Vikings vs. 49ers: Top Performers from Friday's Preseason Opener
Football returned to Candlestick Park on Friday night for the first time since the NFC Championship game, and aside from an unfortunate Aldon Smith hip injury (per Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee), there were plenty of positives to take in from the preseason opener.
While they weren't exactly perfect—no team is at this point—the San Francisco 49ers forced their hard-nosed style of play on the visiting Minnesota Vikings all evening and safely controlled the tempo for all 60 minutes of action.
The offense—contrary to last year's preseason action—looked to be running like a well-oiled machine, and completely ignored the passing game for chunks at a time. But when they did air it out, that looked good, too.
As for the defense, there was the occasional missed tackle or blown assignment in coverage. Otherwise, it was a near flawless performance. Not bad for the squad's first dose of live action less than two full weeks into training camp.
Without further ado, let's look at the 49ers' top performers from Friday night's preseason opener.
Colin Kaepernick, QB
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Shortly after starting QB Alex Smith capped off a 12-play, 84-yard drive with a three-yard TD pass to WR Brett Swain, Kaepernick led the 49er offense into the end zone himself—only he wasted no time doing so.
After a short gain on a hand-off to rookie RB LaMichael James, Kaepernick led the unit to the line of scrimmage in the no-huddle package and snapped the ball before the Vikings D was fully prepared.
After a fake handoff to James, Kaepernick saw Minnesota's DE crash down, leaving a wide open path for the second-year QB to take the designed run play 78 yards for a score—nearly untouched.
"Kapper" (as Harbaugh could be heard yelling as he celebrated the score) was nearly caught at the 5-yard line by CB Chris Cook but threw out a beautiful stiff arm to thwart the would-be tackler.
On the ground, Kaepernick would finish the night with 92 yards on three carries. Through the air, he would go 5-of-9 for 40 yards.
A couple throws were impressive—including a beautiful sideline strike to rookie first-round pick A.J. Jenkins—but the Nevada product displayed inconsistent timing when delivering the ball and failed to put the proper touch on a couple of short passes.
All in all, a strong performance for the projected backup QB.
Much better than his preseason debut from a year ago, anyway.
Perrish Cox, CB
Cox was arguably the top performer in the 49ers secondary Friday night, which is surprising when you consider that he missed the entire 2011 season.
The former Denver Bronco played aggressive and confident all evening, tallying four tackles (one for loss), a pass defensed and a spectacular interception on a poorly thrown ball in the final minutes of the game.
Harbaugh played Cox early and often throughout this game, and it was encouraging for the 49ers' depth at cornerback to see him respond so well.
In addition to the pick, he sniffed out a screen pass and took out the Vikings receiver's legs immediately as he began to progress up field. From what I could see, he looked smooth and fluid in deep coverage as well.
Brandon Jacobs, RB
The free-agent addition found himself assigned with the task of moving the chains on four different short-yardage situations—and converted on all four.
Jacobs looked powerful and ran with a low pad level, a refreshing sight for members of the 49er faithful wondering if the 6'4", 264-pound back can still pack a punch.
On one 23-yard scamper, the former Giant even outran a defender and rumbled to the sideline to move the sticks on third-and-short.
This is what the 49ers front office wanted him for, and so far, it's precisely what they're getting.
Scott Tolzien, QB
Perhaps the best QB performance of the evening came from the one 49ers signal-caller who doesn't figure to make the 53-man roster.
Or does he?
Tolzien picked apart the Vikings' reserves, showing veteran-like poise when assessing pre-snap reads and hitting receivers in stride.
The former undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin did commit the 49ers' only turnover—an interception on a throw in which his arm was hit as he released—but still finished 10-of-13 for 84 yards on the evening.
What was perhaps most shocking was that Tolzien came on as the team's No. 3 QB, ahead of free-agent acquisition and projected third-stringer Josh Johnson.
With more performances like this, don't be surprised to see Tolzien find his way onto the 53-man roster.
Even if it isn't San Francisco's, this guy's arm strength is better than most advertise it to be and he clearly deserves a home on an NFL squad somewhere.
Eric Bakhtiari, LB
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After Aldon disappeared to the locker room, it was 27-year-old roster hopeful Eric Bakhtiari terrorizing the Vikings' backfield repetitively throughout the game.
Bakhtiari logged two sacks on the night as the 49ers D-line controlled the line of scrimmage, letting the pass-rushers run rampant in the backfield.
If it wasn't for Vikings' reserve QB Joe Webb's masterful elusiveness, he and DE/TE Demarcus Dobbs could've added an additional takedown or two.
It was a welcome—and familiar—sight at The 'Stick, something the Niner D will need plenty of in the regular season as they face a bevy of high-octane air attacks that will pick apart any secondary if given ample time.
It's unlikely that Bakhtiari will survive the late-August roster cuts that loom, but as far as this game is concerned, he was a star.
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