When the 49ers looked at their schedule a year ago, they saw only one quarterback - some guy named Tim Tebow* - capable of running the read-option, and because of that they didn't prepare much for it on defense.
This year is a little different.
The 49ers will face Seattle's Russell Wilson Sept. 15, Tennessee's Jake Locker Oct. 20, Carolina's Cam Newton Nov. 10, Washington's Robert Griffin III Nov. 25 and Wilson again Dec. 8. All are capable of gobbling up yards on the ground, and the 49ers defense is doing more read-option preparation accordingly.
Luckily, the 49ers have an excellent way to warm up. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he envisioned a lot more scenarios this season in which the 49ers No. 1 defense will be pitted against the team's No. 1 offense and quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
"We didn't waste our time working on it against our own offense with our first-team defense," Fangio said of the 2012 season. " This year we will, obviously. So it does help having an offense that knows how to run it."
The 49ers have other weapons as well. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman received a tutorial on the read-option and pistol formation from the latter's inventor, former Nevada coach Chris Ault. They also hired Eric Mangini in the offseason as an extra set of eyes.
Finally, Kaepernick is not the only quarterback currently on the roster capable of giving the 49ers defense a good taste of the read-option. Seventh-round pick B.J. Daniels ran it in college and is particularly similar to Wilson in size, scrambling ability and arm strength.
The conventional wisdom holds that rookie Eric Reid will start at free safety - Dashon Goldson's former spot -- for the 49ers this season. After all, the team traded up 13 spots to get him in the first round. Fangio, however, insisted that there's a four-man battle this summer among Reid, free-agent pickup Craig Dahl and holdovers C.J. Spillman and Trenton Robinson.
Fangio said he was pleased with the strides taken this spring by Robinson, a sixth-round pick in 2012. The team also must look toward the future. Goldson departed via free agency in March and veteran starter Donte Whitner could do the same next year.
* For the record, Tebow -- a change-of-pace option to Jets starter Mark Sanchez last year -- rushed two times for zero yards against the 49ers.
-- Matt Barrows