The San Francisco 49ers are wrapping up training camp, and with two preseason games in the bag it is time to start analyzing the roster to determine the first line of cuts (the roster will go from 90 to 75 players), get ready for the one preseason game that should give us a real look at this team going into the season, and overreact to a few things here and there.
What follows are my observations of the offseason/preseason thus far, and I've taken a few days to write it so that I will not overreact (I think):
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* The offense will be fine: There are legitimate concerns about the 49ers' offensive depth at every position other than running back (and maybe tight end), but the starting unit is pretty much the same that helped this team reach the Super Bowl last season. Colin Kaepernick is a special talent at quarterback, and he will make those wide receivers you are unsure about (that is, everyone but Anquan Boldin) look a lot better than they have so far with his athleticism and cannon arm. The offensive line is still one of the very best in the NFL, and so long as their level of play remains elite this offense will be a threat to score 30 points any given week.
* The concerns about the backup QB position are REAL: Getting Colt McCoy for a cheap was a good deal by Trent Baalke, but I was never excited about McCoy as a backup QB and I expected Scott Tolzien to overtake him at some point. As expected, McCoy has not been very impressive in two games thus far, but unfortunately Tolzien has not looked too good either. Personally, I though Tolzien slightly outplayed McCoy in the first game against the Broncos, and I thought they were equally disappointing in the most recent game against the Chiefs (although I felt that Tolzien's last drive of the second quarter was the most impressive of any QB in the first half). Thankfully Kaepernick has been a durable player during his college and professional career, because should he suffer a significant injury you can pretty much give up any hopes of a return to the Super Bowl.
As far as BJ Daniels goes, let's give him his own bullet point since he's a hot topic at the moment.
* BJ Daniel is ... : To use Oscar Aparicio's analogy, the new Nate Davis. We need to realize that a big part of the reason why Daniels is getting so much hype is due to the fact that McCoy and Tolzien are stinking it up. Look, when the 49ers picked Daniels in the 7th round of the draft I was short-sighted and wondered what the hell they were doing - I've seen plenty of Daniels in college and can tell you that, although successful at USF, he just isn't NFL QB material. Once I learned that they were looking to use him all over the field at different positions, including as a scout QB, I warmed up to the pick. He is an outstanding athlete who fits well into the vision this coaching staff has had for him, but there are several reasons why you should be concerned about him as a QB for this team.
He hovers around 6 feet tall (ESPN.com lists him at 5'11", 49ers.com lists him at 6'1"), and he is no where even close to the talent Russell Wilson is. As good as he looked on Friday night, he is consistently inconsistent with his accuracy at this level, and this has been reported throughout training camp. Furthermore, because he has been used in such an expanded role with this team (RB, WR, ST), he has not been able to focus entirely on playing QB and, of course, hasn't received a lot of reps at that position throughout camp. Granted, we've learned today that the team plans to increase his reps to around the same number that McCoy and Tolzien will get, as it was publicly announced by the 49ers that he is officially in the mix for the backup QB spot, but he is far from becoming a solid backup QB option. Other than the game winning drive on Friday, Daniels didn't really look much better than his competition, and, again, the opportunity to be in this mix is a much better reflection of the below-average play we've seen from McCoy and Tolzien than anything else.
* Let's not panic about special teams yet: I have excuses for all three big returns the unit has given up thus far:
1) Trindon Holliday's 44-yard kick return: the Broncos' speedster received the kickoff about halfway in his own endzone and broke forward and slightly to his right, avoided a low arm tackle by undrafted cornerback Darryl Morris, and broke lose to about the Denver 40-yard line. As evidenced by Morris' presence in the unit, the 49ers did not have their top ST unit out on the field. Not concerned.
2) Quintin Demps' 107-yard touchdown kick return: I won't completely excuse the 49ers here, but we also need to admit that the Chiefs' special teams unit is pretty good, as their performance this season has been significantly better than anything they showed last season. There were no missed tackles on Demps return, just a nice alley for him to break through untouched and with his speed (he ran a 4.39 forty at the 2008 combine) not even Perrish Cox was able to catch up to him. Again, not concerned.
3) Devon Wylie's 52-yard punt return: nevermind that this play, again, did not have San Francisco's top special teams unit out on the field, the Broncos' rookie punt return came after a penalty on Nate Stupar nullified a Colton Schmidt punt that had been fair-caught inside the Kansas City 10-yard line. Schmidt's ensuing punt was not as good as his previous one, and that plus some good blocks by the Chiefs paved the way for Wylie's return. Once again, not concerned.
Of course, after a disappointing performance by the unit last season, I am still concerned about how special teams will perform this season. However, we shouldn't be jumping to any conclusions about their performance in these first two games. Next Sunday the Vikings and electric rookie Cordarelle Patterson come to town and they should provide a good test for the 49ers.
* Quick hits: I'll wrap it up with some quick liners on other players/subjects:
--> Chad Hall will make the 53-man roster. Aside from the reports of him performing well in practice, he's looked good in both games so far, especially in the most recent game where he hauled in two catches for 39 yards and may have caught a touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick if he wasn't so damn short (the joke there being he's as tall as me).
--> AJ Jenkins gets enough ink, around the nation apparently, so I'll keep it short. Am I disappointed? Yes. Do I want him cut? No. Will he make the team? Yes.
--> I am excited to watch Kyle Williams and Quinton Patton next week. I also expect both of them to make the team.
--> Tramaine Brock and Nnamdi Asomugha have looked good in these first two games, a very positive sign for all of us concerned about losing Culliver for the season. Furthermore, Perrish Cox has put together back-to-back excellent games in the preseason and I fully expect him to make the roster as a dime CB.
--> If you focus on the trenches while watching these first two games, Ian Williams jumps out at you, especially in the run game. Holds up the point of attack really well allowing the linebackers to be effective at what they do.
--> Speaking of the linebacker position, both inside and outside, they are easily the deepest position group on the team. More importantly, as far as rushing the passer goes, there are several players on this team that can get to the quarterback. I can't remember the last time I was able to say that.
--> Rookie free safety, Eric Reid, has looked solid in these first two games with more positives than negatives. The team's beat writers project the LSU product to be the starter in the season opener, and maybe as soon as next week's game against Minnesota.
--> And finally, I hope we can see Vance McDonald in action in this next game, because I loved what I saw from him vs the Broncos. I'll give another shout-out to Oscar here: he reminds us of Eric Johnson circa 2004.
As always, feel free to leave your comments/questions below. Follow me on Twitter at @DiegoDelBarco.