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Cowboys vs. 49ers: 5 Questions with Niners Nation

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We asked a few questions of Fooch over at Niners Nation, SB Nation's excellent 49ers blog.

Blogging The Boys: It's been a while since the 49ers had a winning record. Is there confidence in San Fran this year that you guys will get on the winning side and compete for the playoffs?

Niners Nation: People are all over the place with this team.  At Niners Nation, I've got folks predicting 11 wins and I've got folks predicting 5 or 6 wins.  At this point I'm thinking 9 wins, but an 8-8 team would really not surprise me.  People see the team improving, but some folks are a little more impatient about it than others.  That of course is due to a combination of the long stretch of success in the 80s and 90, followed by the exact opposite for much of this decade.  Jed York, nephew to 49ers patron saint Eddie DeBartolo, has become the face of the franchise and I do think he's inspired more confidence from people.

BTB: Give us the scoop on recently-named stating QB Shaun Hill. What's the update on his injury and what kind of player is he?

NN: Shaun Hill is expected to start this Saturday.  The back injury sort of came out of nowhere but seems to be a relatively mild sprain.  Apparently Hill was surprised by the level of scrutiny it received.  The rest of us who know how the media and Internet operates were not.  The original plan was for the starters to get their heaviest dose of of playing time to date, potentially into the early part of the 3rd quarter.  I can honestly say I don't know what that means now that Hill has had the tweak in his back.  

As far as Hill is as a quarterback, he's definitely a more conservative QB who would seem to fit well in the Jimmy Raye power running offensive attack.  He has no qualms checking down to a tight end or running back if something is not there up top.  The positive to that is that hopefully we'll see few interceptions.  The downside is you're not exactly scaring defenses.  As a QB though, Hill commands the respect of the huddle, and not just because he has a winning record as a QB.  There's just a chemistry there that seemed to be lacking with Alex Smith.  My impression is that Hill is a guy the rest of the team is prepared to go to war with and Alex Smith lacked that quality.  Of course, we'll see what happens if Hill gets a full 16 games under his belt and defenses can make the necessary adjustments.

BTB: How are you liking Mike Singletary as the head coach? What kind of tone has he set in the offseason/preseason.

NN: The running joke is that he's all about Physical with an F!  And yet that's basically how it is.  He's done a lot of work as a motivational speaker (although he does not live in a van down by the river) so he brings that personality to the team.  In fact, the 49ers marketing department has basically taken his various quotations and used them in advertising.

It's 100% clear he is looking to build a team that will punch folks in the mouth and play a very physical brand of football.  One can look to the first day of practice when he introduced a drill called the Nutcracker.  It involved players going one-on-one trying to drive the other one back.  It led to injuries to Dave Baas and Patrick Willis among others (although Willis is back and will be playing Saturday).  So there is certainly the question of being too physical, but for now it's just a matter of toughening guys up.

BTB: What are some of the main issues the 49ers still want to settle in the rest of the preseason?

NN: Well, as of lunch time Friday, the 49ers primary backup offensive tackle, Marvel Smith, announced his retirement.  Originally he was expected to be the starting right tackle but his injuries held him to one practice a day (sitting out the afternoon practices) and he just decided to call it quits.  That leaves the 49ers thin on the line so I'd expect backups Barry Sims and Alex Boone (the rookie who admitted that before entering rehab he would drink 30 beers a day, and also required a pair of tasers to take him down after a relapse in February).  Boone was battling for a roster spot and now seems very likely assured of one.

Other than that, the team is still trying to determine their starting right cornerback between veteran addition Dre Bly and third year corner Tarell Brown.  They've got some battles for backup spots and the 3rd-5th receivers, but otherwise the 49ers have a good idea of their starting lineup for the most part.

BTB: Tell us all we need to know about the Michael Crabtree deal.

NN: I still post about it, but I'm no longer bothering to get worked up about it.  It's gotten to the point where things are getting ugly in the Crabtree camp as it's rumored his agent Eugene Parker has said Crabtree is the hold-up.  Of course, if Parker made a bunch of promises to Crabtree and can't deliver now, it might be understandable for Crabtree to be upset.  People are claiming Crabtree will sit out all year, but financially that makes no sense.  He'd have to be delusional to think that if he sat out the full season and re-entered the draft that a team would draft him that high again (see Williams, Mike).  Throw in the money issues and I'd bet a lot of money that he'd end up getting signifciantly less money than what the 49ers are reportedly offering now.  As to that, basically the 49ers have offered him slot money that reflects the 10th pick.  No more, no less.

The problem with all this is that if a guy philosophically believes he deserves the most money for wide receivers, but the system in place does not recognize this, who's willing to lose face first?  As far as I'm concerned, at most the 49ers could pay him the same as the #9 pick (Crabtree went 10).  If they go any further they're basically setting themselves up to be punked out by draft picks for the rest of time.  No way GM Scot McCloughan is willing to give himself that reputation at this point in his career.  And if Crabtree sits out the year and never wears a 49ers uniform, it would certainly annoy me, but I believe in the 49ers on this one.