Going with my head, not my heart 

I’ll be rooting for the 49ers to win a lot of games this year. I’ll be rooting for Mike Nolan and his coaching to be celebrated for having turned this once-proud franchise into a winner. I’ll be rooting for Alex Smith to become a bonifide NFL quarterback.

That’s my heart talking. Unfortunately, my head tells me this is going to be another tough season on 49ers fans. Oh, it looks as if progress will be made, just not the kind that will satisfy the fans of five Super Bowl championships.

The 49ers won four games last year, including their last two, and should be applauded for doing so because they limped out of the season with a grand total of one offensive weapon — running back Frank Gore — and a patched-up defense that played with heart.

To say the least, this franchise was beaten up a year ago. The team fought hard, played hard, but the players simply couldn’t stand up to the physical punishment that an NFL season brings with it. By the end of the season, the 49ers were the most injured team in the league.

Since then, Nolan made it a second offseason in a row of sensible patience when it’s come to matters of personnel. He’s been careful with the team’s money, and appears confident that in time the players he’s added will develop. On paper, it looks as if they’ve added some players for 2006, but the 49ers only return eight starters, so they’re a team that needs a lot of players.

Offensive lineman Larry Allen has been a great player in this league, and wide receiver Antonio Bryant has made plays on occasion, but neither is a guaranteed successful signing. Rookie tight end Vernon Davis had the scouts raving about his athleticism, and maybe, just maybe, tight end Eric Johnson will finally get back on the football field.

Unfortunately, we’re talking about a short list of names and an awful lot of holes to fill.

To get right down to it, the 49ers are only going to progress as quickly as Alex Smith, who went from looking completely overwhelmed to actually showing a flash or two of ability. But don’t kid yourself, the 49ers didn’t win any games last year on Smith’s ability. They won by keeping Smith from losing games.

This year, Smith will be called upon to win a couple, and he’ll be guided by a different voice in his headset, as Norv Turner replaces Mike McCarthy, who became the Green Bay Packers’ head coach. Turner is a veteran football man who has been successful at every turn as an offensive coordinator.

Unfortunately, for the team that voted its kicker, Joe Nedney, its team MVP last year, the NFL is a league decided by talent. And while the 49ers appear to have more than they did a year ago, they look like a team a long way from contending for the playoffs.

All that said, I hope my head is wrong, and my heart is right.

NOW THAT I’VE GOT YOUR ATTENTION: Is it just me, or do the Giants look like a team that plays its best baseball against the good teams, and its worst against the bad teams, which may not be the best of combinations when a team is trying to shove its way into a pennant race?

The Giants looked great against the Padres last week, winning three out of four when they should have swept the series. But to go to Washington and look pathetic, and lose three in a row is inexcuseable.

And perhaps the worst news of all, this weekend the Giants will play the team with the league’s worst record who, by the way, only took three of four from the Giants back in June at AT&T Park. Where are the New York Mets or the St. Louis Cardinals when you need them?

Tim Liotta hosts the weekend edition of "Sportsphone 680" on KNBR (680 AM).

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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