SANTA CLARA -- The decorated veteran and the intriguing rookie sit at opposite ends of the locker room, but they are 49ers for precisely the same purpose.
Randy Moss and LaMichael James are here to be The Difference.
It they aren't, the wise and transparent plans of general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh will have been foiled.
For the similar and very specific assets Moss and James bring are those San Francisco's offense lacked last season -- and likely kept it out of the Super Bowl last February. They represent speed and quickness, the ability to constantly threaten and thereby stretch a defense.
"We're super fast," James said Thursday. "We have a lot of playmakers, a lot of athletes. It exposes defenses, because they have to defend everybody."
The plan goes back to last January, after the 49ers lost the NFC Championship game to the New York Giants. Sober evaluation allowed Baalke and Harbaugh to fully understand what did and did not need to be addressed.
There was no need to reassemble the coaching staff because it would remain almost entirely intact.
No need to restock the league's No. 1 defense because all 11 starters would be back.
No need to shop for a kicker or a punter, because the team's most consistently reliable individuals also would return to anchor the special teams.
One look at the San Francisco offense, though, and the siren sounded. This was a relatively slow unit, and therefore easy to defend. It's tough to challenge defenses deep if your tight end, Vernon Davis in this case, is your best downfield threat. Defenses could get brave and creep up toward the line of scrimmage.
Having clarified offseason priorities one, two and three -- finding defense-challenging, headache-causing speed -- the 49ers signed Moss, the greatest deep receiving threat of the last quarter century. They also signed another wideout, Mario Manningham, who depends more on quickness than pure speed. They then used their first two draft picks on wideout A.J. Jenkins and James, a running back from Oregon.
The glaring weakness was addressed.
Then Harbaugh made the bold decision to switch quarterbacks in midseason, replacing veteran Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick, in his second season. Smith is a good runner and passer. Kaepernick is bigger and faster.
Should we consider this team's lack of speed a problem now solved?
"You might see the playbook open up, with guys playing faster," tight end Delanie Walker said with a sly grin.
Though Manningham was lost to a season-ending knee injury and Jenkins remains deep in the shadows, Moss and James remain to provide the missing ingredients.
"We have more weapons," Davis said. "All the things we didn't have last year, we got 'em now. We're putting up more points. We're scoring more touchdowns, instead of kicking field goals.
"You can't just try to take me out of the passing game. Last year, they were just trying to take me out of the (passing) game. Now if you try to take me away, we have other guys stepping in."
There is the new Michael Crabtree. His career-high numbers (85 catches, 1,105 yards, nine touchdowns) are proof he is a healthier, quicker and more explosive receiver than he was during his first three seasons here.
There also is Jenkins. Harbaugh this week indicated the rookie is capable of producing during the playoffs and, moreover, the coaching staff believes he will.
Yet it is Moss and James who will cause headaches for the next defensive coordinator to face the 49ers. Does the D.C. back off to keep Moss from beating coverage? Can he find someone who can spy James, whose combination of speed and quickness presents a matchup nightmare?
And, by the way, how to account for Kaepernick?
"He'll have a big headache," James said of coordinators game-planning against this unit. "It would be a big headache just because Randy Moss, the legend, is on the field.
"But then we have a quarterback that's a dual threat. That's hard to cover, too."
That's what speed does. That's something the Niners did not have last January.
As the 49ers prepare for their next opponent, Baalke and Harbaugh have to believe they have the right players in place on offense, that they've assembled enough talent to get to the Super Bowl in New Orleans.
Yet no NFC G.M./coach in these playoffs can fall farther or harder than they. Among those still standing, only Baalke/Harbaugh came within a play of reaching the last Super Bowl. Only they can win a game and still feel they have regressed.
Meanwhile, they can look at their roster and see at least two, and maybe three, players who should help them avoid that. They have found those who might be The Difference, but the players will have to affirm it.