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49ers Embrace Road Challenge

Posted Sep 4, 2012

The San Francisco 49ers embraced the challenges that came with winning on the road in Jim Harbaugh’s first season as an NFL head coach. The 49ers went 6-2 away from Candlestick Park in 2011, equaling as many road victories as the team had in three previous seasons.

On Sunday, Harbaugh’s club will have to pick up where they left off by handling all the difficulties that come with playing in unfamiliar territory. And, they’ll do it to start the 2012 regular season.

The 49ers will kick-off a new football season against a talented Green Bay Packers club, one that’s coming off a 15-1 regular season and an early exit in the postseason at the hands of the New York Giants.

For San Francisco’s entire 53-man roster, Week 1 preparations couldn’t come soon enough.

“It feels good,” tight end Delanie Walker explained.  “Training camp’s out the way and we cut our roster down to 53 guys who we know will be part of the family. Now, we’re about to go on the road. It’s about that time, everybody’s excited, everybody’s ready to get the gameplan in and do what we do best.”

Walker caught a 32-yard touchdown in the team’s preseason finale win over the San Diego Chargers and is eager to once again assert himself in Greg Roman’s offensive attack, one that will showcase several new additions.

“We’re going to play 49ers football,” Walker continued. “We have great coaches. We have great players. We’re ready to go to work.”

The 49ers will have their work cut out when facing a talented Packers team, who’ve won 52 games during the NFL’s kickoff weekend, tops in league history.

Green Bay’s winning ways at the start of the season have carried over into matchups with San Francisco, too. The Packers have won eight straight contests over the 49ers, including 13 of the last 14 meetings, including playoffs.

“It’s a whole new year, we don’t want to dwell on the past, we have to look to the future and play good football,” said Walker, ignoring the fact that San Francisco is 4-13 all-time in Green Bay. “We’re happy we get to play them early in the summer time. It’s perfect weather for football.”

The challenge of facing a team as deep as Green Bay to start the season is not lost on starting wideout Michael Crabtree, either.

“They won the Super Bowl two years ago,” said the 6-foot-1, 214-pound wideout who hauled in his first NFL touchdown at Lambeau Field on a 38-yard strike from Alex Smith back in 2009. “We know they’re a winning-team so we we’re just trying to match that.”

According to the 49ers most recent depth chart, Crabtree will be joined in the starting lineup by veteran addition Randy Moss.

As for how the future Hall of Fame wide receiver’s presence would change the dynamic of the 49ers offense, Crabtree elected not to divulge such information.

“The sky is the limit,” he said. “We’ve got everything we need. It’s just about us going out there on Sunday and putting it together, making plays and making things happen. That’s when it counts. We are looking good in practice. We are practicing real hard, running real hard. We need to carry that over to Sunday.”

In Crabtree’s eyes, the 49ers offense is too multiple to be labeled one-way or another.

“I wish I could describe it to you,” San Francisco’s leading wideout of 2011 said. “It would be hard.”

With added offensive firepower, the 49ers will look to win in Green Bay for the first time since Nov. 4, 1990. It won’t be easy, considering Green Bay’s defense is littered with reliable contributors.

Respected defensive back Charles Woodson has switched over to safety this season, perhaps giving him opportunities to increase his 54 career interceptions. Pro Bowl pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews is also a disruptive force. Always capable of making a game-changing play like Woodson, Matthews is the first player in Packers history to record a defensive touchdown in his first three NFL seasons.

New 49ers starting right guard Alex Boone won’t have to block Matthews’ pass-rush on Sunday, but he’s well-aware of the talent Green Bay has up front.

“They’re bigger than your average group,” coincidentally said Boone, a 6-foot-7 converted tackle set to make his first NFL start at guard, no less. “They love to stop the run. They’re a scheme-defense, so I think it’ll be exciting to play up there.”

Boone said playing at historic Lambeau Field is “a great way to begin my starting career.”

The newest starter on the offensive line contends it’ll be a challenge. However, Boone believes the 49ers demonstrated the proper characteristics last season while winning six times away from the Bay Area.

“I think a lot of it has to do with keeping your poise, keep your poise in the noise as they say,” Boone added. “You have to understand you’re going into a hostile environment; you just have to keep grinding, keep moving and keep going.”

Every week in the NFL is difficult, but the 49ers see Week 1’s challenge as being the best way to embark on a NFC West title defense.

“This is going to show where we’re at,” Walker added. “We have to go on the road early to a nice stadium, with nice crowd to play a team that had momentum last year. It’s going to show a lot.”

Second-year fullback Bruce Miller would have it no other way.

“It’s a great way to kick-off a season,” Miller, last season’s seventh-round pick, said. “Playing a team of that caliber, it’s going to be a big test for us and I think it can set a lot of momentum for us into the season.”

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