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Did system hold back 49ers' top picks?

The San Francisco 49ers failed to meet expectations collectively.

Second-year receiver Michael Crabtree failed to meet them individually, inviting criticism from those expecting more from the 10th overall choice in the 2009 NFL draft. Right tackle Anthony Davis, chosen 11th overall in 2010, also fell short of expectations.

Eric Branch's piece on the matter caught my attention Tuesday.

The piece explores two comments from general manager Trent Baalke. In one, Baalke said the 49ers' long-term quarterback isn't on the roster. In another, Baalke said the team had a tough time evaluating Crabtree, Davis and other offensive players in part because the quarterbacks held onto the ball too long.

The first part seems obvious. The 49ers cannot credibly go into the 2011 season building around Alex Smith, Troy Smith or David Carr. We should expect an overhaul at the position.

The second point extends beyond the quarterback position. The overall design, implementation and coordination of the offense can help the quarterback get rid of the football more quickly. Those factors can enhance opportunities for receivers. They can make it easier for offensive linemen to succeed in pass protection.

It's in these areas where new coach Jim Harbaugh will seek to improve the offense right away. The 49ers did not set the bar very high in this regard last season. That's why Baalke sounds optimistic even before the team has found its next quarterback.