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Straight Out of the Rabbit’s Hole: Observations after two preseason games.

Diego Del Barco
Aug 18, 2013 at 3:50 PM

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):

* 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 ( lists him at 5'11", 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.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Frank
    I'd say your judgement WRT Daniels may be a bit premature...that is, as you pointed out, he's been all over the field, playing different positions. He hasn't been able to focus on QB. That said, the drive he put together in KC was noteworthy because of those facts. Don't fall into the hype that shorter guys can't play QB. Look at Brees. What I'd say instead is let's see what he does with his next two preseason games. Even if he ends up being 3rd string, that's quite an accomplishment, going up against two QB's with a lot more experience. At a minimum, Harbaugh declaring it's a 3-horse race for b/u QB should prompt both McCoy and Tolzien to step it up.
    Aug 20, 2013 at 9:18 AM
    Response: Good point that his drive is noteworthy given his limited QB reps. I'm not saying ALL short guys can't play QB, but for the most part that is the outcome. It takes a special talent to overcome that and I'm not ready to say Daniels is a special talent. I would LOVE Daniels as a #3 while he continues to develop, but not as the backup this season, and the team needs to address that #2 QB spot, because this team is ready to win now, and right now it's painful to say the championship run lives and dies with Kaep's health.
  • Jersey9er
    Hey Diego, great article, but the one thing i have to disagree with is that the offense will be fine definitely. I dont know if u remembered last year and the year before. Everytime we got too confident, we were in for a rude awakening. I too believe that Kaep is a special talent, but as i said in another thread, he helped get us to the SB, after taking on a winning record of 6-2. And pretty much took the football world by storm being the new kid on the block. Things have changed, he's no longer the new kid, Crabs is out for a while, Boldin and Davis are the only sure fire pass catchers, and although Kaep may very well make them better, there's no guarentee either. We are entering the 3rd pre-season game and kaep should at least play a full quarter maybe two, to get that continuity with our WR core in live game action. Not a knock on him, but I mean we have the proven vets around the league that are playing continously to build that bond, and a little far-fetched to believe the lights are just going to come on, once the season starts with only playing one series per pre-season game. Its like we are all just going on blind faith, which can work sometimes, and sometimes not.
    Aug 19, 2013 at 3:00 AM
    Response: Thank you. I try not to compare my expectations from this year to the previous years because there's a different, undisputed guy behind center, who is quickly becoming the face of the franchise. While I would like to see Kaep play more I don't completely disagree with Harbaugh's strategy of keeping him away from any "freakish" incidents. He's put in more than enough work this offseason, by all accounts looking outstanding in practice. I'm not too worried.
  • FreddiePSoft
    I agree with the overall assessment. Although, I see the S.T. being a major cause of let down this year besides the injuries. The culture should be there for stopping the opponents inside the 20's on kick-offs. That's not there now, whether it's pre-season or not. The kill instinct on S.T. from two years ago vanished. I do think, though, we made upgrades in tight-end, D-Line and C.B. for sure. We would have made upgrade at Safety for long term. But this year, there may be a lot of learning troubles for Eric Reid. Let's enjoy another year of stellar O'Line play and may be the finale of Frank Gore in 9er uniform. Let's get Frank a ring fellas!
    Aug 18, 2013 at 11:49 PM
    Response: I hear you on the "culture" and "kill instinct". I agree on the upgrades at TE and DL, CB remains to be seen. I would love to see Reid get a start this Sunday and see how he performs in extended time vs the Vikings' starters, even if Christian Ponder isn't the toughest test out there.
  • Mike S
    Lockette has been a disappointment so far. Harbaugh's firing him up with his comment Lockette rooming with Kap to advance learn the playbook gave me high hopes. A legit deep threat would make this Kap Offense COMPLETE & Unstoppable with #7's firepower. I want one BAD. That real deep threat would make it almost impossible to stop the run & our WR's short w/YAC & intermediate. It would allow us to attack the D at every level & side of the field. Makes me salivate. Lockette flashed on a couple plays if I remember right..not nearly enough but at least in it's in the right direction & there's still some hope he might breakthrough. For that reason if the Staff feels he's shown the ability to possibly reach becoming a real WR as you mentioned I hope he keeps up his ST's play I think Collie is a wildcard if he can get back to form & STAY HEALTHY (a big IF) with his starting experience. I want Lockette or AJ's SPEED. So damn frustrating with AJ so far. If we were to release him I think with his overdrafted status & media pressure coming off his back here he will find success someplace else with his fresh start & on the team that didn't draft/OVER-draft him. C'mon AJ!
    Aug 18, 2013 at 8:17 PM
    Response: I agree with you on a couple of things: I too would like to see Lockette's potential translate into production out on the field, but maybe he's still too raw. I think he has a decent shot at earning a spot on this roster on ST while he develops, otherwise I would love to see him get to the practice squad. And yes, I would love to see someone with speed keep defenses honest and take advantage of Kaep's outstanding arm, but nobody is stepping up.
  • Das Dweeb
    Very excited by the pressure they've brought so far, although if I remember correctly, Fangio blitzed it up last preseason as well before finishing the regular season with the fourth-least blitzing D in the league. Just hope last year's collapse after Cowboy's injury proved to him we need to get after the QB. The draft picks imply he has learned that lesson. And I'll pick AJ for the practice squad. Too much help needed to waste a spot on a guy who doesn't seem to have his head in it. Ironically if Crabs were healthy, they might feel comfy enough at WR to keep AJ active.
    Aug 18, 2013 at 7:29 PM
    Response: The key isn't so much blitzing as it is being able to get to the QB with your basic pass rush so you don't expose the secondary too much. That's what the 49ers were able to do when healthy, of course mixing in some blitzes here and there. As far as Jenkins, I don't think he makes it through waivers so I doubt he'll be a PS option.
  • Matt
    On the kickoff return for a TD, I saw a pretty clear case of holding. It was confirmed by what I saw on the replay. I was watching the Kansas City feed and they froze the action to show the lane that had opened up. A KC player had his arm wrapped around the SF player closest to the returner from behind. It doesn't matter how good the 49ers are on special teams if the other team is cheating and the refs won't call it.
    Aug 18, 2013 at 5:50 PM
    Response: So I have more excuses? SWEET!
  • Michael I
    My only observation, albeit overly simplified, is that the 49ers defense should be lights out if the way the second and third team units are performing is any indication.
    Aug 18, 2013 at 5:43 PM
    Response: Yes, I didn't want to hammer out too much on what seems obvious, but we should also remember these are still preseason offenses that we're facing, so we're not getting fully tested just yet.
  • Mike S
    Nice write up Diego How many ST's starters were we missing? I like LMJames on kick/PR's..hopefully he continues to get better. I was hoping for more breakaways & "pop" in his runs & more explosiveness. I thought he would be more dynamic than he's shown so far & I wish that Roman would design more plays for him "out in space" like Peyton does for Sproles in NO's. On returns I think we've always lacked that dynamic fast explosive specialty returner except when we had Alan Rossum. Would love for us to try & address that better. James s/b alright for that for now. Love Lemonier, Ian Williams so far, & the DL/LB quality depth. Also Vance McDonald but he needs to get more consistent catching the ball (follow VD & hit the jugs daily pls) We will have our hands full with Seattle..they do look loaded..s/b fantastic games!! I think Palmer Arians gives AZ a bigtime boost & could be a division sleeper. GO NINERS baby!!!!!
    Aug 18, 2013 at 4:26 PM
    Response: Thanks Mike. I'd have to go back and watch it again, but off the top of my head I remember numbers 28, 38, 36, 46, 47, 5 (Daniels), 18, 83. That would be, in order, Darcel McBath, Morris, Michael Thomas, MarQueis Gray, Daniels, Kevin McDermott, Ricardo Lockette, and Demarcus Dobbs. I remember Dobbs being in the unit last season, and Lockette's only chance to make the roster would be in ST as well. Everyone else on that list are not likely to make the final cuts. I like LMJ a lot more in kick returns than punt returns, he just doesn't look too comfortable with the punts at this point (Cox, for example, looks a lot more comfortable).

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