San Francisco 49ers Training Camp: Week 3 Stock Report
The San Francisco 49ers didn’t look their sharpest in their first preseason game, but the final scores of preseason games don’t particularly matter. There were some highlights and lowlights, but it’s the individual performances on the field that matter more than anything the scoreline can tell you.
We’re a week removed from the last time we took a look at who was shining and who was failing in training camp. With an actual game having taken place between then and now, and an additional week of practices in Baltimore against John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens, we’re getting a clearer picture than ever about who’s impressing the coaches and who’s falling behind.
Rosters are cut down to 75 on August 26, so there are only two more weeks and two more preseason games for people on the bottom of the bubble to keep their dreams of making the 53-man roster alive. Here are the players who are trending upward and downward as we approach the second preseason game against the Denver Broncos.
RISING: WR Stevie Johnson
Stevie Johnson only had one catch for six yards against Baltimore, but he still managed to impress during the first preseason game. There’s nothing that can impress coaches of a run-first team, like the 49ers, more than a willingness to get involved with blocking.
On both of Carlos Hyde’s long runs up the left side, he was helped out by Johnson’s blocks on cornerback Jimmy Smith. Hyde looked amazing, thanks in large parts to the efforts of Johnson and the other blockers in front of him.
Johnson also drew two defensive holding penalties, further helping the 49ers move down the field. Saying he was held to one catch dramatically understates Johnson’s impact in the game.
Johnson’s good week continued against the Ravens in practices, with him showing off his ability to burn past cornerbacks.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said that “there’s no doubt,” per Taylor Price of 49ers.com, Johnson had raised his level of play over the past week. The ex-Bill seems to have fairly locked up the third wide receiver position.
FALLING: QB Blaine Gabbert
I broke down Blaine Gabbert’s night against Baltimore in more depth here, but suffice it to say it was not good.
Gabbert was 3-of-11 on the night for 20 yards and one interception. His night was so bad that, at one point, an incompletion actually raised his quarterback rating from 0.0 to 1.7. While he looked alright with the starters, as soon as the backups came in and a hint of pressure occurred, Gabbert fell apart.
Gabbert didn’t complete a single pass past 10 yards down the field. While he suffered from four dropped passes, it was rare that he put the ball in a great place for his receivers. It was, all in all, a pretty awful showcase for the $2 million backup quarterback, per Spotrac.
It’s hard for a player who cost the team a sixth-round draft pick and has an entirely guaranteed salary to miss out on a roster spot, but that’s exactly what coach Jim Harbaugh suggested could happen in his postgame press conference.
“I think there are spots up for grabs in the depth area,” Harbaugh said. “Whoever comes along the fastest will win those jobs. I think you can say that about quite a few of our positions on the back end.”
The silver lining for Gabbert is that neither Josh Johnson nor McLeod Bethel-Thompson looked great behind him against Baltimore. The best thing for 49ers fans might be to just hope Colin Kaepernick doesn’t get injured.
RISING: OT Joe Staley
With the turmoil that has been going on with the right side of the line—Alex Boone’s holdout, Anthony Davis’ injury and so forth—the studs on the left side of the offensive line are sometimes forgotten.
The Ravens game gave us our first look at Joe Staley since he signed his two-year extension, and it was typical perfection from him. In his 14 snaps, Staley didn’t allow so much as a harsh glare at either of his quarterbacks, and he helped lead the way for Carlos Hyde to pick up gains of seven and 19 yards on rushes to his side of the field.
During this week in practice, the battle between Staley and the Ravens’ Terrell Suggs might well have been the headliner. According to Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, Staley continued his good week by keeping the All-Pro Suggs more or less quiet throughout all the joint practices.
“You’re not going to find much of a better tackle than Staley,” Suggs said. “He’s definitely one of the best tackles in the league. And I’m not just saying that: He is one of the best tackles in the league. And it’s just phenomenal to work against a guy like that every day.”
Here's a look at the offensive line, from right to left: a backup for the injured Anthony Davis, a replacement for Alex Boone’s holdout, a career backup making the move to starter, a Pro Bowler with an expiring contract…and Joe Staley, anchor of the line. It’s nice to have a position of certainty like that.
FALLING: RB Jewel Hampton
With the injuries to Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James, career practice-squad member Jewel Hampton had a real solid chance at earning a spot on the actual 53-man roster.
However, his performance in the preseason game against Baltimore left a lot to be desired.
On the 49ers' first drive, they were moving the ball well with Hyde in the running game. Hyde came out, and Hampton came in, and he proceeded to fail at getting the two yards for a first down on consecutive plays, resulting in a field goal. Hampton had 18 yards on seven attempts over the course of the game; Hyde had 19 yards on one rush.
In the receiving game Hampton was targeted twice and flat-out dropped one of Gabbert’s few accurately thrown balls. In the pass-blocking game, he got destroyed by C.J. Mosley at the end of the half, becoming responsible for Mosley’s sack on Gabbert.
Hampton had a nightmare of a game. It probably increased the odds of both James and Lattimore making the final roster, and neither of them can even suit up right now. That’s not good at all.
RISING: DT Quinton Dial
There was some justified panic when Glenn Dorsey went down with a torn bicep. With last year’s starter, Ian Williams, still hurt, there was a big question mark at nose tackle.
Enter Quinton Dial, the second-year rookie out of Alabama. Dial only had 19 snaps all of last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), so this year has been our first chance to get a solid look at him.
Despite playing on a defensive line composed entirely of backups against Baltimore’s starting offensive line, Dial looked very good in run defense in the first preseason game. Dial forced two fumbles in the second quarter, with one of them recovered by the defense. All in all, Dial had 10 tackles and looked really solid clogging up the middle of the line.
Dial actually backed up Mike Purcell in this one, but the difference between the two was night and day. Dial seemed more composed, stronger and more of a force to be reckoned with.
Can Dial really hold down a starting position in 2014? I’m more comfortable with him now than I was a week ago; that’s for sure.
FALLING: OT Jonathan Martin
Jonathan Martin got a lot of work against Baltimore as Davis is still rehabbing his shoulder. It was a chance to make a good impression—that, after a scenery change from Miami to San Francisco, he was ready to play an important depth role.
It didn’t go exactly as planned.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Martin played 25 snaps, and none of them were particularly exemplary. He seemed to have trouble with some of the bigger rushers on Baltimore’s defense, being blown off his blocks and generally allowing pressure in both the passing and running game.
Martin was flagged for a false start and was fairly dominated by Pernell McPhee. The trends continued into the week of practice, with Sports Illustrated's Greg A. Bedard reporting that Martin was beaten by Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs on multiple occasions.
Part of this may be due to Martin’s continued recovery from mononucleosis—he may not have all his strength back. He’d better get it back quick, however, or he might find himself with an entire NFL season to recover at home.
RISING: CB Chris Cook
Plays in preseason don’t matter in the long run, but sometimes they can be enough to raise a player’s confidence.
In 34 games in Minnesota, Chris Cook has failed to come down with a single interception. It’s a very large drought—Cook has no interceptions in 29 starts, which is the active NFL record, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
The next-largest active drought is only 14 starts, shared by Duke Ihenacho and Brandian Ross. With two more interception-less starts, Cook would tie the current record held by William Bartee and Keith Davis, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
That’s why it was so encouraging to see Cook come down with an interception in the third quarter against Baltimore against Tyrod Taylor. No, the interception doesn’t count, but it has to inspire some confidence.
“It felt good to get that one under the belt,” Cook said. “It’s all downhill from here, and [I need to] keep the ball rolling.”
Cook also hauled in a couple of interceptions in the open practice at Levi’s Stadium, according to Karl Buscheck of BaySportsNet.com. His ball skills seem to be in good shape in the offseason.
Cook has a real good shot at being the first cornerback off the bench on the boundaries.
FALLING: DE Tony Jerod-Eddie
The 49ers had three backups starting on the defensive line against Baltimore, including Tony Jerod-Eddie. Jerod-Eddie is battling Tank Carradine for the first defensive end position off the bench role.
However, Jerod-Eddie didn’t have his best night. Watching the preseason game, I thought Jerod-Eddie was quite frequently pushed around. The 49ers gave up 237 yards rushing in the game, and it seemed like things were worse when Jerod-Eddie was in the lineup than when he wasn’t.
This is probably more of a fluke than anything else, as Jerod-Eddie looked very good last season. It just feels like a missed opportunity. With Justin Smith and Ray McDonald missing the game against Baltimore, it could have been a chance for Jerod-Eddie, as well as the other starters DeMarcus Dobbs and Mike Purcell, to really put their stamp on the game. Instead, it felt lackluster.
After the game, Harbaugh said the 49ers got “pushed around.”
“The defense was out there a lot of plays. … That's probably the biggest concern right now. We got pushed around.”
Here’s hoping Jerod-Eddie and the rest of the defensive line has a better showing against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Bryan Knowles is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @BryKno on Twitter.