After the last exhibition game against the San Diego Chargers came to a close last Friday night at Monster Park with a 23-14 victory for the San Francisco 49ers, Mike Nolan walked away with both uncertainty and appreciation for his remolded team that he will field very soon against the Arizona Cardinals this coming Sunday.

A wide range of issues still exist for most San Francisco 49ers fans and rightfully so. We are still anxious to see the coming out of quarterback Alex Smith. He was not that exciting again in this last exhibition game in that he completed just 1 pass out of four attempts for a mere 11-yards and was sacked for a five-yard loss on top of all that.

Although his time on the field was seriously limited, his inability to move the offense and manufacture an offensive drive that would stay alive and carry momentum failed miserably.

Despite Alex Smith’s difficulties though others managed to come forth and shine in the spotlight for all 49er personnel to see and many true colors were displayed that evening in many a close nit night of competition for several team analysts.

First of all several so-called 49er fans blasted me after submitting a short publication in the San Francisco Gate in the Blog Section concerning a defensive rebound for the 49er defense, coming against the San Diego Chargers this past Friday night.

Well, guess what? The San Francisco 49er defense did arrive back on the scene on a high note with several players deserving of immediate recognition. Rookie 49er linebacker Manny Lawson is starting to come into his own as he intercepted a deflected pass in the second quarter and could be seen barreling along for 23-yards for a touchdown that was taken away from him, when the officials on the field ruled he came into contact with running back Larry Croom, upon whose hands that the ball seemed to slide off from.

Needless to say anyways it was a play that highlighted Manny Lawson’s well-hidden abilities and speed to close in and make a play on the football at any given time. Lawson beside himself with a touchdown soon realized the bad news from officials that it was coming back.

“The interception was a big play,” Nolan said. “I took him out two plays after the pick. He was all juiced up and wanted to stay in. It’s another play that builds confidence.”

Of all the gloom and doom that we’ve been hearing about our young and improving defense, one has to put emphasis on exactly what Manny Lawson brings to the table in terms of overall agility and athletic magnificence in that he can accumulate instant “playmaker status,” with plays like this one more than just once.

Of course who can really gauge the actual effects of what our defense can do? Considering that most of the core first-line defense remained off the field during this game, resting for the opening contest against the Arizona Cardinals. Players such as defensive tackle Bryant Young, cornerback Walt Harris and linebackers Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich.

This was a game in which the back-ups shined beyond expectations and reinforced our confidence in that the depth on this team is ultra-thin in some spots and rigidly strong in others.

What so many fans still don’t have is patience. Patience is still something that we all have to recognize and admit to when showing recollection on what it is we’ve just observed.

The San Francisco 49er defense only gave up 200 total net yards to the San Diego Chargers despite the fact that they were playing mostly second and third team type players throughout the entirety of this game. It is still a far cry of what they had been used to allowing in the last two losses against the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys.

They can even come away with tale of the tape concerning first downs as we out muscled them with 22 first downs to just 12 for the San Diego Chargers. We also came out on top in limiting them on third down efficiency by squeezing them to go two-for-eight or converting just 25% of their overall third downs into first downs.

Looking back early in the second quarter, the Chargers crossed over into 49er territory and threw a deep pass that was deflected by former San Diego Charger and now a 49er cornerback in Sammy Davis. The pass on the deflection was knocked back up and into the air by 49er safety Mike Adams while he was falling to the ground backwards.

No one could’ve believed, as Mike Adams lay sprawled out flat on his back, and watched the ball fall into his hands. Adams then cradled the fresh pick to his chest jumped up and ran for four yards to the seven-yard line. It was yet another crowning achievement for a young defense struggling to find its own identity.

San Francisco 49er cornerback Marcus Hudson solidified his stay with the team with a marvelous defensive performance in that he killed an opening offensive drive by the Chargers in the third quarter with an interception.

But on top of that he appeared again towards the end of the game in the fourth quarter with some late quarter heroics in intercepting another pass intended for the end zone and a score as the Chargers stared in from our seven-yard line, resulting in a touchback for the 49ers.

What was a 49er secondary bird-shot full of holes in the last two exhibition games, now appeared like a deep seas fishing net with a large catch of starkist tuna fish. It is amazing what a little emphasis and motivation can do once the focal point is pronounced to be yours.

Mike Nolan and his defensive coaching staff did a great job at making the proper adjustments necessary to being able to mount some pressure moments for the Chargers quarterbacks and improved on the coverage in a secondary taking one bad rap after another per game.

The so-called denial that the defense had no immediate problems turned into survival mode time for most individual players jockeying for position to remain employed on this football team. One has to admire the utter determination and guts these individuals put themselves through with great duress and endurance to make the final cut.

Defensive players that didn’t make the roster after this game was concluded were cornerback Derrick Johnson who injured his groin on a play in this game and cornerback Kris Richards.

Defensive end Lance Legree and linebacker Corey Smith were also unexpectedly cut as being the only two 49er defensive players to each register a sack during this pre-season period.

I can’t just talk about defense though, especially when you witness the magnificence of newly drafted running back Michael Robinson in action. Michael Robinson was absolutely amazing and in my eyes supplanted Maurice Hicks after this game as the back up to Frank Gore hands down.

Robinson had 12 carries for 59 yards, three catches for 14 yards, and found the end zone twice in this pre-season contest. Robinson scored on a 1-yard run plunge that was made possible by a block from 250-pound fullback Moran Norris.

Michael Robinson a 220-pound running back is exceptional at running through tackles like they weren’t even there as you watch film on this guy. He is absolutely incredible in now you see him now you don’t. On a classic north and south kind of run, he destroyed San Diego’s defensive reserve linemen on a 13-yard touchdown late in the second quarter that gave the 49ers a 14-7 lead.

“He’s a very determined runner,” Nolan said of Robinson, a onetime quarterback at Penn State. “His run for the second touchdown was a heck of a run. That took a lot of determination.”

But this is an athlete that just loves and preaches the game of football. Almost to the liking of Jerry Rice who appreciates everything there is about the game and wanting to hold on to every moment, as it appears frozen in memory and time to be in a rewind mode where you can play it over and over again.

“We have football players, man,” Robinson said with emphasis after rushing 12 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns. 'That’s one thing I can say about this rookie class: We have football players. They want to make a difference.”

Also F-back rookie Delanie Walker continued to impress after Michael Robinson fielded a kickoff at the 1-yard line and ran 12 yards before handing off on a reverse to Delanie Walker. If anyone knows Delanie Walker you know what happens next.

Being the high-spirited and electric athlete he is, Walker rushed around the right end and hurdled four feet into the air despite there being no one in front of him and gained an additional 30-yards.

This dynamic duo in both Michael Robinson and Delanie Walker figure to add into an offensive arsenal that is still with questions regarding its passing game, with Antonio Bryant really being the only clear front runner with a bit of experience as an added bonus.

I am one to think that Mike Nolan will have to be very creative with his offensive schemes and include some trickery here and there to add punch and motivation to its offensive production as a whole.

If anything at all you know that the club can rely heavily if healthy on rookie tight end Vernon Davis, veteran Eric Johnson and then bring in Delanie Walker in multiple receiver sets to confuse and frustrate opposing defenses to a frenzy state.

Expect the unexpected so to speak from Norv Turner who will lean heavily on the tight end position to manufacture positive yardage like he is so famous for in his offensive philosophies.

This game was a great momentum injection just when the team really needed it the most. Lord knows we still have the critics, hate mongers and skeptics that push the panic button because they see the many flaws that still exist within this teams framework. Well guess what? Every team in the NFL has its flaws, and diagnosing them and fixing them will be the tall order of Mike Nolan and his ambitious staff.

I am excited for the opener against the Arizona Cardinals, although I feel we will see probably an Arizona club much improved even over last year that we’ll be faced with. Of course Las Vegas has us as an underdog by 7.5, but hey what else is new? Odds of course are made to be broken, and if we get just the right mix of players and talent combined, we just might pull this off Sunday afternoon.

So keep your chins up 49er fans and get ready for the 2006 NFL season as it soon approaches. We will all be longing for that big play and remain hopeful that we can at the very least field a competitive team on any given Sunday.

I think there is little question of that with the reinvigorated players we have on our team right now. Acceptance of each other and being accountable to each other will be the tall order of the season.