte Whitner, the coaching of Ed Donatell and other defensive assistants. Other second-year players worth watching: pass-catchers Quinton Patton and Vance McDonald as well as linebackers Corey Lemonier and Nick Moody, who contributed at times during their first pro campaigns.

9. The Slate of Games, Home and Away
Alex Smith is coming back… to face his former team. The 49ers will host Smith, their quarterback for seven seasons, and the Kansas City Chiefs as part of a very enticing – and competitive – regular season schedule. The team will also welcome Robert Griffin III and Washington to the Bay Area. On the road, San Francisco is going to Dallas, New York, Denver, New Orleans and, if you can call it a roadie, to Oakland. There are those two divisional games versus the Seattle Seahawks, too. Those should be, well, anticipated.

8. The Coverage of 49ers Studios
In Santa Clara, San Francisco now has its own full-service production house. You probably noticed the crew's "Mic'd Up," "Weekly Conversation" and "Niner Talk" series' this season, but that's only scratching the surface. In addition to a rapidly growing website and social media presence, this group of producers and writers are getting ready to unveil two new TV shows for next season. Expect the kind of behind-the-scenes, unparralelled access you saw this season taken to a new level. More specifics to come.


 

7. The Real Rookie Season of Mr. Lattimore
And Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial and, potentially, Lawrence Okoye. Given the depth of their roster entering 2013, the 49ers drafted three players coming off college injuries and signed a fourth, Okoye, who had never played football before. Lattimore, who endured two major knee surgeries before San Francisco made him a fourth-round draftee, is the biggest name of the group. After a brief stint on the practice field, he said he could have played in December. The team's cautious approach with him (as well as Carradine and Dial) shows Jim Harbaugh and his staff have grander plans for 2014.

6. The Return of Nine Pro Bowl Players
NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith, Joe Staley and Eric Reid – all are under contract and expected to return to the team in 2014. Enough said.

5. The Offseason's Free Agency Period
Will wideout Anquan Boldin and safety Donte Whitner re-sign with the 49ers? What about the rest of San Francisco’s 10 unrestricted free agents? And will there be room under the salary cap to acquire another team’s proven commodity? While free agency officially commences March 11, general managers around the league can begin negotiating with free agents on March 8. This won’t stop the rest of us, of course, from diving into the speculation in February.



4. The Wheeling and Dealing of May's NFL Draft

Like last season, GM Trent Baalke and the 49ers are well-stocked, with 11 picks to employ. Coming off a draft that netted the team safety Eric Reid and tight end Vance McDonald, significant contributors to the defense and offense respectively, Baalke will look to fill any team voids created by free agency with more young talent. This won’t always happen by simply picking a player at their spot. While selection order and compensation picks have yet to be finalized, the team’s brass has shown, with Reid and Colin Kaepernick before him, it’s willing to trade up to get its man. Get ready for the May 8-10 draft in New York by keeping tabs on the Feb. 19-25 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

3. The Road to Recovery for NaVorro Bowman
The injury, suffered in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game, was ugly. The rehab, which will begin soon after surgery, will be hard. But nobody in the Bay Area doubts the fortitude of the 49ers inside linebacker. The torn ACL – and potentially MCL – in Bowman’s left knee will heal. Patrick Willis, his best friend on the team, expects his fallen teammate back better than ever, and he will be at his side every step of the way. There is no timeline for Bowman’s comeback, but fans can hold out hope for a September return to the field, when he can create more moments like this one:



2. The First Full Season of Kap and Crab
It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his favorite target will embark upon their first full NFL campaign together come 2014. Remember: Kaepernick didn’t become the team’s starting signal-caller until Week 11 of the 2012 season, and Michael Crabtree didn’t play until Week 13 of ’13 because of a torn Achilles. Consider too that it was Kaepernick aiming for Crabtree on the last offense play of each of the past two postseasons. There’s no doubt one or both is thinking the third time’s a charm next winter.

1. The Inauguration of Levi's® Stadium
Yes, the 49ers have some captivating happenings with players, new and not so new, and the games they’ll be playing next fall. But, uh, one big detail is missing: Where will they be playing? The answer, of course, is their new digs at Levi’s® Stadium. After 43 seasons at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the 49ers have a new home and an entirely new gameday experience for fans. Well, not entirely new. There will still be lots of winning on the field. What’s going to be happening elsewhere – in the stands, concourses, on the video boards and in the historical museum, to name a few examples – will be new and improved. Stay tuned.