In our second installment of our 2-parter about stuff that happened on Friday — which means in blog world it happened 45 years ago — we walk into the morgue and poke the San Francisco 49ers. Before we talk about what went wrong, let’s go over what went right for the Niners in their first preseason game…
Forget the fact that he had the team’s only sack in New Orleans. Or that it’s just preseason and he’ll definitely face more complicated formations and blocking schemes when the games count. Or that Smith had trouble disengaging from blockers at times. In a game where the 49ers were completely outclassed by a more talented and experienced opponent, one of the main bright spots was watching Smith — he was all over the field. It didn’t matter where the play went, Smith was in the vicinity. Adios, Manny Lawson. Smith already looks better wearing your old number.
It’s actually unfair to only call out Smith for his play when others on the defense also looked pretty decent. Like Ahmad Brooks, who looks like the same guy who took everyone by surprise in 2009. Demarcus Dobbs looks like he has a great shot at being a contributor this season on the line. Larry Grant looked good, and so did NaVorro Bowman when he wasn’t hitting people out of bounds.
Horrible offensive line play, but was it all their fault?
Now that that’s settled, onto the bad stuff. And there was a lot, starting with the o-line. If anything holds the 49ers back from NFC West title contention this season, it’s going to be the team’s inability to turn things over quickly enough in that department. Part of the line’s difficulties were surely due to limited practice time, but it’ll be interesting to see how many of the starters on the line right now are still playing at the end of the season (Chilo Rachal may soon find himself sitting on the bench, for instance).
However, it wasn’t just the line’s fault. Colin Kaepernick has an excuse for being indecisive — he has no business playing quarterback in the NFL (yet). Sure, his completion to Lance Long showed the ridiculous velocity Kaepernick can put on a ball, and he’s easily the fastest QB the Niners have had since Steve Young. But he’s a human timeout, a guy who’ll pick up more delay of game penalties and coverage sacks than anyone in the league.
Then you have Alex Smith, who is still the same accuracy-challenged, easily flustered guy we’ve watched for six years. If it weren’t for the fact that training camp just started a little while ago and the Niners are putting in a new system, I’d be ready to cut bait. What’s the opposite of confidence, timidness? Timidity? Whatever you want it call it, on Friday we saw the same old Alex.
Maybe that’s why the 49ers are reportedly bringing in Daunte Culpepper for a workout. One of the weirdest things about Friday’s game was once Kaepernick came in the game, he didn’t leave. Only two quarterbacks played, which is extremely strange for a team’s first preseason game and shows the Niners don’t have much faith in Jeremiah Masoli right now to man the position. Culpepper doesn’t have the kind of mobility you’d like behind a porous line, but he’s a much more decisive passer with a strong arm who’s apparently in great shape and the 49ers are in dire need of depth for a few reasons.
1. If Niners QBs are going to absorb 5+ sacks per game, Alex Smith and two unpolished rookies isn’t going to cut it.
2. Kaepernick looks like he has a long ways to go before he can be trusted during an actual game; he doesn’t provide enough competition for Alex — who should feel anything but entrenched at the position.
3. Culpepper has his flaws (which is why he found himself in the UFL last year), but he’s completed 63% of his passes in his NFL career and he’s only 34. Smith has completed 57.1% of his passes, and was as inaccurate as ever on Friday.
Other Niners Notes
— Wow, the 49ers committed a lot of penalties. Very sloppy, but to be expected in their first preseason game against a good team that’s been together for a while.
— Kendall Hunter’s a better runner than Anthony Dixon, who still dances too much.
— Frank Gore had his familiar burst through the line — nice not to have to worry about him early on.
— Braylon Edwards looks like he can produce as long as he has a decent QB delivering the ball.
— Kaepernick honed in on Ronald Johnson on several occasions, forcing the ball a few of those times. Johnson ran a couple good routes though, and looked better than Kyle Williams returning punts.