49ers vs. Broncos: Bold Predictions for Key San Francisco Stars, Rookies
The next day, Aug. 27, to be exact, Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff will be forced to trim the roster from 90 players down to 75.
With so many jobs on the line, the competition on the gridiron will be intense to say the least. Roster hopefuls will be flying around the field in an attempt to convince the decision makers to let them hang around.
But in San Francisco, anyone donning the Red and Gold treats every rep on the gridiron as if it's their last—whether it be Patrick Willis or Eric Bakhtiari.
That's just the Forty Niner Way.
So, needless to say, tuning into Sunday's matchup would be a pretty smart idea. You're likely to see 15 participants playing their final game as 49ers, but none of them will go out without a fight.
For the sole purpose of spicing things up a bit, I'm going to toss out a few bold predictions for some key 49ers that you should monitor throughout the action.
Well, it is preseason. I suppose we can't get too carried away.
It'll be fun, though, so let's go!
Alex Smith will outduel Peyton Manning
That's right. You heard it here. Alex Smith faces off against the future Hall of Fame QB who may or may not have been close to replacing him in San Fran.
For the first quarter, at least.
I'm not one to overplay the whole "Peyton Manning Sweepstakes" situation, but I'd bet nearly all of us are guilty of wanting to see how these two fare against one another—preseason or not.
My money says Peyton once again struggles to shake off the rust (20-for-30, 221 yards and three interceptions in two preseason games) against a 49er D looking to regain its dominant form, and Smith will orchestrate at least one touchdown-scoring drive before he hands the controls off to backup QB Colin Kaepernick.
Projected stats for Alex Smith: 6/8, 106 YDS, 1 TD, 0 INT
Kendall Hunter will rush for 100 yards
Arguably, no one player has impressed the coaching staff and 49er faithful during training camp and preseason more so than backup running back Kendall Hunter.
With newly signed RB Brandon Jacobs sidelined from a knee injury suffered against Houston and rookie RB LaMichael James' status in question for Week 3 due to an ankle injury, expect Hunter take on a heavier load this Sunday.
Anthony Dixon and Rock Cartwright will garner some work as well, but Hunter has been showing excellent burst, vision and tackle-breaking ability on a consistent basis so far.
This is the game he breaks loose, slicing through the Broncos defense for a scamper of at least 40 yards and crossing the century mark in the process.
Projected stats for Kendall Hunter: 14 CAR, 108 YDS, 7.7 AVG, 0 TD
Vernon Davis will catch a TD pass
Harbaugh, as expected, doesn't want to show off his new toys too early. That would explain why we have seen little of newcomers like Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.
One thing the rest of the NFL already knows, though, is that Vernon Davis is capable of making game-changing plays.
Therefore, the 49ers could very well give Davis some increased playing time in the final two preseason games. He's had just one pass come his way so far and failed to secure the perfectly thrown ball.
Sunday is a great opportunity to get the seventh-year vet rolling, perhaps a red-zone target would do the trick.
Or, perhaps, maybe the 49er faithful will witness the first Vernon Post of the 2012 season?
Projected stats for Vernon Davis: 2 REC, 39 YDS, 1 TD
A.J. Jenkins will get his deep ball
Jenkins' speed and route-running abilities were on display Saturday against the Texans, and there's a good chance we'll see them in Denver, too.
Reserve QB Josh Johnson found Jenkins for a 32-yard connection in Week 2, but overthrew the speedster on two separate occasions as well. The former Illinois product had nothing but green grass in his way to the end zone on both attempts.
On Sunday, he'll get his chance once again, only this time the QB won't miss. It may be Kaepernick or Scott Tolzien laying it up for him, but it's going to happen.
Why? Because we all want to see it. Don't we? So, by predicting it, I'll feel really cool if/when Jenkins takes one to the house.
Projected stats for Jenkins: 3 REC, 79 YDS, 1 TD
Scott Tolzien will burst ahead of Josh Johnson for No. 3 QB spot
Obviously, Tolzien is not a rookie. But he's not exactly a star, either, so the second-year signal-caller lands in this category by default.
Anyway, the former Wisconsin Badger has caught the attention of 49er fans this summer, showing off his comfortable command of the playbook while consistently flinging perfectly placed balls around the field.
Week 1 against the Vikings, he completed 10 of 13 passes but easily could've completed them all. Saturday, he let a couple longer passes sail over the middle. They were good balls, just a tad too high.
The Texans' pass rush made life difficult for Tolzien, but he still made timely reads and impressed the majority of spectators. Expect a lot of action from the youngster on Sunday, as Harbaugh and his staff face a difficult decision on who to let go—Johnson or Tolzien.
Despite playing for Harbaugh at the University of San Diego, Johnson's play hasn't been as impressive as Tolzien's thus far, and I don't expect Sunday to be much different.
Projected stats for Tolzien: 9/13, 134 YDS, 1 TD, 0 INT
Justin Smith will record a sack on Peyton Manning
Manning doesn't go down often, and he's yet to be sacked as a member of the Denver Broncos.
Justin Smith, the 49ers All-Pro defensive end, looked dominant against Houston on some plays but not quite like himself on others.
Of course, Smith's dominance tends to shine through late in games, rather than early, which makes a preseason sack even less likely for No. 94.
But it wouldn't be bold if it was something to be expected, would it?
Smith's day likely won't last long, but he won't rest until he's got his paws around the 36-year-old signal-caller somewhere behind the line of scrimmage.
Projected stats for J. Smith: 2 tackles, 1 sack
The 49ers defense will hold Broncos running backs to less than 50 yards rushing
In their preseason opener against the Bears, Denver's ball-carriers rolled for 156 yards on 37 carries.
The next week against Seattle, they managed just 38 yards on 15 tries.
Hey, if the Seahawks can do it, the 49ers can, too.
San Fran's D allowed the Texans to pile up 119 yards on the ground on Saturday, but the squad will look much more refined this time around.
Projected stats from Broncos running backs: 17 CAR, 48 YDS, 0 TD
Either Trenton Robinson or Michael Thomas will record an interception
Outside of a sack apiece from Thomas and OLB Kourtnei Brown, the rookies on the defensive side of the ball have been relatively quiet.
Of course, that is often to be expected from a young defender working to digest defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's complex defensive schemes.
Soon enough, the hard work will pay off.
Robinson, a sixth-round pick, and Thomas, an undrafted rookie free agent, are both trying to make their case to be selected as the fourth safety on the 53-man roster along with starters Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner and reserve special-teams stud C.J. Spillman.
Darcel McBath and Cory Nelms are in the mix, too, but they've both had their fare share of struggles this year, more so probably than Robinson or Thomas.
Thomas was known to take some big chances at Stanford, and Robinson hauled in eight INTs in his final two seasons at Michigan State. The former Spartan nearly got one in the preseason opener against the Vikings.
One of these two are going to make a play on Sunday, and it's going to result in a turnover, or more specifically, an interception.
And, for the sake of boldness, it's going to be a pick-six.
Like the predictions, or find them to be absolutely preposterous?
Either way, let us know in the comments below.
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