With training camp officially kicking off on Friday, head coach Jim Harbaugh knows the pressure is on him and his San Francisco 49ers to repeat their success from last season.
After going eight years without even sniffing the playoffs, the Niners won the NFC West and beat a tough Saints team before losing 20-17 in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC title game.
Still feeling the sting of defeat, the 2011 AP coach of the year is excited about reuniting with his players in hopes of being crowned NFC West division champs once again. During last month’s mandatory minicamp, Harbaugh told The AP:
“You get to watch it all unfold. And we’ve been watching that over the last nine weeks … It’s intense and very competitive across the board at every position in some form or fashion.”
While Harbaugh expects another physical training camp free from distraction, rookie A.J. Jenkins looks to make a name for himself. The 22-year-old wide receiver has focused more on improving his game than after being criticized for poor performance during rookie minicamp in May:
“I had some criticism when I first came in as far as being in shape, being a bust and all that. Right now, that’s not relevant. I’m just trying to help this team win.”
Veteran wideout Randy Moss and cornerback Perrish Cox are also ready to get back in the game. Moss has spent mornings working out with fellow receiver Michael Crabtree.
Cox, meanwhile, looks to bounce back following his acquittal on sexual assault charges in Colorado. The 25-year-old sat out all of last season after being released by the Denver Broncos.
The Niners’ stifling defense allowed just three touchdowns all season and accumulated 38 takeaways — and only 10 turnovers — for a whopping plus-28 turnover differential in 2011.
Rookies and selected veterans have already began arriving at 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara. The first full-squad practice is Friday, with the 49ers’ 2012 preseason debut — a 6 p.m. home start — coming Friday, August 10 against the Minnesota Vikings.
Despite a first-place finish in 2011, the 49ers’ 2012 regular season schedule is the seventh-weakest in the league.
The Niners open the season visiting the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 9. Other games to circle are Harbaugh’s rematch with Jim Schwartz and the Detroit Lions the following Sunday night, a visit to the New York Jets on Sept. 30, and matchups at New Orleans on Nov. 25 and New England on Dec. 16.
New 49ers Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham get a lick at their former team Oct. 14 when the Giants travel to the Niners’ backyard for a rematch of the NFC title game.