The Mike Singletary Era began under a bad moon last October in San Francisco. But by the time 2008 ended, the Niners were beating the pants off the opposition with regularity.
[Editor’s note: Curran claims we’re done with the pants-dropping jokes. He can speak for himself.]
The Niners ended last year as one of the NFL’s hotter teams, winning four of five to close and capturing valuable momentum heading into the offseason.
So how well has that momentum carried over? Pretty well.
Singletary’s tone through the Michael Crabtree holdout and the quarterback competition between Alex Smith and Shaun Hill has been spot on. As to Crabtree, whose holdout is now close to a month old, Singletary hasn’t beaten up on the player, but he’s made it clear that the team will continue to pursue its goals with or without the diva wideout.
Meanwhile, even though the team has given Smith -- the first overall selection in 2005 -- every chance to reclaim the starting job from Hill, Singletary has made it pretty clear that the best player will play, and it appears that’s going to be Hill.
Would San Fran like to get more bang for the bucks they’ve thrown at Smith? Certainly. But they’re not going to force it.
Having finished giving Singletary a rubdown [editor’s note: hopefully he kept his pants on], how does the team look?
Again, not bad. It’s a below-average team that’s getting better, as opposed to a good one getting worse or an awful one approaching below average. [Editor’s note: Yes, we’re looking at you, Detroit.]
Hill can’t throw the ball through sheet rock (after all, he’s not The Juggernaut), but he shouldn’t have to. Frank Gore is one of the better backs in the league and his only issue -- durability -- could be mitigated by the presence of rookie Glenn Coffee, who’s been an eye-widener this preseason with 196 yards on 30 carries through two games. Besides that, Gore is an excellent pass-catcher and gives Hill dumpoff options.
If tight end Vernon Davis can respond to the red-hot poker Singletary is applying to Davis’ backside [editor’s note: we like you better when you’re only making pants jokes, Curran], he’ll be a valuable weapon.
The wide receiver corps without Crabtree is . . . meh. Isaac Bruce is 36. Josh Morgan is unproven, albeit a potential sleeper. Jason Hill, Arnaz Battle, and Brandon Jones aren’t going to turn secondaries into puddles of goo. The offensive line is unremarkable, but gets it done.
Defensively, the Singletary effect was most profound. San Fran allowed 3, 14, 14, 16, and 24 points down the stretch in 2008. In the base 3-4 defense, Isaac Sopoaga, Kentwan Balmer, and Aubrayo Franklin rotate on the line along with defensive end Justin Smith, the team’s 2008 MVP. The star of the defense is inside linebacker Patrick Willis. Takeo Spikes is in there with him; Parys Haralson and Manny Lawson are on the outside. Those guys need to bring more heat than they did in 2008 because the San Francisco secondary, led by corner Nate Clements, is unremarkable.
Key player: Gore. He wants to be the kind of guy to run for 2,000 yards, but he just doesn’t seem to have the luck to do it. The Niners need Gore healthy, and if Coffee can keep the wear and tear down on Gore, that’s to the good.
Rookie to watch: Crabtree, we suppose. Of course, it’s hard to watch him when he’s playing PS3 in his living room. It appears the answer to Deion’s question from his Prime U commercials -- “Whatcha have to offer the NFL, Mr. Crabtree?” -- is going to be, “Not much yet.”
Best veteran acquisition: Dre Bly. Initially, we went with Marvel Smith. Then, he descended to second string. Then he retired. So now it’s Bly, a corner who has never been as good as he thought he was, but who does appear to be close to securing the starting right corner spot.
Key game: Week 4, vs. St. Louis Rams. The Niners have a pretty balanced schedule early, playing at Arizona, home with Seattle. and at Minnesota. Still, if Seattle steals one at Candlestick, the Niners could be 0-3. If that comes to pass, the Niners will be in must-win territory early -- after the Week 4 game with St. Louis, the Niners have a bye and then road games against Houston and Indy.