Big-picture expecations don't change 49ers' approach


SANTA CLARA -- The mass chaos that surrounded the 49ers during the opening of training camp a year ago is a distant memory.The players know the system. They know what is expected from them on the field and in the meeting rooms. And the coaches know the players.Unlike the uncertainty that came a year ago after the lockout wiped out the entire offseason program for the players and the new 49ers coaching staff, this training camp has a greater sense of order.RELATED: 49ers camp battles -- who are fighting for jobs?
And there is no question the expectations -- inside and outside the 49ers organization -- a far greater."We have great expectations," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said upon the opening of training camp. "We've got big hopes. We've got big dreams. As it relates to the expectations, though, they are go out and have a great practice this afternoon."After the 49ers' first day off of camp on Tuesday, they return to practice Wednesday afternoon.Harbaugh talks about every day in the same manner. The 49ers' most important day is today. That goes for every day. His message to the team is to concentrate on the next task -- and avoid looking too far into the future."The other things are irrelevant at this point, other than you've got to find something to believe in, and then go to work at that," Harbaugh said. "And we believe that what puts us in the best possible position, the most advantageous position to win is preparation and hard work."The 49ers have 90 players on their camp roster. They must trim the roster to 53 players for the start of the regular season. A lot of the 49ers going through the grind of camp will be former 49ers in a month. That's why Harbaugh's motto during the offseason program was "Work. Don't worry."In the backs of everybody's mind is the thought that the 49ers are on the short list of NFL teams that figures to enter the season with legitimate Super Bowl hopes.Harbaugh's job is to make sure his players do not get ahead of themselves and spent too much time thinking about the first Sunday in February."We're too focused on the process," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "Any time you want to be successful at anything, you don't focus on the end result. You focus on the day-to-day grind, the day-to-day details."If we focus on the process each and every practice, each and every week, each and every month, we'll be where we want to be at the end of the football season."Twelve months ago, nobody inside or outside the 49ers could have imagined that the 49ers would have ended their skid of eight consecutive non-winning seasons with a 13-3 regular season, an NFC West title and a bitter overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion New York Giants in the NFC championship game.Anything shy of a return trip to the NFL's final four will be viewed as a step backward. But that's too far into the future for the 49ers to spend much time thinking about right now."We're not worried about the Super Bowl because what we do today will set us up for tomorrow," tight end Vernon Davis said. "That's why coach keeps harping on taking it each day, one day at a time. We have to make it through today to get to the next one."The 49ers are sneaking up on nobody this season. As Whitner points out, the 49ers have gone from "hunter to hunted" -- a team that will bring out the best in their opposition this season."It's a new season," 49ers tackle Joe Staley said. "It's the 2012 season. We can't get hung up on what we did last year. We have to wipe the slate clean. Obviously, we did a lot of good things last year, but we have a lot of improvements we need to make. We know what kind of talented team we have and we had success last year, but it doesn't mean anything. Everybody is 0-0."The 49ers must be better than a year ago for them to equal the same success. Defense and special teams did the heavy lifting. The offense was phenomenal when it came to holding onto the football. Quarterback Alex Smith threw just five interceptions while taking every significant snap in 18 games, including the playoffs.But the offense was also largely inconsistent. The 49ers ranked near the worst in the league in third-down conversions and red-zone efficiency. The 49ers added veteran receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and running back Brandon Jacobs. The club also selected receiver A.J. Jenkins and running back LaMichael James in the first two rounds of the draft.In addition, Smith and the offense returns for a second season in the same system. Instead of scrambling a year ago to grasp a basic understanding of their responsibilities, the 49ers are fine-tuning and building upon what they already know."I just think, no question, we've gotten better," Alex Smith said. "Not just in the sense that we have a year under our belt, but I really feel that personnel-wise we've gotten better. We've gotten more depth. The next steps, the biggest one is consistency. Just doing that day-in and day-out, play after play after play, game-in and game-out. There's always going to be ups and downs, but just not the fluctuation that we had last year at times."As much as we all talk about pressing delete on last year, I mean obviously there was a lot of excitement going to the playoffs and the 13-3 (record) and things like that and getting a playoff win. But I don't think that anyone is pressing delete on the taste in our mouth. Working that hard to get that close to your goal and not getting there is definitely, even more bitter than some of the losing seasons that we've been a part -- that I've been a part of."

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