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49ers keeping chins up after rough offseason

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A year ago at this time, the San Francisco 49ers were a sexy pick to break through and win their sixth Super Bowl, 20 seasons after claiming their most recent Lombardi Trophy.

Now?

The Niners, many observers believe, are in full rebuild mode, despite general manager Trent Baalke’s much-repeated mantra that they are merely reloading. A second straight 8-8 season might be optimistic, the prevailing feeling goes, after three straight NFC title game apperances and a Super Bowl loss under Jim Harbaugh.

In fact, the Niners’ offseason received an NFL-low D-plus grade from ESPN.com NFL Insider Mike Sando and the 49ers were deemed to have just the 17th-best roster in the NFL a year after being ranked second by ESPN Insider. These things happen when a team loses as many as 12 key players in an offseason, whether it be through retirement, free agency or trade, in addition to revamping the coaching staff.

The feeling in the Niners locker room on Thursday, though, was much different as the team ended its three-day minicamp.

“I’m optimistic about this season,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “I’m sure the rest of my teammates can attest to that. It’s a good thing. It’s cool. You guys want to say we’re going to lose? Then that’s cool. That means we have a lot to prove, right?

“A lot of pressure. That’s good, though. I think this team performs really well under pressure. The odds are against us but we will be prepared for whatever comes our way. I believe in this team.”

Left tackle Joe Staley was more succinct.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Staley said of predictions of gloom and doom. “Harbaugh’s first year, people thought we were going to be crappy.”

Instead, the Niners went 13-3 and lost a heart-breaker in overtime at home to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

So, no, the Niners are not going to use bad predictions as motivation.

“My thing is, actions speak louder than words,” Davis said.

“I think we have a lot of talent on this team with the addition of the coaching staff and the wonderful players we have coming in here like Darnell Dockett, Torrey Smith. I think that’s all going to help us at the end of the day. I think it’s going to be a concerted effort to make it all work. It has to be.”