- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Readiness factor: The 49ers lag in this area for a team that has maintained relatively strong roster continuity over the past few seasons. San Francisco has a new head coach, three new coordinators (counting special teams) and one of the younger offensive lineups in the NFL. The 49ers needed minicamps and the offseason program as much as any team. The lockout was costlier for them. It's a tribute to Jim Harbaugh, his staff and the players if they open the season strong.
Biggest challenge: Getting Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and the offense synced up quickly will be tough. Smith, who plans to re-sign with the team once free agency opens, did all he could in meeting with Harbaugh before the lockout and leading player-organized workouts. Smith's smarts and team-first attitude made him an ideal candidate to communicate Harbaugh's plans to the players attending workouts. That all sounds great in June and July, but it's doubtful the impact will carry the team far. This is a tough situation for a first-time NFL head coach with an unaccomplished quarterback.
Don't forget the defense: Smith's leadership during player-organized workouts drew considerable attention. Meanwhile, Patrick Willis and the defense spent the offseason without access to playbooks. Their new coordinator, Vic Fangio, is known for favoring veterans with the experience needed to run his complex scheme. The 49ers will need their veterans on defense to learn quickly.
Key players without contracts for 2011: Quarterback Alex Smith, linebacker Takeo Spikes, nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, outside linebacker Manny Lawson, tackle Barry Sims, safety Dashon Goldson, defensive end Ray McDonald, offensive lineman David Baas, outside linebacker Travis LaBoy, offensive lineman Tony Wragge.