49ers Pass Rush Fails To Show Up For Opening Bell
"Thank god it's preseason," were the first words out of San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Mike Singletary's mouth in his postgame presser late Friday night, and doesn't that just about say it all?
There were some good performances and many poor ones in the game, but the overriding theme was that, in just about every case, what we saw on the practice field is what we saw against the Broncos.
And by that I mean the guys who've been practicing well played well, the guys who've been practicing mediocrely played mediocre and the guys who've been practicing poorly... well you get the idea.
Let's breakdown the game, first the positives, then the negatives.
Shaun Hill showed why he deserves to be the team's starting quarterback, effortlessly marching the team down the field in his only series of work. He made only one mistake, holding onto the ball too long and taking a coverage sack when throwing it away would've been the better play, but was otherwise flawless.
I would've preferred to see Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye give Hill the chance to convert 3rd-and-three from the red zone instead of calling a run; the team had to settle for a field goal there.
Vernon Davis' camp dominance wasn't a mirage. Hill went to Davis on his first two (it would turn out to be his only two) attempts of the game and the enigmatic tight end not only managed to shake open from coverage easily, but he caught a couple of passes that weren't exactly thrown at his numbers.
No one on the 49ers has been able to cover Davis a lick in practice and from what I saw the Broncos didn't have anyone who could either.
A couple more solid showings from Davis - especially in the third preseason game when people are actually trying - and I'll be convinced that this is going to be his breakout year.
With Frank Gore taking the night off rookie Glen Coffee was given the entire first half to show his stuff, and thanks to the quarterback competition between Hill and Alex Smith, he got to work with the first team offensive line the whole half as well.
Coffee started out somewhat tentatively, but once the butterflies left he showed the burst that justified his selection as a third round pick. Coffee's running style is a bit too upright for my liking, and he isn't the kind of guy who's going to make people look silly with spin moves or anything like that, but as a sturdy, north-south guy he looks like a viable understudy for Gore.
14 carries for 67 yards is a pretty strong debut, and what I liked most about his game was that all but one of his carries was for positive yardage, meaning that he wasn't doing a lot of dancing in the backfield.
Adam Snyder had a strong first game as the starting right tackle and Singletary singled him out for praise in his conference call with the beat writers on Saturday.
Snyder did allow one sack to Broncos end Ryan McBean, but it was hardly his fault. Smith had a perfectly secure pocket from which to throw but for some inexplicable reason decided to roll right, right into pressure. Snyder isn't a psychic, nor does he have eyes on the back of his head, and Smith made him look bad there.
The starting secondary held up fairly well, all things considered. Not only were they getting zero help from the front seven - Singletary calling the pass rush "non-existent" afterward - but between being stretched out by Denver's shotgun spread package and having to react quickly to Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton's three step drops, expecting air-tight man coverage was probably unrealistic.
Not only did the defensive backs provide a lot of run support with the 49er front line being blown off the ball, but they also did a fine job of not giving up the deep ball, which has been their Achilles heel.
Nate Clements, Dre' Bly and backup safety Reggie Smith all came away with interceptions, and not only were they all examples of fine coverage and being in the right place at the right time, but credit must be given to them for actually catching the balls, which has been easier said than done for this secondary in past years.
Undrafted rookie fullback Brit Miller came into camp as a fourth stringer without a prayer but with Moran Norris missing a lot of time with personal issues and Michael Robinson and Zak Keasey both hurt, Miller made the most of his opportunity and scored two touchdowns last night.
First, after Reggie Smith's interception gave the 49ers the ball 1st-and-goal at the three, Miller was able to get into the left flat and scooped up an earth-bound pass from a shaky Alex Smith for his first score.
Then, in the fourth quarter, they tried the play action to the other side and this time Miller was left completely uncovered (that's the Mike Nolan defense I remember) and third-string QB Damon Huard quickly found him. Miller rumbled 40 yards down the right sideline to give the team the lead for good.
Miller, who also had a decent night blocking, still remains very much a longshot to make the team, but this performance should go a long way to solidifying his bid for a practice squad job.
Huard, by the way, was very good and looks like an ideal emergency quarterback.
In reserve roles I liked Reggie Smith (who saved the game with a second pick on a late two point conversion attempt by Broncos backup QB Chris Simms), rookie inside linebacker Scott McKillop who tackled well and cleaned up his teammates' mistakes as best he could, and rookie safety Curtis Taylor, who wasn't the most fluid in coverage but has good size and showed some moxie against the run.
Aside from the three picks, mostly gifts from Orton, the defense had a bad, bad night. They looked ill-prepared for Denver's new-look offense that new coach Josh McDaniels brought over from his time with New England. The Broncos frequently had three or four receivers on the field even on first or second down and the Niners were quickly caught on their heels, in the dreaded "bend but don't break" mode.
The front seven had an awful showing; both the starters and reserves. No pressure, no penetration and no intensity. The outside linebackers did an awful job of containing while the linemen were just gashed inside all night long.
The starters have the excuse that it was the first preseason game. As veterans they're simply not going to be too excited about playing the game or executing the vanilla schemes.
The reserves however don't have crutch to lean on.
Outside of Taylor - and even he's a stretch - I can't think of a single defensive player on the roster bubble who helped his cause on the night.
I don't usually like to pick on a guy when he's down, but fullback Zak Keasey just isn't an NFL player. He's too slow, too unathletic, and mainly just not strong enough for the job.
Keasey got absolutely trucked by the Broncos Elvis Dumervil, a man who only outweights him by 25 pounds. That just isn't supposed to happen to fullbacks against outside linebackers. Dumervil easily overpowered Keasey before sacking Hill on the first series.
A few players later Keasey got dominated again, this time by the other outside' backer, Mario Haggan, though this was more Hill's fault as he held onto the ball forever.
Still, Keasey owes Hill a beer. Because he broke his forearm on the play he'll go on IR and get paid his yearly salary instead of getting cut and being out on the street, which was surely in his future.
Joe Toledo has been playing left guard on the second team for most of camp with nominal backup Tony Wragge starting in place of injured starter David Baas and he got bulldozed by Broncos rookie Chris Baker for a sack on Huard.
Toledo currently projects to be the 49ers 10th offensive linemen, and that's probably one over the magic number as far as the 53 man roster limit is concerned.
Finally, Jahi Word-Daniels, please pick up the white courtesy phone. You are the worst defensive back on the team and believe me, that is quite an achievement.
Winner by default?
The only other injury the 49ers suffered in the game was to third string running back hopeful Thomas Clayton. His right leg bent at an unnatural angle during a third quarter carry up the middle and while it's being called a "sprain" right now he has likely torn his ACL and will be lost for the year.
What this means is that Kory Sheets, an undrafted rookie out of Purdue, may have won the job by default, if the 49ers do indeed decide to keep three backs.
Don't forget, Michael Robinson is still around and the team very well might just decide to go with four on the roster with the former Penn State QB serving as the backup to fullback Moran Norris and to halfbacks Gore and Coffee.
For what it's worth Sheets looked more impressive in his time on the field than Clayton did anyway and he did finish the night with 51 yards on 10 carries, with a late 25-yard scamper that was a game high for both teams.
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