We got together again with Niners Nation. In addition to our preview posts, including under-the-radar players and why each team could lose the game, as well as our preview podcast, we exchanged five questions.
Here is what I asked David Fucillo and how he responded:
ROTB: The San Francisco defense has suffered some losses. What are the expectations for that side of the ball this year?
NN: The 49ers lost Aldon Smith to a 9-game suspension, NaVorro Bowman for potentially three or more months because of his knee injury, and Glenn Dorsey for three months due to a torn biceps muscle. Additionally, Donte Whitner and Tarell Brown departed in free agency, and Carlos Roger was released. Not exactly an inspiring set of circumstances.
For the Smith and Bowman losses, it is as much about treading water as anything else. Corey Lemonier and Aaron Lynch are looked at as guys who can try and fill in for Aldon. Michael Wilhoite is playing in place of Bowman. The idea is not to replace them, but just sort of hold things steady until they return. That does lower expectations, of course.
In the free agency departures, the 49ers have gone to younger talent at cornerback, and basically swapping in Antoine Bethea for Donte Whitner. Thus far, the group has been solid. It is not perfect, and they don't have the big name shut-down corner, but they are again not taking anything off the table.
ROTB: How long can Frank Gore keep doing what he does, and just how excited are fans about Carlos Hyde?
NN: Gore keeps on trucking along. He is not a guy who will blow you away with his speed or power, but rather his vision is what makes his game. He sees holes and pounces. He knows angles as well as anybody, and it allows him to keep going along.
That being said, I would be surprised if he returned to the 49ers in 2015. Even if he puts up 1,000 yards this year, I think the team is prepared to move on to Carlos Hyde. He looked strong in Week 1, but struggled in Week 2, thanks in part to significant offensive line struggles. But make no mistake about it, Hyde is the future at running back for the 49ers. Marcus Lattimore remains on the NFI list, and fans are hoping for the best, but until Lattimore gets back on the field, there is no reason to think Hyde won't be starting and be the proverbial bell-cow back next season.
ROTB: How much better should the SF receivers be this season?
NN: Well, as long as they stay healthy, this group is set to be the best in the Jim Harbaugh era, and arguably the best group of receivers since Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice were paired together. Michael Crabtree obviously has a strong history against Patrick Peterson, and is 100 percent. He missed most of last year with an Achilles tear, and then was less than 100 percent for Week 1, due to a calf injury. He was reportedly back to full health last week, and should be good to go. Anquan Boldin has remained an old reliable, and is consistently a threat on third down. Stevie Johnson has become that No. 3 receiver. He won't put up huge numbers in the 49ers offense, but he opens things up for the rest of the group.
The team drafted Bruce Ellington but uses him primarily as a return man. At some point I think we see the 49ers mix in to a small specialized package of players, but I'm not entirely sure when. The team also has Quinton Patton and Brandon Lloyd, the former a 2013 4th round pick, the latter a long time veteran who stepped away from football in 2013. Suffice to say, this unit is deep.
ROTB: How is the injury situation with Vernon Davis? Even if he plays, how effective will he be?
NN: Davis and fellow tight end Vance McDonald both have sat out practice. Davis injured his ankle when a Bears defender fell on it, while McDonald injured his knee at some point in the 2nd quarter against the Bears. Davis had an MRI and has been on crutches much of this week. The team claims to have dodged a bullet, but Davis was apparently limping heavily on Thursday. Maybe the 49ers are sand-bagging on this, but if the limp is legit, it slows him down considerably, and very well could leave him inactive.
McDonald had his knee checked out and it is apparently structurally sound. He hopes to play this weekend, but he too is a question mark. The 49ers third tight end is Derek Carrier. The college wide receiver has been developing as a tight end, and still brings wide receiver athleticism to the table. The 49ers also signed another practice squad tight end, giving them two with that group in case of an emergency.
ROTB: Prediction and why!
NN: I'll go 49ers 23 - Cardinals 20. The 49ers can win this game, but a road divisional game against a solid performing defense is always tough. I think it comes down to a late field goal after the 49ers have run off some clock with a back-breaking drive.