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Back on August 11th, 2006 the new and improved San Francisco 49ers took to their home turf among a half-hearted 49er crowd that only filled half of Monster Park. They concluded that serene evening with a resounding victory in their first exhibition game against the Chicago Bears.
Wonder kid Alex Smith drew the throngs of praises that he had so longed for since being the first overall draft pick of the 49ers back in 2005. He was a general on the field compared to the private he displayed this smart afternoon among the Halloween pranksters screaming for blood at McAfee Coliseum.
It was on this day that reality suddenly slapped the San Francisco 49ers right up the side of their collective heads. Alex Smith only completed 6-of-12 passes for 81 yards along with two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 32.3. His one long achievement resulted in a 46- yard bomb he connected with #1 wide receiver Antonio Bryant.
His first interception came about on a short pass intended for wide receiver Arnaz Battle who didn’t come back on a route he was running in order to make a play on the pass. It was one he could’ve made as KNBR broadcaster Gary Plummer so eloquently put forth.
On the very first play at scrimmage Alex Smith fumbled the ball in which wide receiver Bryan Gilmore managed to recover. Gilmore went on to have a productive evening with one pass he completed for 17 total yards.
But the Oakland Raiders in their entire gothic garb dominated this game right from the get go. The Raider offense generated 24 first downs to the 49ers total of nine. They were 6-of-14 on third downs and netted a total of 394 yards with 238 through the air and 156 on the ground.
Needless to say it was a very long night for the San Francisco defense that was literally ripped from one side of the field to the other. The Oakland Raiders offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage virtually all night, never yielding but one sack. It marched up and down the field almost at will with time of possession for them at 41:41 compared to 18:19 for the 49ers.
The one bright spot among the defensive ruins on the 49ers was safety Tony Parrish making an interception in the end zone early in the second quarter on an intended touchdown pass to Randall Williams from Raider quarterback Aaron Brooks.
“It was a reversal of last week,” head coach Mike Nolan said. "I was not pleased with the tempo. It was a very flat performance. It started that way in warm-ups. I thought we were flat the entire game.”
Back-up 49er veteran quarterback Trent Dilfer was so enthusiastic about getting some playing time that he over amused himself and the crowd by incurring not one, but two personal foul penalties for taunting the Oakland defensive players. Some people may call this excitement, but I call it both inappropriate and just plain stupid on his part to incur two potent penalties during a time that he needed to show confidence among the offensive players that he was leading.
However, when you look at the context of what he was really trying to do, these infractions are debatable due to the fact that his teammates needed some motivation at the time and a fire lit underneath them to compel them to play more efficiently.
In as far as the performance of Alex Smith, I caution all of you not to jump to conclusions due to the fact that he is making immense progress over last season. He is playing with much more confidence and poise then he did last season and he is receiving the coaching he rightfully deserves under offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
Turner wants Alex Smith to get more comfortable in making plays from the pocket; something he is unaccustomed to from last season when he was running for his life. Virtually the entire game Alex Smith was put into scenarios where he was instructed to throw the ball from the pocket to test his readiness and capabilities from a standing position. Rarely did you see him perform his textbook rollouts like he did against the Chicago Bears in the first exhibition game.
On the other hand Trent Dilfer, supposedly the true mentor to Alex Smith, incurred two taunting penalties for his team as he verbally reacted the first time to a tackle made by Oakland Raiders rookie linebacker Darnell Bing in the third quarter. Whether what he said can be considered taunting is far from our imaginations, but the referees have been instructed to throw flags on just about anything.
“I just got up and told him, 'Nice hit. It didn’t hurt.’ And (referee Ed Hochuli) felt that was taunting,” Dilfer said. “On the second one (after throwing a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter), I just went over to their sideline and said 'Hi’ to Warren Sapp, one of my best friends in the league. Then I gave him 'five.’ But going over to the opponents bench is considered taunting, too.”
The offensive line, once known as a breaking dam of inequity in front of the quarterback, held firm against a determined Oakland Raider defense. Alex Smith is starting to feel a calming and secure feeling as he drops back and tries to find legitimate targets.
Frank Gore, as far as I am concerned, has always been our starting running back. The trade of Kevan Barlow to the New York Jets comes as no surprise to me. I have always wanted Barlow to succeed and rooted for him over the past several seasons. However as time wore on, one could see that he had visible limitations and hesitations in his running ability that calculated into missed opportunities and production period. Some can be said of the weak offensive line he started out from behind last season but Frank Gore managed to find a way to still succeed.
One can be nervous concerning Frank Gore and his broken down body that has been put together almost like a Humpty Dumpty fairy tale story. Frank Gore has undergone two knee reconstruction surgeries while in college and had an operation to secure each of his shoulders during this past off-season.
Kevan Barlow was told about the news from Mike Nolan of the trade from the team hotel and became a little emotional because his heart belongs to San Francisco. Barlow is most famously remembered here as being the back-up tailback to then starter Garrison Hearst. The third-round draft pick out of the University of Pittsburgh in 2001, split time with Hearst early in his career here, making his greatest splash in 2003 when he ran for 1,024 yards and six touchdowns.
His career turned flat after that as he battled injuries and newcomer Frank Gore who out rushed Barlow by 27 yards despite 49 fewer carries last year. Also included in that decision was the depth that the 49ers incurred with the emergence of Michael Robinson, who scored the 49ers lone touchdown last Sunday.
Maurice Hicks better known as the featured third-down back with us after last season who had 59 carries for 308 yards, also factored into the overall decision to go ahead with the trade that will incur for the 49ers a first day draft pick as a bonus next year.
Looking at other small highlights from this second exhibition game one can be satisfied with F-back Delanie Walker in more ways than one. Please give this guy a legitimate run at returning kickoffs as indicated in what he can do in this game alone.
And what about the expired cornerback in Sammy Davis filling in for the injured Shawntae Spencer? Davis was quickly traded by the San Diego Chargers for our had been wide receiver Rashuan Woods and has quickly solidified that position depth wise hands down.
Safety Keith Lewis kind of redeemed himself from the first exhibition game with a spectacular tackle on special teams in this game against Oakland. This is something he’ll need to continue to do in order to survive the up and coming roster cuts.
Reserve linebackers T. J. Slaughter and Jim Maxwell look like they have what it takes to be the back-up tandem to Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich after this game. Both led the defensive roster for the 49ers in tackles and helped sustain the defense that stood out on the field almost the entire game.
As for kicker Joe Nedney missing a 54-yard field goal attempt one has to say it is merely an off day for him. It is not likely for that to happen again and hopefully won’t.
Cornerback/safety Mike Adams needs to be in the right place at the right time more often than not as he missed a perfect opportunity for an interception that was later turned into an Oakland Raider first touchdown.
The fact that this was a loss 23-7 in our second exhibition game doesn’t jive well for head coach Mike Nolan, who has already stated that the expectations this season are to much higher than last season.
He has indicated that no one is exempt from being moved or cut on this roster that doesn’t perform to his standard and doesn’t fit the prototype football player this team is all about.
Mike Nolan and Vice President of Personnel Director Scot McCloughan have worked diligently over the past season and a half to collect the right football players with the right characterizations for the job. They continue to do that and tweak the roster when they feel it will benefit the team overall and into the future. I applaud the new sense of purpose wholeheartedly.
“It was a complete turnaround from last week, that’s for sure,” Nolan said after his team was out-gained 394-209. “We played very flat and didn’t come out with a lot of emotion or tempo early in the game on both sides of the ball, and that’s the way we stayed throughout the game. You can’t be flat. I don’t care if it’s the pre-season or what it is. There are a lot of guys here playing for jobs and you have to play with emotion. It’s pre-season and we’ve got to learn from it. A little adversity is a good thing in the pre-season, to see how we respond from it.”
What a summary and a half by Mike Nolan on this one folks. The standards are high and all the players will be called out in practice on this note. Although it is pre-season certain performances by individual players and entire units are unacceptable and need to be dealt with. We were sucked into the black hole famously known inside this coliseum from days of old and now back under the tutelage of Art Shell.
I believe the great coaching techniques applied by Mike Nolan and his staff will iron out the flaws we see throughout the pre-season but at the same time look at it as a real upgrade over what we had before he arrived. San Francisco will be put back on the map with this administration folks, and his re-election for seasons to come will be necessary to bring the playoffs back into sight.