Impressive offseason pushes 49ers into role as Super Bowl favorite

May 25, 2012, 12:45 pm
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The 49ers exceeded all reasonable expectations in Jim Harbaugh's first year as head coach.

That will not happen this season.

That's because the expectation for the franchise is to win Super Bowl XLVII.

In the coming months, you will see predictions of a 49ers championship from a lot of pundits, publications and sites.

So let me be among the first to get the formality out of the way and declare the 49ers as my pick to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans.

The 49ers return every key player on one of the league's most dominant defenses. And two new starters -- as well as the additions of several other top backups -- should provide much-needed upgrades on offense.

When a reporter mentioned this week to Harbaugh that the 49ers seem deep at "just about every position," Harbaugh responded, "Yeah, I would agree with that."

The 49ers are deep and talented. They will not finish the regular season with a 13-3 record because of a difficult schedule. Heck, I'll probably even pick them to lose the season-opener at Green Bay. But they should be a better all-around team than a year ago.

The front office kept the defense intact with the re-signings of Carlos Rogers and Ahmad Brooks. And they've added multiple big-play threats to assist an inconsistent offense.

But this prediction is less about the newcomers pushing the 49ers over the top than the players already on board getting better. After all, the 49ers came within an overtime loss of advancing to the Super Bowl last season. And they did it while mostly learning their new systems from scratch upon reporting to training camp.

A year ago, the 49ers did not have an offseason program with the coaching staff due to the lockout. When the players and coaches finally got together in late-July, the work began at a hectic pace.

"It was like a sprint from Day 1 last year," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Let me tell you, things have not changed. From the first day of football school, if you talk to anybody about the first day of football school, it was like, 'Holy smokes!'

"I think it blew everybody's mind. It was 100 mph. We were not slowing down. This coaching staff, coach Harbaugh, only knows one speed. It's not relax time. If anything, it's full-throttle even more."

Even compared to offseasons when there was no lockout and fewer league-mandated restrictions, the work getting accomplished on the 49ers' practice field is far greater than what anyone has previously experienced.

"It's tenfold from what we've done in the past," said left tackle Joe Staley, who enters his sixth season. "It's all under (NFL) guidelines, but we're also getting a ton of work done. We're splitting fields and getting more reps in. I think everybody's buying in. You don't hear any complaining. Coach Harbaugh makes sure we're doing a lot of efficient work. It's going to set us up well for training camp."

And it should also set up the 49ers to become a popular pick to win the Super Bowl, and Staley knows that.

"If anything that makes us hungrier because we know how fleeting that is," Staley said. "I've been here a couple years when we were the chic pick. . . . We were the popular, sleeper pick before and we had a horrible year. . . . Also, knowing how close we were to getting to the Super Bowl last year and losing in overtime, that just made us realize how close of an opportunity and how great of a football team we have here."