Super Bowl-contending teams like the San Francisco 49ers are usually devoid of any surprising elements, especially when it comes to the preseason.
Rosters for said teams have generally been established. Any intriguing developments before the regular season emanate from undrafted free agents who make a splash, but have no real shot at making the squad.
The 49ers of 2013 are a different animal.
Both veteran journeymen and neophyte first years have made their presence felt in San Francisco’s preseason games. The majority of these players also man positional areas of considerable need for the defending NFC champions, thus making their contributions all the more exciting.
In the spirit of elevating the otherwise denigrated NFL preseason, let’s acknowledge the 49ers’ five most positive surprises from the team’s first two August matchups.
5. Parys Haralson is Back
Parys Haralson filled the role of starting outside linebacker in 68 of the possible 80 games for San Francisco from 2007 through 2011.
The 21.5-career sack man then experienced some relative devastation after tearing his left triceps and missing the 49ers’ entire 2012 season.
Well, it’s now 2013, and Mr. Haralson is back with a vengeance.
Haralson dominated in near equal capacity against Denver and Kansas City’s offensive personnel. He ranked third on the 49ers with five tackles (four solo) and added two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit and one sack in preseason Week 1.
He bolstered his resume even further one week later. No. 98 overpowered right tackle Eric Fisher—this year’s first overall pick—and “finished with a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, three tackles, a blocked punt and a fumble recovery,” according to The Sacramento Bee’s Matt Barrows.
It’s not that one should be surprised at Haralson’s preseason output.
Rather, it’s the positivity surrounding the security blanket he provides at outside linebacker that should have 49ers fans in a good place right now.
4. B.J. Daniels Has Capitalized on His Chance(s)
After taking just one snap in the team’s first game, B.J. Daniels made the most of his opportunity in his second preseason go-around.
Daniels led all 49ers’ quarterbacks with six completions, 78 passing yards and a 128.0 efficiency rating. He also carried the ball four times for 13 yards.
Within that stat sheet, though, lies something far more significant.
The do-it-all offensive weapon established himself as a bona fide contender in the battle for the 49ers’ backup quarterback position. He finalized a 13-play, 90-yard, game-winning drive against Kansas City with a beautiful corner end-zone touchdown pass following a quick one-step drop.
No other 49ers QB has accomplished such a feat thus far.
The lowly seventh-round draftee who was once on the bubble now seems a lock for the 53-man roster.
And in the words of the reputable Eric Branch: “The battle for the 49ers’ backup quarterback job is officially a three-man competition.”
Good for Daniels—he’s definitely created a pleasant surprise for the Red and Gold faithful.
3. Chad Hall is a Legitimate NFL Wide Receiver
Chad Hall harbored big expectations for himself following his very productive senior campaign at Air Force in 2007.
After utilizing his glue-like hands and quick-twitch, route-running abilities to the tune of 2,002 yards and 16 touchdowns from scrimmage, Hall expected to be drafted.
He was not and, as it turns out, he didn’t register any gridiron action until 2010.
To his credit, Hall has reclaimed his dignity with San Francisco through two preseason games.
He outshined the former first-round pick and now-traded A.J. Jenkins against the Denver Broncos. He then led the 49ers in receiving yards against Kansas City and was the sole wideout to tally any receptions through the first three quarters, according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
The tenacious 5’8’’, 180-pound Hall has continually made acrobatic catches throughout training camp and has made a solid case for the No. 5 receiver spot. His reliability as a backup returner will also work in his favor.
San Francisco needs more production at wide receiver. Hall could very well be the man for the job.
2. The Cornerback Depth Chart Has a Friend in Perrish Cox
The 49ers suffered a substantial hit when No. 3 cornerback Chris Culliver was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Culliver was a rising star and integral component of San Francisco’s defensive contingent. He took care of outside receivers when Carlos Rogers moved to the slot.
Yet, things aren’t looking so bleak following two weeks of preseason action.
Perrish Cox has filled up the box score in consecutive games. He was third on the team with five tackles (all solo) and threw in another behind the line of scrimmage, while also adding two pass breakups against the Broncos.
Cox then earned the praise of CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco for his two tackles (two solo), two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss, two sacks and one pass breakup in Kansas City. Maiocco deemed him a premium reserve.
Tramaine Brock will likely start the season as San Francisco’s third cornerback.
But Cox will bring valuable versatility as a defender who can play out wide, cover the slot and bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Let’s not also forget his abilities in the return game.
We’ll chalk that up to positive preseason surprise No. 2.
1. Life Exists Beyond Willis, Bowman
All-Pro middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are veritable demigods among both the faithful and opposition to those who sport the red and gold.
An existence without their presence on the gridiron would seem as if a massive tear in the NFL universe had been created.
OK, ethereal hyperboles aside, the 49ers are now equipped with a capable backup at inside linebacker.
Michael Wilhoite earned that title, as well as some glowing acclaim from head coach Jim Harbaugh, with his play against Denver.
Said Harbaugh via Eric Branch of SFGate.com:
I thought he made the tackles, really played solid…I can only think of one play, a third-and-four pass completion, that could have been better, but overall really solid. Good communication. Handled the huddle, tackled well.
The sideline-to-sideline tackling and play-diagnosis was great. But what really stood out was the leadership and direction he imparted on his teammates.
Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee concurred:
I thought [he] deserves mention as the team's MVP last night. He played more snaps (53) than any other 49er, he led the 49ers in tackles (10) and he ran the 49ers' defensive huddle after the fellow starters left the game…Wilhoite's big day, in combination with his special teams prowess, is a very positive sign.
Wilhoite played another solid game versus the Kansas City Chiefs, compiling four more tackles (four solo) and tallying a pass breakup. And he of course wouldn’t take much credit for his laudable achievements.
We’ll leave you with a slice of some Wilhoite-baked humble pie via SFGate.com’s Eric Branch:
I had to step up big and try to help the team as much as possible … I’ve got to do my job, stay on point and work my technique. Work my hands, get off blocks and make tackles. Pat obviously does it better than anybody in the world. Now I’ve got to step up to the plate and try to match it.
Keep on, keeping on, Mr. Wilhoite.
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