It seems like it's been a year since the 49ers came up just short of their 6th Super Bowl tittle in franchise history, but finally the clock starts ticking towards kickoff 2013 as the 49ers start the preseason Thursday night vs. Denver.
There really aren't many changes to the 49ers starting lineups (at least yet) from last seasons squad, but the ones that have changed are significant. Although it will likely be for just a series or two, we'll finally get our first glimpse of Anquan Boldin in a Niner's uniform and see what kind of chemistry he's building with young Colin Kaepernick. Boldin has the most pressure of any 49ers newcomer as he's being asked to fill the shoes of 2012 breakout star and #1 wideout, Michael Crabtree. Of course, the 49ers are still hoping Crabtree could be ready to help them down the stretch in the season's final month and hopefully the playoffs, but for now, Harbough is planning to go the distance with the guys he has. Although Boldin isn't quite in the same league as Crabtree, he's a more than capable wideout and I think he'll be utilized much better in San Francisco than he was in Baltimore. The other significant change to the starting lineup is on the defensive side, where rookie Eric Reid will be asked to take over the free safety spot from the departed DaShon Goldson. Of course we all saw the 49ers secondary torched in last years Super Bowl, a big reason why they came up short, and the Niners are hoping the LSU standout will step in and make as seamless of transition as possible.
Again, Reid is a rook and will likely see a lot more time than Boldin in tonight's game, but those are the two guys I'll be watching on every play at the start of this thing. I'm also curious to see what kind of shape Nnamdi Asomugha shows up in. Will he be the all-pro caliber corner we saw across the bay for so many years, or will he be the flop that got overpaid by the Eagles the last two seasons? My guess, as I said when they first signed him, is he's no longer the corner he was in Oakland, but certainly better than he showed in Philly. It wouldn't surprise me to see him win a starting job with a strong preseason, and I expect him to see a lot of work in tonight's game. The other new 49ers cornerback, Eric Wright, got placed on the non-football injury list upon his signing yesterday, so unfortunately we'll have to wait at least a week or two to see his 49er debut.
I'm also curious to see how the rookies from last years squad do as they start their sophomore campaign. A.J. Jenkins was a basic no-show in terms of production last season, so he's got to do better and he's a guy I expect to see out on the field a ton this preseason. Last preseason, it was clear he wasn't ready to match-up with NFL corners and beat them off the line, but he's supposedly made strides this camp and I'm anxious to see how that's gone. Then there's LaMichael James, who did make an impact at the end of the year and showed the 49ers that they may have themselves a nice little secret weapon type player moving forward. James can obviously catch the ball out of the backfield, return kicks and run the wildcat/QB option plays with Kaepernick, but he also showed he's not scared, and quite able to run between the tackles too. I'm looking forward to seeing what an offseason of growing and strengthening has done for the kid as he could wind up being Frank Gore's primary backup.