Five 49ers veterans with something to prove
5) Frank Gore
A year ago, Frank Gore saw more playing time than any year since his first year after taking over for Kevan Barlow in 2006. Now, he is entering the final season of his contract and the 49ers have accumulated some young talent behind him. The 49ers selected Carlos Hyde in the second round to eventually replace Gore. At 31, Gore is not ready to be a spectator. He is just 33 yards rushing away from 10,000 for his career.
4) Patrick Willis
NaVorro Bowman is not expected to be ready for the start of the regular season as he continues to rehab the knee injury he sustained in the NFC Championship game. Patrick Willis moves to his preferred “mike” linebacker spot, and he’d like to remain in that role after Bowman returns. Willis will return to being the focal point in the middle of the 49ers’ defense through at least the first half of the season. And the 49ers will rely on him more than ever for as long as Bowman is out.
3) Michael Crabtree
Michael Crabtree was clearly not all the way back last season after returning from Achilles surgery. But he still managed to put up some decent numbers in his eight games, including the playoffs. Crabtree enters the final year of his rookie contract, and he is looking to join the discussion of the NFL’s elite wideouts and land a big-money deal. In order to do that, Crabtree must step up in his meetings against Seattle’s Richard Sherman.
2) Aldon Smith
Aldon Smith has a lot to prove off the field, for sure. But he also has a lot to prove on the field. That’s because the 49ers, as expected, picked up the $9.754 million option for the 2015 season this offseason. The contract is not guaranteed, so Smith is going to have to demonstrate he is worth the risk for the 49ers. Smith is off to a historic pace as a pass-rusher with 42 sacks in 43 regular-season games.
1) Colin Kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick did not have a great supporting cast of pass-catchers for much of last season. The 49ers’ passing game was largely efficient last season, but it certainly was not prolific. Again, the 49ers will likely try to protect him during the regular season with few read options and designed quarterback runs. With his new contract in hand, Kaepernick will be counted on to show improvement as a pocket passer.