2010 NFL Question Marks: San Francisco 49ers

GLENDALE - NOVEMBER 25:  Joe Staley #74 and Adam Snyder #68 of the San Francisco 49ers walk on the field during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on November 25, 2007 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Merry training camp season, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the 49ers and their growing concerns along the offensive line.

The NFC West has emerged as the weakest division in football. The Rams are atrocious, the Cardinals are in transition mode and nobody quite knows what to make of the new-look Seahawks.

That’s why the 49ers are so intriguing. People have fallen in love with Mike Singletary’s coaching style and are encouraged about the development of former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith. They also have a great talent at running back in Frank Gore, a suddenly decent receiving corps thanks to Michael Crabtree, a stud tight end in Vernon Davis, and a young, energetic defense that has taken on Singletary’s ferocity and swagger.

But Smith and the rest of the offense will only go as far as the offensive line takes them and as of this moment, things don’t look good for the Niners’ front five.

Singletary has already named rookies Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati the starters at right tackle and left guard, respectively. Both first-rounders certainly have the talent to succeed, but as with any young player in the NFL, Davis and Iupati will likely struggle in their first years. It’s only inevitable.

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Tennessee’s next head coach: Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly?

Brian KellySince Phillip Fulmer made the decision to step down at the end of the year, speculation has run rampant on who will replace him as the next head coach at the University of Tennessee. While The Oregonian suggests that Oregon State’s Mike Riley could be in line for the position, I’ve got another name to keep your eye on: Cincinnati’s Brian Kelly.

Five years ago, Kelly was a nobody winning multiple Division II championships at little old Grand Valley State in Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there, he was hired at Central Michigan University, which had won more than three games only once in the previous four seasons. After finishing with a 4-7 record in 2004 (his first year in Mt. Pleasant) and 6-5 in 2005, Kelly led the Chippewas to a MAC Championship in 2006 before jetting to Cincinnati before coaching CMU in the 2006 Motor City Bowl.

In his first season at Cincinnati, Kelly led the Bearcats to their second ever 10-win season (first since 1949) and a top 25 ranking. He was named Big East Coach of the Year and currently has the Bearcats ranked 19th in the nation despite having to play a total of four different quarterbacks this season due to injury.

Tennessee needs a confident, offensive-minded leader and Kelly fits the bill. Many in the Mt. Pleasant area hate him for the way he left CMU in the lurch after winning the MAC Championship in 2006, but the fact of the matter is that he made that program relative again (the Chips are going for their third straight MAC title this season). He was the one that converted Joe Staley (who is currently starting for the 49ers right now) from tight end to offensive tackle, and also the one who recruited Heisman candidate Dan LeFevour. And the job Kelly has done at Cincinnati in his two years has been remarkable to say the least.

When talking to people who have worked with him in the past (like Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun columnist and Central Michigan beat writer Drew Ellis, who is a close friend of mine), you get the impression that Kelly is a cocky, but confident coach. The Vols need someone headstrong that can turn the program around in only a few short years. No offense to Riley or any other candidate Tennessee may consider, but Kelly has won everywhere he’s gone and he seems like a coach that can light a fire under that program’s ass.

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