I didn’t see the 49ers beat the Chargers 21-7 in person, but after attending a birthday party for my Nana (93) and cousin Emily (30), I came home and went a little nuts with the Tivo remote. Rewinding, fast-forwarding, slow-motioning … I’m not sure if nature intended for preseason games to be explored so thoroughly, but three and a half hours later, here we are.
So what I lost in the form of original photos and interview time in the locker room, I’ve gained in the ability to watch far too many meaningless plays multiple times. And since the 49ers finally prevailed in an exhibition game and carried footballs into the end zone during officially recorded plays, there were several players who looked impressive. I don’t feel like whittling this down to 10 guys, so here’s a list of 13.
Eric Reid: He didn’t play much, but he limited Ryan Mathews to just one yard on his 3rd-and-2 reception from Philip Rivers. Reid displayed outstanding fundamentals on that one-on-one tackle.
Blaine Gabbert: Here’s the backup quarterback for the 2014 San Francisco 49ers. The stats look good, he broke the touchdown drought, and he didn’t turn it over (he recovered his own fumble, though). Plus, I finally feel like I wasn’t crazy all summer. I didn’t think Gabbert looked all that bad in practice — he seemed a heck of a lot better than Colt McCoy, anyway.
Vance McDonald: He led the 49ers in receptions (three) and receiving yards (29), and he scored the first touchdown at Levi’s. Oh, who are we kidding — it’s the preseason. There’s no “first” anything that truly matters until Sept. 14. What’s important is that McDonald looks about 200% better now than a year ago.
Carlos Hyde: His previous high for one carry was 19 yards against the Ravens, and now it’s 20. The 49ers already knew he’s a starting-caliber NFL back, but it’s nice to have that reaffirmed so frequently.
LaMichael James: The 49ers aren’t going to get very far (literally speaking) running him off-tackle, but he had three great blocks in pass protection and a nice seven-yard reception.
Chris Borland: For a guy who’s short and slow, this dude is exciting as hell to watch. I’m not sure if soaring through the air every time someone comes in low on a block is a great idea (I’m still not sure how he avoided landing on his neck the second time he did it — the time after the sack), but he had a great play on special teams, led the team in tackles and added one of the team’s four QB hits to that wild sack of Brad Sorensen.
Mike Purcell: Ian Williams started and made a tackle, but it wasn’t as impressive as Purcell’s 3rd-and-1 stop on Donald Brown.
Bruce Ellington: He’s probably about a half-season away from earning the team’s trust as a returner (the fair catch rule is your friend, Bruce), but Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman definitely want to see what he can do offensively in a number of ways. He had a five-yard carry and receptions on consecutive plays, highlighted by a nice 19-yard grab. Also, I’m pretty sure Troy Aikman has a crush on him. DID YOU KNOW HE PLAYED BASKETBALL IN COLLEGE?!?!
Glenn Winston: He showed vision and burst as he rushed eight times for 58 yards. The 49ers need a fourth running back, and it sure seemed like Winston jumped ahead of Alfonso Smith (four carries for three yards) and Jewel Hampton (who only played special teams). It’ll take time to get used to seeing a running back wearing Donte Whitner’s number, though.
Jimmie Ward: McDonald’s excuse for an up-and-down rookie year was how much the coaching staff shoved onto his already-full plate. Ward is playing cornerback and safety, and he intercepted a pass, defensed another, and appeared to score a touchdown on a fumble recovery that was called an incomplete pass. Ward seems like he’s up for nearly any task.
Darryl Morris: Nice job stepping in front of Ryan Otten for the game-sealing interception. Good sign for Morris that Harbaugh came out onto the field to congratulate him after the pick, and looked as happy as we’ve seen him since the ice bucket challenge.
Corey Lemonier: A sack, a QB hit, and several pressures. Very busy day for Lemonier.
Aaron Lynch: I thought I counted three pass deflections, but the box score says two. Whatever. I might have saved the best for last with Lynch, who also had a sack and a QB hit. Getting him in the fifth round was quite the heist for Trent Baalke, to the point where we might get to see what he can do against first-string offensive linemen pretty soon.
Speaking of starting offensive linemen, I didn’t mention any of them in this post. Stay tuned for a list of less-than-impressive performances coming soon. I’m not sure if that list will be quite as long; maybe we’ll stick with the customary 10.
Honorable Mention: Asante Cleveland, Kevin Greene, Al Netter, Kyle Nelson (nice blocks on the Winston TD); D.J. Campbell (eye-catching hit); Dontae Johnson (two tipped passes and a strong tackle in punt coverage).