Niners now prepared to be the hunted

The 49ers' situation as they enter training camp next month is completely reversed from a year ago, when the team was in suspended animation like the rest of the NFL. The struggling Niners were in a state of flux worse than others as they waited to install new offensive and defensive systems and waited for a college coach in Jim Harbaugh to take over – the team's fourth head coach in nine years.

We all know the results now – a 13-3 season in 2011 and a fumbled punt from appearing in the Super Bowl, which was something no one could have predicted.

Now, they come into the season as the most prepared team in their division, but they are also saddled with sky-rocketing expectations with many prognosticators predicting a Super Bowl appearance.

Harbaugh answers questions about this scenario with one of his stock responses. "We're just trying to figure out a way to win our next game, and that will be against the Green Bay Packers (in the opener)," he said. "Our expectations are day-to-day. Trying to find ways to get a mile-an-hour faster."

What Harbaugh continued to emphasize over the offseason program is conditioning. He had his team sweat through 12-hour days and three-hour practices this spring.

Safety Donte Whitner predicted that few teams ran as many plays as the 49ers did during organized team activity practices this offseason.

The 49ers often ran two practices in one, with the defense running drills against each other on one field and the offense doing the same on another field. It allowed offensive coordinator Greg Roman to run through his entire offense four times and Roman will concentrate on refinements and additions once the team hits training camp.

Harbaugh also believes his team has an advantage in their training camp preparation for two reasons – first, all four of their quarterbacks have experience within his offense and are talented enough to run an NFL offense.

It means they rarely mess up a play, which provides the team with a high percentage of quality reps every practice. Secondly, Harbaugh said that his team is young enough and in good enough condition to run more plays in a given practice than an older less conditioned team.

"This team, we look at it as a young team, it's a young athletic team," Harbaugh said. "I don't know if there's too many teams that can come out and practice the way this team practices every day and your goal is to just bottle that."

The 49ers also have the advantage of returning nearly all of their starters.

On defense, every starter is back on a unit that featured the NFL's No. 1 unit in stopping the run while yielding the second-fewest points in the league.

On offense, the team will have a new right guard, which is likely to be Alex Boone. And at receiver, the 49ers will likely start Randy Moss over Joshua Morgan, who signed a free-agent deal with his hometown Redskins. Those changes both could prove to be upgrades.

But how much will this continuity and preparation matter? Check back in about November.

But for now, the 49ers are definitely prepared to become the hunted.

NINERS STAR TIGHT END VERNON DAVIS talked about lofty goals when he spoke to a group of young players recently in his home town of Washington, D.C.

Davis said, "I will be the best tight end to ever play this game. I have a vision."

Asked how that will happen, Davis said, "Anything is possible. I say that because ... what can happen? If I don't make it, then I don't make it. It's as simple as that. Ain't nothing nobody can do, ain't nothing nobody can say. But if I do? Then I spoke it into existence."

R.C. "ALLEY OOP" OWENS DIED LAST WEEK at the age of 77.

Owens became a favorite target of quarterback Y.A. Title in the 1950s for his leaping touchdown catches over defenders. The play was called the "Alley Oop" and was later coined to describe a dunk in basketball off a high pass.

Owens worked for the 49ers in a number of capacities including training camp director and alumni coordinator.

HARBAUGH SPOKE TO THE CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY about his recent trip to build a school and public facility in the impoverished region of Piura, Peru.

For the last three years, Harbaugh has helped build a school, an orphanage, drug rehab facility and a women's center in the area. Harbaugh was connected to the project through his own parish, St. Raymond's in Menlo Park.

"Every desk was full," Harbaugh said of the school. "Three years ago when we came down here, the school was just an idea."

While Harbaugh headed to Peru, starting safety Donte Whitner was off to Colombia.

His girl friend is Colombian and he has been there once already.

"She is 100 percent Colombian and she has a home there," Whitner said. "We went to Medelin where they filmed 'Entourage.' The real Spanish, Colombian culture I've grown to love."


Banks, a former high school star, was exonerated after spending five years in prison and five years of house arrest for a rape he didn't commit.

The alleged victim reached Banks through Facebook and eventually admitted she was not raped by him. Banks was in high school at Long Beach in California when he was accused, and at the time, he was drawing interest from USC, UCLA and other major colleges.

MEDICAL WATCH: Rookie linebacker Darius Fleming, the team's fifth-round draft pick, may miss the entire season with a torn ACL. Rookie linebacker Cam Johnson, the team's seventh-round pick, had a procedure on his knee but should be ready for training camp. Cornerback Carlos Rogers had a strained calf that limited him this spring, but he returned to practice during the team's early June minicamp. Cornerback Curtis Holcomb, the team's seventh-round draft pick in 2011, saw his first minicamp action after tearing his Achilles tendon as a rookie last year.

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