Most of the preseason attention has been directed at the decision to bring back Alex Smith. Now the latest “issue” that looms is the renegotiation of Frank Gore’s contract.
Meanwhile, something else has been brewing and it’s starting to be recognized by those who know: The 49er defense appears to be shaping into a dynamic force.
But the 49er staff seems content to not let that story get too much headlines. Coach Jim Harbaugh handles the talk about the offense with casual but direct answers that seem to hug a “we’re progressing but we have to get better” rail line.
Meanwhile, when asked about the defense, Harbaugh does mention the fact that linebacker Ahmad Brooks is developing into a first-rate pass rusher, and that first-round draft pick Aldon Smith also appears to have the physical tool kit to create havoc on offensive line play.
But there has been little said about the overall performance of the first defense so far in the preseason. Consider:
- Last week in New Orleans, Drew Brees and his first team had little success against the Niner defense. First four series, four punts. Considering the huge advantage the Saints have in the Superdome, that is a worthwhile accomplishment.
- On Aug. 20 against the Raiders, the Niner defense stuffed Oakland’s offense for a goal line stand, and harassed both Jason Campbell and Trent Edwards regularly. Granted, the Raiders did get inside the 5 on a nice play by receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, but note he did it over two 49er defensive backs. The coverage was there.
- Patrick Willis has been a heat-seeking missile on defense.
- The secondary has been in position.
By about the fourth week of the regular season game statistics become a clearer indication of a team’s performance.
So there’s no need to go into how yards per carry allowed and other August stats, but there’s no doubt that the 49ers have shown renowned speed to the ball and, quite surprisingly, much better secondary play.
From this developing mix comes several possibilities, most of them quite positive. Here are the six questions the 49ers need to answer before Week 1.