Pre-Broncos Game Questions and Notes..

Michael ErlerCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2009

SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 04:  Head coach Mike Singletary looks on during the 49ers training camp at their training facilities on August 4, 2009 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Obviously as the minutes tick down for the preseason opener vs. the Denver Broncos all the San Francisco 49ers fans will focus on the quarterback competition with Shaun Hill and Alex Smith.

Much too much time and space has been wasted on that topic already and I have little to add for now except to note that Hill was named the starter for the game by Head Coach Mike Singletary and that the coach revealed that Smith would get reps with the first team in this game as well "to keep the competition fair."

I'm more interested in the other phases of the offense.

How will rookie running back Glen Coffee, picked in the third round out of Alabama, do in his debut against what was last year a soft Denver front seven?

Who will gain an edge for the third job between Thomas Clayton and undrafted rookie Kory Sheets?

How will right tackle Adam Snyder do as a starter and will he be able to hold off veteran Marvel Smith, who was signed away from the Steelers with the expectation to be the guy?

Will tight end Vernon Davis' dominating practices translate on to the field on game day? The guy's been a monster during camp every year but has yet to produce with any kind of consistency when it matters.

Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye has stated repeatedly that his playbook is very "tight end friendly" and this will be our first chance to discover what that means for Davis.

Finally I'm excited to see who will step up among receivers Dominique Zeigler, Micheal Spurlock and Jason Hill. So far Hill's been a ghost and I want to see if this will continue to be the case in the games or discover that maybe he's just not a practice player.

On defense I haven't been impressed thus far by too many of the reserves, whether we're talking about second or third team guys.

The backup linebackers are okay, and for the most part we know who's going to make the team there. Jeff Ulbrich and rookie Scott McKillop will back up Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes, respectively, while Ahmad Brooks and Marques Harris will be the reserve outside guys. If the team keeps a ninth guy—and I'd be surprised if they did - Jay Moore would be the favorite for the job over Diyral Briggs, Mark Washington and the mouth that roars: Justin Roland.

The reserve defensive line, however, remains a work in progress. Kentwan Balmer, last year's first round pick, will make the team and might even have a role in nickel situations. Demetric Evans was brought over from the Redskins to be the other backup end and Ray McDonald, who's been on the PUP list the whole camp while recovering from offseason knee surgery is very much in the mix.

The only backup nosetackles to starter Aubrayo Franklin on the roster are undrafted Khalif Mitchell and 7th round pick Ricky Jean-Francois, though starting left end Isaac Sopoaga can also play there in a pinch. 

Right now Mitchell has the edge, mainly because he's been participating the whole camp while Jean-Francois missed the first week with a staph infection.

If the 49ers keep seven linemen, then the last spot figures to be up for grabs between those two, but if they go with only six then both might be out of luck. It will depend on their performance in these preseason games, and on how quickly McDonald can get back on the field.

Pannel Egboh, an undrafted end from Stanford, has been getting a lot of reps in camp, but he will have to seriously impress in the exhibitions to steal a job.

The team's biggest weakness has been the secondary, where not even the starters have been much to write home about, let alone the reserves.

Strong safety Michael Lewis in particular has been god awful, getting burned regularly on deep balls, and teams will go at him all season long.

Cornerback Nate Clements is being paid shutdown corner money, but right now the team has to be praying he's pacing himself and not taking camp very seriously, because he's looked very, very ordinary.

As far as the reserves go, no one has distinguished themselves, but corners Dre' Bly and Shawntae Spencer will be the nickel and dime guys while Marcus Hudson might be the team's ninth defensive back, if they keep nine.

Mark Roman and Reggie Smith have been running as the second team safeties and I happen to think there is a bit of wiggle room there for seventh rounder Curtis Taylor to take a job, but he'd have to clearly outplay the other guys.


The following guys will not play tonight, and it's an entirely predictable list.

Wide receiver Brandon Jones (fractured shoulder), left guard David Baas (strained foot), running back Michael Robinson (strained groin), tight end Delanie Walker (concussion), Willis (strained ankle) and cornerback Tarell Brown (sprained left toe) are all out.

Of the six, Willis is the closest to being able to play and in all likelihood would be if it was a regular season game—Singletary revealed on Thursday that Willis lobbied him to play—but most of these guys will still be question marks even for next week's game against Oakland.

Running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Isaac Bruce are healthy, but will be veteran scratches as well. A few others who might fall in that designation are defensive end Justin Smith, right tackle Marvel Smith, and Spikes.

Defensive end Ray McDonald is still recovering from offseason knee surgery and he remains on the PUP list.


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