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Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Scout's take: Horton's thoughts on 49ers

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Scouts Inc. founder Gary Horton has passed along observations for NFC West teams.

I’ll share them on a team-by-team basis and offer a few thoughts to get the conversation going.

San Francisco 49ers

Horton's notes: Look for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to send Patrick Willis on a lot more inside blitzes this year than in the past, which should suit Willis well. Alex Smith is a "statue' behind a porous pass pro OL and Colin Kaepernick can use his feet to escape pressure. That could determine the starter eventually. This offense will be very physical with a run-first mentality and a lot of jumbo TE packages, but they will also show a lot of motion in basically a West Coast scheme. Look for the coaches to give Kaepernick a package of plays each week in their "pistol" formation, something that he did well in college. It could take some heat off Smith. This may be the worst offense in the NFL in vertical passing, but Braylon Edwards might really help in that area. They must stretch the field more often.

My thoughts: Tight end Vernon Davis has given the 49ers a pretty effective vertical threat, in my view. Edwards adds to that capability. How well will Smith time up the shorter passes, particularly to Michael Crabtree, who missed another camp? Like the Seahawks, the 49ers need to do a good job with their pass-protection schemes after struggling with one-on-one matchups during preseason. Smith has not started more than 10 games in a season since 2006. It's likely the team will need Kaepernick or a veteran backup for stretches. That seems problematic unless the team can add a strong veteran backup option. Willis set a career high with six sacks last season. If the added emphasis on blitzing gets him into double-digit range, Willis will have defied perceptions that he couldn't really get any better.