Jim Harbaugh led the San Francisco 49ers deep into the playoffs in both of his two seasons in charge. In 2011, he took the 49ers to the NFC Championship, where mistakes on special teams sent them packing at the hands of the New York Giants. Last season, he made a quarterback switch mid-year, and Colin Kaepernick took the team past the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship and into the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.
Unfortunately, Harbaugh's team couldn't complete a comeback after a poor first half, and Joe Flacco lifted the Ravens to their second-ever Lombardi Trophy. After coming so close multiple times, the theme of this offseason was simple: plan for the future and sustained success, and ensure no big holes open up on either side of the ball. We'll take a look at whether or not they accomplished these goals.
The 49ers weren't going to be big spenders in free agency, and that included overpaying for their own free agents, such as defensive linemen Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois, and safety Dashon Goldson. Sopoaga and Jean Francois departed for the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, respectively, while Goldson received a huge five-year, $41.25 million contract from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With the departure of Sopoaga and Jean Francois, the 49ers needed a capable starter in the middle of their 3-4 defense and a reliable backup, so they signed free agent Glenn Dorsey and drafted Cornellius "Tank" Carradine in the second-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Dorsey will see some time when the 49ers employ their base defense, which isn't all that often. Carradine is expected to take over for aging veteran Justin Smith when the time is right.
As far as Goldson is concerned, the 49ers took advantage of the strongest safety draft class in years and moved up in the first round to take Eric Reid. He saw time with the starting defense in minicamp, and should see plenty more in training camp, as the job is basically his to lose.
Phil Dawson might be their biggest free agent signing, as he comes after the departure of the struggling David Akers. Dawson was among the best kickers in the league last season, so that's always a positive. Colt McCoy and Anquan Boldin were both brought in via trade and are expected to contribute, the former in a backup role and the latter as the team's No. 1 receiver due to Michael Crabtree's injury.
The last change comes at the backup tight end position, as Delanie Walker departed for the Tennessee Titans in free agency. The 49ers drafted Vance McDonald to be his replacement, and given Harbaugh's creativity with his formations on offense, this is definitely a significant change. McDonald will be counted on to contribute early on.
Training camp location and schedule
Aside from a one-off practice at Candlestick Park, the 49ers will hold training camp at their practice facility behind their Santa Clara headquarters. The 49ers have had their headquarters in Santa Clara since 2003 and will also have their new stadium there as well. Some 49ers practices are open, though you can win VIP tickets too.
Rookies arrive on July 19, while veterans will arrive to kick training camp off proper on July 24, giving the 49ers two weeks of practice in advance of their preseason opener against the Denver Broncos. Here's the schedule. For more, check out Niners Nation.
July 25: 2:30 p.m.
July 26: 2:30 p.m.
July 27: 2:30 p.m.
July 28: 2:30 p.m.
July 30: 9:15 a.m.
July 31: 2:45 p.m.
August 1: 12:00 p.m.
August 2: 5:00 p.m.
August 4: 10:30 a.m.
August 5: 2:45 p.m.
August 6: 5:00 p.m.
August 7: 1:00 p.m. - Mock game, closed to media
August 10: 2:00 p.m. - Fan Fest at Candlestick Park - open to public with free tickets
August 11: 2:45 p.m.
August 12: 2:45 p.m.
August 13: 5:00 p.m.
August 14: 2:00 p.m.
August 15: 11:00 a.m. - Mock game, closed to media
The 49ers don't have many positions up for grabs at this point. They are a complete team with few issues, though some injuries have made things interesting. Here is a look at a few of the key position battles:
Wide receiver: Michael Crabtree went down with an injury, and the 49ers will reward anybody who can step up with significant playing time. Anquan Boldin was a trade acquisition and he'll be the No. 1 guy, but behind him everything is essentially up for grabs. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are both recovering from injuries as well, so their placement is anybody's guess. Second-year player A.J. Jenkins, who did almost nothing as a first-round pick last year, is expected to progress, as are players like Ricardo Lockette and rookie Quinton Patton.
Cornerback: Nobody can quite agree on how the cornerback battle is stacked. Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver were all slated to be the starting three, but the free-agent addition of Nnamdi Asomugha makes things interesting. He's not exactly competing with Culliver, who will play the slot role, but is he good enough to land a top-two spot at this point? Asomugha will have to earn his way on to the field, and a good showing in training camp is the best way to get that started.
Running back: The starting role is Frank Gore's, and that's not changing this season, but the 49ers will be looking to the rest of the roster to step it up and compete for not only the backup job, but the change-of-pace job. More than that, they'll be looking for someone to assert himself as a potential starter when Gore is gone. Those players are LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter, who is returning from an injury. Both players could be future starters, but they need to show it in training camp. Marcus Lattimore might have a claim to the future-starter title, but he's expected to be inactive at least until Week 6 of the regular season.