The 49ers first preseason game is upon us. It will mark the debut of the revamped defense, as well as the debut of Alex Smith, version 3.0. Join me as I blog my insights and keep you up to date on the happenings at Bill Walsh Field.
4:13 pm: First things first, there will be some starters who will be held out by head coach Mike Nolan. Some are due to injury, others just beacause

They are:

Walt Harris (CB): "Preferential treatment" according to Nolan)
Aubrayo Franklin (NT): Sprained Knee.
Frank Gore (RB): Broken Hand
Bryant Young (DE): Back
Patrick Estes (LT): Ankle

This may be a blessing in disguise as many people have mentioned. The backups (Spencer (CB), Sopoaga (NT), Robinson (NT), Fields (DE), and Snyder (T)) will all get chances to shine against starters. This really is the true test as teams will not put in their own backups when one of the 49ers starters goes down.

We are about 45 minutes away! Time to preheat the oven for some pizza!
4:42 pm: Ron Jaworski just commented on the two different skill sets for both young quarterbacks, Cutler and Smith.

He said that Cutler has "explosive" strength and that Shannahan developed the offense around these strengths. The offense will use the play action in order to get large chunks of yards on the perimiter. Basically, Cutler will be a gun slinger.

Smith, on the other hand, depends on the running game more. According to Jaworski, Smith will dink and dunk, sustain and "matriculate" the ball down the field. Basically, Smith will be more methodical and will move the ball down the field in shorter bursts.

I really trust Jaworski's analysis. He always breaks down film and being a QB himself, is really able to get complicated concepts across to viewers.

Many people, including our own David Bonilla, noticed that Smith's long ball is looking really good. With more West Coast type principles that Hostler is incorporating into the offense we will see what kind of player Smith develops into. Will he be a dink and dunker, a long ball specialist, or something in the middle?
4:53 pm: Did T.J. just say "Satchel Paige"?

Man, first guy to get me a picture of Satchel Paige's delivery gets a mention in my next column.
5:06 pm: I absolutely want to smack the people who were yelling during Bill Walsh's moment of silence. Have some freakin' respect people.
5:17 pm: Okay, first play, Travis Henry, 11 yards. Not a good start.

After Cutler's 24-yard pass (to Javon Walker) two 49ers missed a tackle and Henry squeezed through for 5 more yards. Brandon Moore then missed another tackle in the backfield on the next play.

On the first goal line play Patrick Willis jumped over the pile to try and nail the running back and missed.

On the next play Henry was able to score over right tackle. Denver's undersized offensive line was able to get a good push on the 49ers offensive line.

Summary: Denver's first drive was good for Denver, bad for us. We got noticably better pressure on the QB, but we missed some tackles and were not able to hold the goal line. We got burned for some long runs as a result of missed tackles.
5:19 pm: Bryan Gilmore got a pretty good return but he sure looked scared to make contact. He crumbled up real quick when he hit traffic and still took a good pop.

It was still a good return though, squeezing though some holes.
5:28 pm: The 49ers started out in a two tight end set (to the left) and Robinson got a nice 8 yard run out of it. He sure has some good acceleration.

Screen to Hicks. The screen is a play that Turner did not call to often last season.

Smith to Darrell Jackson thrown with Champ Bailey in coverage. Smith threw a GREAT ball. it was placed where only D-Jac was going to get it.

Elvis Dumerville gets good pressure on Smith. Smith was 2 for 3 and on two of those three he was under pressure when he threw. The first pass was a screen so he was supposed to be under pressure. On the last pass he had Vernon Davis opening up on a square route and could not make the throw because he was hit as he threw.

Summary: The offense made some good plays and Smith and Jackson connected on a great play. However, Smith's protection looks suspect and that is worrisome.
5:34 pm: Banta-Cain got good pressure on Ramsey and looks like the real deal. He just looks to be playing faster than other players.
5:40 pm: Hicks has great explosion. I think he is a valuable backup. I know that the 49ers are thinking of going with Robinson as the backup, but I think Hicks plays the position better. He hits the hole so fast. He broke off a 20 yard run and also managed to break a tackle on the play.

While I was typing that, Alex Smith threw an absolute BEAUTY of a pass to Arnaz Battle who also made a great catch. The ball was on a rope, in the air about 25 yards, low and away on what looked like a post pattern. Battle slid and grabbed the ball. He had someone covering him close, but the ball was so perfectly placed it was Battle's ball or no one's.
5:41 pm: Alex Smith's Stats: 4/5 for 58 yards (11.6 yards per attempt!) 0 TD, 0 INT.

Good outing for Smith.
5:46 pm: Quite frankly the front 7 is getting run over, and they are doing it on the edges, not so much up the middle. Soap is lining up a little behind his defensive ends, which kind of puts him at a disadvantage.

Yes, it is only the first pre-season game, but the rush defense needs to improve.
5:52 pm: Funny play of the game: Denver took the full back and ran him inside on a fake and gave the ball to the outside runner (Henry). Lawson starts to follow the ball outside then turns around and starts going to the full back.

He was so faked out he started running away from the play.

If you're going to do it, better do it now.
5:58 pm: Tarrell Brown made a nice play on the ball resulting in an interception. He was tight in coverage, kept his hips fluid, and looked back to the QB. He broke on the ball on an out pattern and picked the ball. He may not have gotten both feet in bounds (Denver challenged the ruling on the field) but it was still a good play.

Of course, the pressure on Ramsey helped. These two things go hand in hand.
6:04 pm: We haven't seen much of running back Thomas Clayton. On the last play, though, he made a cut-on-a-dime type move from the outside to the inside and gained some extra yards. He then tried an unsuccessful spin move. It was a good run all around.

It also looks like Delanie Walker is playing more of an H (or F) Back position. He lines up as a tight end behind the line then motions to the full back position. We were supposed to see more of this under Turner but it never really materialized.
6:04 pm: Nolan was right, Zak Keasey really is ugly.
6:08 pm: Hostler's influence is becoming more apparent as the game wears on. There are more plays to the running back across the middle as well as designed roll outs to the tight end. Where as before most of the plays were 12-15-yard routes, the shorter passes are being integrated into the offensive scheme.
6:10 pm: Another player who is looking good is Taylor Jacobs. With preseason games someone has to jump out at you and Jacobs did that on one play, were he made the catch and pulled the DB another 4 yards before he went down. On the very next play he made a great down-field block getting the runner some extra yards.

The final WR spot is going to be a dog fight.
6:20 pm: Is it just me or does Robinson always seem to be spinning? He gets hit, spins. Before a hit? Tries to spin. Catches a pass? Momentum spins him.

Probably just me.
6:28 pm: Clock management is still an issue here. Nolan took a time out in order to give the referees time to review the play. However, he need not have done so, the referees reviewing the play stops the clock.

Nolan did this a couple of times last season. Don't call the extra time out. Let the refs stop the clock and milk it until the final seconds on the play clock.
6:34 pm: Trent Dilfer made a bonehead move: He tried to throw a seam route and didn't look the safety off. It was an easy pick for Hazma Abdullah.

In a bit of redemption though, Dilfer ended up hurling his body at Abdulla's legs during the return and knocked him out of bounds.
6:55 pm: Shaun Hill looks to be an athletic quarterback. he decided to pull the ball down and run and racked up 20 yards. He even made a move on a linebacker to pick up a few extra yards. He looked fast too. Very athletic.

On the previous pass, though, he locked onto Lelie for quite a while and tried to force the ball in.

In short, Hill is a good athlete, but needs to work on being a QB.
7:06 pm: The last three plays Patrick Willis has been in on every tackle. He looks a little lost out there still, but once he feels more comfortable in the defense it is clear that he will be a force.

Step one, though, is getting your head around your assignments. Derek Smith will start the season and based on the first preseason game, rightfully so.

Things change quickly in the NFL, though. Stay tuned to that battle.
7:10 pm: Brandon Williams certainly does look improved in a couple areas, namely in securing the ball when he's catching kickoffs and punts. Last season his hands on punts were suspect, this season he seems to have that problem corrected.

He just completed a nice return on a Denver kick off; 31 yards.
7:15 pm: Another great play by Brandon Williams. Hill hit him on an underneath route, just a 5 to 7 yard out from the slot as he was in motion. Williams caught the ball away from his body and ran upfield. After he got the first down he was just leveled. But he managed to pop back up and showed no ill effects.

Williams reminds me of a Dante Hall, but a bit more polished as a receiver and not as good of a returner.

As I wrote this the 49ers went for it on 4th and 2 and again, Hill hits Williams on an underneath route to the right side. West Coast influences there.
7:22 pm: Ashley Lelie just caught his second ball of the game, a 20 yard reception on a crossing route across the field. He started on the left side and ran across the field, catching the ball near the right sideline. It's a little disconcerting that his first real appearance is so late in the game.

Marcus Maxwell also made an appearance but his was not as illustrious. Hill tried to hit him on a fade route but the ball was uncatchable.

Later, Hill tried to hit Maxwell again but the ball was tipped, and then intercepted in the end zone.
7:37 pm: Delanie Walker seems to be in on a lot of offensive snaps. It seems like he runs about 10 yards before the ball is even snapped. He is in motion almost every play. He looks to be playing more of a true H-Back position, or F-Back position, depending on what Hostler calls it.
7:43 pm: Jason Hill is also in the game now. he was the target on a deep ball from Hill. Hill threw the ball right on target between the cornerback underneath and the safety over the top. Hill's hand got caught up by the cornerback, though, and was only able to get one hand out. Hill's speed got him past the DB though.
7:51 pm: Now that we are essentially in slop time, some of the deeper parts of the roster are on the field.

Joe Cohen is playing on the nose and he is consistently getting pushed back. The Denver line is pushing him back three yards.

Roderick Green is a pass rush specialist, but he has trouble staying home. Often times he goes full speed towards the backfield and misses the RB off tackle.
7:57 pm: Thomas Clayton is only getting about 3.5 yards per rush. The running game is not going very well. The offensive line is consistently stuffed, they are not getting a push.

Hill is also under pressure from the edges on almost every passing play. Stay tuned so I can get the names of the left and right tackles. Apparently ESPN cares more about Rod Smith and every other thing that is going on in the NFL than the game.

Despite this, Hill is putting together a nice drive. He keeps hitting receivers and is moving the team along on what could be the game winning drive.

In all reality, the 49ers left about 7 on the board, as Hill took the team down inside the five then had a ball intercepted due to a tip.
7:58 pm: Right Tackle: Harvey Dahl
Left Tackle: Damane Duckett
8:00 pm: Hill is sacked with 1:33 left. The 49ers are inside the 10. It is 3rd and goal. These next two downs should decide the game.
8:04 pm: Hill tried to get the ball out on third down but had almost no time to throw as Denver came on a blitz. He got the ball to C.J. Brewer but the pass was completed at the Denver 5. Brewer never got any more yards.

On 4th down Hill tried to get the ball to Walker. Hill was hit as he delivered the football and it came up short. Damane Duckett gave up the pressure.

Despite the failure here, though, Hill was impressive and Getsy needs to come up with something special next week in order to beat out Hill.
8:06 pm: The backside runs have been there all night for the Broncos. Everyone flows to the defense's right and then the RB cuts it back against the grain. The DE is not home and neither is the LB.
8:08 pm: It looks like that's it folks! Denver is just taking a knee now. Chalk this one up in the loss column.

Next week, the Raiders in a cross bay rivalry. See you then!