Ten questions heading into 49ers training camp
10. Have the 49ers improved their special teams?
The 49ers have made a concerted effort to bolster special teams. The team added such players as Dan Skuta, Craig Dahl, Bubba Ventrone, Kassim Osgood and Nick Moody to see what they can bring to the coverage units...Kicker David Akers had a good 2011 season and started last year with a 63-yard field goal against the Packers. But when his confidence was shaken, he was never able to snap out of the funk. The 49ers released Akers and signed Phil Dawson as a free agent...Punter Andy Lee is back as the glue to the 49ers' special teams. He is tops in the business for his combination of distance and directional ability to limit returns. --Matt Maiocco
9. Will there be a rotation on the defensive line?
Ray McDonald, Justin Smith and Glenn Dorsey are the starters in the base defense. Aldon Smith and Brooks are slated to join McDonald and Justin Smith when the 49ers go to their four-man front to rush the passer...But beyond those players, the 49ers do have some intriguing options. First, Dorsey can be used in the nickel defense, whereas last year's nose tackle, Isaac Sopoaga, never stepped onto the field in those situations...Rookie Tank Carradine, when he is cleared to join practice, has the versatility to play any spot on the four-man front as a pass-rusher. Parys Haralson and rookie Corey Lemonier can be edge rushers to give Brooks or Aldon Smith an occasional break...Ian Williams will back up at the nose, and Will Tukuafu, Demarcus Dobbs and rookie Quinton Dial will compete to get into the mix as part of the defensive line rotation, too...Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio must be convinced the backups are ready and there will not be much of a drop off from the starters to incorporate a true rotation. --Matt Maiocco
8. What is Ahmad Brooks' status?
It's a question that will remain out there as long as Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke avoid addressing it. Assault charges were not pressed against Brooks, who allegedly struck teammate Lamar Divens multiple times with a beer bottle on June 8. Neither Harbaugh nor Baalke ruled out taking discipline measures against Brooks. Would it be a suspension or merely a fine? The NFL can also step in and take action under the league's personal conduct policy. --Matt Maiocco
7. Is the run game still the strength of the 49ers' offense?
Yes. The 49ers' offensive line returns intact. The unit started all 19 games together last season. It's a line that is a punishing presence in the run game...Frank Gore turned 30 in the offseason, but he is coming off the second-best season of his NFL career. He is still the main man, but the 49ers also have some capable players behind him. Kendall Hunter returns from a torn Achilles. LaMichael James is looking to earn more touches this season after failing to get off the sideline as long as Hunter was healthy...The 49ers have good depth, including Anthony Dixon and Jewel Hampton, so there's no need to expedite the rehab of rookie Marcus Lattimore, who is returning from a grisly knee injury. The 49ers can use this as a redshirt season. --Matt Maiocco
6. Can the Smiths pick up where they began last season?
Defensive tackle Justin Smith showed he is the most important player on the team last season. When he was healthy, the 49ers' defense was rolling. But when he sustained a partially torn left triceps tendon, the defense did not look the same...Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks in his first 13 1/2 games with a healthy Justin Smith at his side. Aldon Smith did not record a sack the rest of the season, including the playoffs. Of course, Aldon Smith also had a shoulder injury that was giving him problems. Both Smiths underwent offseason surgeries, but both should be just fine when the regular season rolls around. --Matt Maiocco
5. How will the 49ers compensate for the loss of Michael Crabtree?
The 49ers are fortunate they landed Anquan Boldin, who led the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens in receptions and receiving yards in the regular season and postseason. Crabtree is expected to miss 10 to 12 games with a torn right Achilles, so the 49ers are going to have to find other options in the passing game....If Kaepernick is as good as he showed in his 10 starts last season, it should not be a problem. After all, great quarterbacks have the ability make his receivers look a lot better....A.J. Jenkins will try to carry over a strong offseason into training camp. After a lost rookie season, he'll be expected to make a contribution. Quinton Patton, Ricardo Lockette and Marlon Moore are also competing for the job at split end....Kyle Williams will be practicing in camp after sustained a season-ending knee injury in late-November. And, at some point, Mario Manningham will be available to help, as well....Also, expect added contributions in the passing game from tight ends Vernon Davis and rookie Vance McDonald. You can assume that replacing Crabtree will be a committee effort. --Matt Maiocco
4. Is rookie Eric Reid ready to start?
The 49ers expect a drop off at free safety, where Dashon Goldson is no longer around as a forceful playmaker in run support and pass coverage. Yes, his aggressive nature got him flagged a few times, but it was also apparent tight ends and wide receivers who venture near him were ultra-aware of his presence...Reid, whom the 49ers traded up to select in the first round of the draft, is the likely starter. He has similar physical attributes as Goldson, but there will almost certainly be growing pains. First, Reid must earn his job in a training camp competition against veteran Craig Dahl, who started all 16 games for the Rams last season. --Matt Maiocco
3. Who will emerge among the cornerbacks?
The 49ers return their top five cornerbacks from a year ago, including Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver. The team also added veteran Nnamdi Asomugha. General manager Trent Baalke is also keeping the door open for veteran Eric Wright, whose trade from Tampa Bay was nullified this week due to a failed physical...The coverage in the secondary was exceptional in the regular season. But the pass defense faltered in the playoffs, as the 49ers surrendered 306 yards passing per game. Camp competition will determine which of the 49ers stick around and which roles are won. --Matt Maiocco
2. Will defenses have an answer for Colin Kaepernick?
All it took Jim Harbaugh was one look in a game situation for him to decide he wanted Kaepernick over Alex Smith as his quarterback last season and into the foreseeable future. Kaepernick displayed a unique blend of big-play ability as a pocket passer as well as on designed quarterback runs and scrambles...The read option from the pistol formation will continue to be a big part of the 49ers' offense. But how will defenses adjust to Kaepernick now that they've had an offseason to study him?...The answer will early in the season. Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards in a playoff victory over the Green Bay Packers. It was the most rushing yards for a quarterback in any game in NFL history. The Packers sent their defensive staff to Texas A&M in the offseason to study the read option. And they'll get to demonstrate their findings on Sept. 8 when the Packers open the final season at Candlestick Park. --Matt Maiocco
1. Can the 49ers overcome the curse of the Super Bowl loser?
Of the first 46 teams that lost the Super Bowl, only two have won the Super Bowl the following season: the 1971 Dallas Cowboys and the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. So the 49ers will look to break a streak that has lasted more than four decades...The 1993 Buffalo Bills are the last team to make it back to the Super Bowl the year after losing it. Of course, they lost it again...Yes, the 49ers are widely considered the favorites to win the Super Bowl this season, but it will certainly not be an easy task to even win the NFC West. The Seattle Seahawks finished just a half-game behind the 49ers last season. On paper, it looks as if they have improved. And the St. Louis Rams, who gave the 49ers fits last season, have also seemingly strengthened their roster. --Matt Maiocco