Quarterback: Alex Smith and Troy Smith are free agents. There is speculation that Alex Smith will return, but San Francisco should be one of the teams at the very top of the list to acquire a veteran quarterback (Kevin Kolb, anyone?). I see Troy Smith as a backup who can come in for short stretches and ignite a team, but he will inevitably be exposed over time. I have a higher opinion of Alex Smith -- and part of me feels like circumstances beyond his control have really put him behind the eight ball for his career. But I also have not seen enough to anoint this guy as an NFL starter by any stretch of the imagination. He simply is not a gifted passer.
Pass coverage: While they lack a big-name pass-rusher, I don’t have serious concerns about the 49ers’ ability to generate pressure. The contracts of San Francisco’s top pass-rushers, linebackers Manny Lawson and Travis LaBoy, are set to expire. Losing one or both of them could drastically change my opinion on the Niners’ ability to get to the quarterback. But the coverage people give me more concerns. Nate Clements is still the best cornerback on this roster, but he is set to make a big chunk of money and could be let go. The other corners are better off as No. 3 guys at best, so at least one starter is needed at cornerback.
Pass protection: San Francisco used two first-round picks on offensive linemen in the 2010 draft: guard Mike Iupati and tackle Anthony Davis. Iupati was excellent as a rookie, but must refine his pass-protection skills. Davis, however, was a disaster in protection. He does have a lot of ability and could make a marked improvement in his second season. San Francisco needs left tackle Joe Staley to stay healthy, but he, too, did not perform all that well as the blind-side protector. The offensive line had pass-protection issues across the board last season.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.