With the NFL draft behind us and a lockout raging on, the opportunities to talk about real football are becoming fewer and fewer. That being the case, I have sought out bloggers that cover teams that the Lions will play in the 2011 season to get a glimpse into what is going on with those teams.
Granted, this exercise presumes that no games will be lost due to the lockout (a less risky proposition now than when I began this series). That might be a big step of faith, especially in regards to the preseason games, but I have a hard time operating under any other assumption. I know what happens when one assumes, let’s hope the labor situation doesn’t prove the old saying true. These Q&As aren’t meant to be any sort of game preview, it is obviously way too early for that. The subject teams may end up looking much different when the Lions play them compared to how they look now, but I anticipate this being a good introduction to each teams’ hopes, fears, needs, expectations, etc.
The Lions will have a short week to prepare for a week six game against the San Francisco 49ers after their appearance on Monday Night Football a week earlier. I was able to send some questions to Eric Melendez, the lead writer at Niner Noise, and he was kind enough to provide responses. Here we go…
Zac Snyder: I’m guessing 49er fans are pretty geeked to have Jim Harbaugh as head coach, what are fans saying about the hire and is there any fear about breaking in a new regime in what could be a very abbreviated training camp?
Eric Melendez: Everyone is happy with the Jim Harbaugh hiring. With getting burned by former head coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary some are hesitant about bringing in another head coach who has never held the position in the NFL. Harbaugh is different from the two Mike’s in that he played in the NFL and he is an offense minded coach. The 49ers become such a success in the 80’s and 90’s because of offense minded coaches.
All teams are being hurt by the lockout but the 49ers are suffering from it the most. With a new head coach and coaching staff 49er players will need a crash course in the offense and defense during training camp. I give credit for Harbaugh giving players his playbook so they have an idea on how it works. Still, without a coach to explain and go over the playbook the players cannot full learn the playbook.
ZS: What are your thoughts on the 49ers draft and what has the reaction been to Aldon Smith as their first round pick?
EM: I think Aldon Smith is a project because has he played defensive end in college and from what I have read he will be a pass rushing outside linebacker in the NFL. Smith has dedication as he proved in college by playing with a broken leg for four games in 2010. Smith is young and coachable so Harbaugh and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio should be able to transition him easily to outside linebacker.
The reaction to Smith as the first round pick has been mixed. With Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert still available some fans wanted the 49ers to draft their future quarterback. After fans learned more about Smith and with the drafting of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the 49er Faithful warmed up to Smith. I was for the 49ers selecting a defensive end or outside linebacker however when Smith’s name was called for the seventh pick I said to myself, ‘Aldon who?’ Having not heard of him I quickly looked up information about him. I thought the 49ers should have gone with Nick Fairley (luckily for the Loins they did not) or Robert Quinn. I think Harbaugh and the front office were impressed with Smith’s work ethic and character.
ZS: Will Alex Smith ever take control of the starting job or is he a stop-gap at best?
EM: One of the biggest reasons I love the Harbaugh hiring is because he not only is an offense minded head coach but he played quarterback in the NFL and has a history of developing quarterbacks. With all that Harbaugh has on his resume and him praising Alex Smith every chance he can get I still remain skeptical. I give Harbaugh the benefit of the doubt that he can coach away some of Alex Smith’s deficiencies but the other half of success lies with Smith and I don’t think he is cable of being a starting quarterback. Smith will be the stop-gap quarterback for the 49ers this season while Kaepernick develops.
ZS: What is one question mark that could push the Niners over the top in the NFC West if answered in 2011?
EM: Quarterback. In a non-lockout world the 49ers would have traded for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb and that would have pushed them over the top in the NFC West. I think Harbaugh would have loved having a quarterback like Kolb who is already developed while drafting a quarterback in the later rounds for him to develop. In this lockout world the 49ers are stuck with Alex Smith. That won’t put them over the top in the NFC West but what could is the 49ers signing a top free-agent cornerback like Nnamdi Asomugha. With the NFC West being so week a top cornerback could put them over the top.
ZS: What are your expectations for the 49ers in 2011?
EM: With free agency still waiting to get started the 49ers could sign players that make up for their weaknesses on defense. But I don’t except the 49ers to pull a Daniel Snyder and start signing big name players but they could find middle of the road players to fill multiple holes. Before the lockout entered June I would have said the 49ers will have a record of 9-7. If the lockout enters July my expectations drop to 8-8. If the lockout enters into August, who knows if there will be a 2011 season. As each month passes by the 49ers suffer more and expectations are lowered.