SANTA CLARA — The 49ers’ red zone numbers have been somewhere between adequate and miserable the past few seasons.
Photos by Godofredo Vasquez/SFBay
They’ve been one touchdown shy of getting — and winning — the Super Bowl the last two seasons.
But quarterback Colin Kaepernick is looking to change that.
The team scored touchdowns on 52 percent of opportunities in 2012, boosting that number ever so slightly in 2013 to 53 percent.
General manager Trent Baalke has brought in a few weapons to help out, via trade, free agency and the draft. Now, the 49ers are hoping to take those tools and turn themselves into a championship team.
“Stevie (Johnson) has been looking good, Brandon (Lloyd) has been looking good. … I think (the wide receiver position) is definitely stronger this year.”
The team acquired Johnson for a fourth round draft pick during the draft and Lloyd was signed in April. Lloyd, originally drafted by the 49ers in 2003, was showing off during organized team activities Wednesday, not dropping single pass, something only he and two others can claim.
He didn’t play last season, but Lloyd is only a few years removed from his 2010 campaign which included 77 receptions for nearly 1500 yards and 11 touchdowns. Lloyd and Johnson are expected to duke it out for the No. 3 receiver job.
Having Michael Crabtree available during the first 11 games of last season may have meant the 49ers would have held a home field advantage in the NFC Championship game, where the team has enjoyed success against the Seattle Seahawks.
For now, Kaepernick says, they’ll just be working to get better:
“It’s been a pretty easy learning curve, for me, to read their body language. There’s someone like Anquan (Boldin), like Crabtree, that have easy body language to read. When they’re going to come out of their breaks, and they do things so smoothly that it makes it easy on the quarterback.”
Defense coming together
The 49ers lost some key defenders to free agency in March, and added some pieces they hope can make up for it all. Most notably, safety Antoine Bethea will step into a void left by Donte Whitner.
Whitner, who was one signature away from legally changing his name to “Hitner,” seemed to at times draw penalty flags just for stepping onto the field. The hard hitting defensive back left the sunny California skies for the snow-filled winters of Cleveland.
Bethea, who arrive in from Indianapolis, couldn’t be more different. He didn’t get flagged for a single penalty last year, something no other starting safety in the NFL was able to accomplish.
Bethea says he’s happy to be wearing red and gold for various reasons:
“One of my main things in coming, was to come to a team that had a good chance of winning the Lombardi trophy. When they expressed interest, I had to hop on it. Being a fan of the game, when you see San Fran play, you like what you see on film.”
Bethea has never put up the numbers of a ball-hawking All-Pro, but he’s never had as much help, either. He feels like his new partner in crime, Eric Reid, is much more developed in the mental aspects of football than others his age.
The running back rotation
The 49ers already had four solid running backs rostered before the draft in Marcus Lattimore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and Frank Gore. They decided to add Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde in the draft, and it’s anyone’s guess who’ll make the roster between James and Hunter.
Sure, the team can keep all five, but that will be hard to do once they have to make final cuts and get to 53 players. No other roster in the league is as deep with backs as the 49ers, so there’s the chance that they decide to trade one of their pieces.
James appears to be the immediate dark horse, and has taken to Twitter in between fumbles to express grievances based around a lack of playing time.
Hyde and Lattimore are between-the-tackles runners, whereas James needs to have the ball in space to be effective.
Hunter has yet to prove himself stud or dud, and could be the next man scrutinized should James prove his worth.
Lattimore hasn’t taken an NFL carry, redshirting his rookie season after a ghastly knee injury in college, but has shown unique traits that the 49ers like. Harbaugh spoke highly of him Wednesday, saying that Lattimore is getting better every day.