Pessimists vs. Optimists: What preseason has taught us so far

Aug 26, 2007 at 11:47 AM8

Preseason has a much different feel to it this season as opposed to the last few seasons. In past years, the team itself has been viewed as so bad, that you really cared if the 49ers won each preseason game or not. You wanted the team to get back into the habit of winning and know what that feels like. You wanted them to hold their head up high about something. Even a preseason game. This season is different. Winning a preseason game is an afterthought not only for the coaches, but for fans it seems. This year, because so much is expected of this team and because they seem better prepared to actually do some damage in the NFL this season, winning is an afterthought. While fans would still like for the team to have come back and beat the Chicago Bears last night in the meaningless game, what was more important was the evaluation of talent and sorting out the depth chart.

The team will make nine player cuts today with wide receiver C.J. Brewer and defensive end Melvin Oliver being placed on injured reserve. While the 49ers would have enjoyed a better performance on Saturday, the evaluation of each player was much more important than the win in Chicago.

While the majority of the fans have kept a cool head knowing that all of these games are simply practice scrimmages, some tend to overreact when it comes to preseason games. Here is a look at some of the pessimistic and optimistic views that have come from evaluating the team's first three preseason games. I am more on the optimistic side.

Pessimists: This rebuilt defense has been horrible. There is little pass rush and we made Rex Grossman look like a Pro Bowl caliber player. We are doomed.

Optimists: The defensive line has been playing without two very key players, defensive end Bryant Young and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin. That will definitely help with both the pass rush and against the run. Newcomers like linebacker Patrick Willis are really performing well and rookie Ray McDonald should make an impact on the upcoming season. Even Isaac Sopoaga, who I have been very hard on in the past, has had very solid performances over the last couple of games. The defense is young and hungry. There are a lot of new faces and it will simply take some time for this defense to gel. Don't be surprised if they are not solid from the get go. In time, they will be alright. I mean, Nate Clements and Walt Harris are our starting corners. Two shut down guys. Shawntae Spencer, a guy who could probably start on a few other teams, is our nickel cornerback. That is pretty scary for offensive coordinators to plan against.

Pessimists: Alex Smith played a horrible game on Saturday. Looks like a waste of a first pick.

Optimists: The team seemed to be more interested in evaluating its backup running back position than evaluating Smith. Eight pass attempts are hardly enough to find any kind of rhythm against a pretty good defense like the Bears. Smith performed very well against the Broncos and the Raiders, both of which should have solid defenses this season. I am sure he will be ready for Arizona come opening night.

Pessimists: Jim Hostler did a horrible job of play calling on Saturday. He is awful and the offense will suffer this season. I miss Norv Turner.

Optimists: The 49ers appear to be displaying a very vanilla offense. This is likely because the Arizona Cardinals are probably already gathering game film on the starters. No need to show your full deck if you don't need to. This was obvious toward the end of the game on Saturday when the team could have mounted a comeback in the trailing minutes but still threw in a few run plays to see how the backup runningbacks would perform in such a situation (not everyone can be a Frank Gore). The same goes for the defensive side of the ball.

Pessimists: Kwame Harris is just awful. He is a solid run blocker but really hurts the team with his lack of technique during pass protection and his lack of concentration and drawing penalties.

Optimists: Yeah, we agree. That is why Joe Staley will likely be starting once we open the season. Staley has shown great potential and while he is still raw, he has much more upside than Harris. Harris will make a fine backup though.

Pessimists: Matt Leinart has been lighting it up in Arizona. We should have waited a year and selected him over Alex Smith.

Optimists: These are two very different quarterbacks in two very different systems. Leinart and his receivers are the focuses on offense and the Cardinals have no problem with showing that during their preseason games as they have had him throw the ball more than Smith has. Smith is not the only focus in San Francisco. The team has a young pro bowl running back in Frank Gore to help carry the load. While it will be years before anyone can determine who was the better choice, right now, Smith is doing fine.

No, this is not a Super Bowl caliber team yet. However, this is also not a .500 team either. Unless there are some major injuries (so far so good), the team will be primed and ready to make some noise come September 10th.
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.


  • bigwads
    Great article!!! I would rather go 1-3 in the preseason rather than 3-1. A 3-1 preseason record would indicate a bad season to me.
    Sep 3, 2007 at 11:52 AM
  • Jeff Shaffer
    On vets vs. Nolan playing younger players -- I would go a step further and assert that even during these first few seasons (including this one) Nolan will prefer playing the young (or future) players to get them experience. That way the whole team is ready to make a run deep into the playoffs at the same time (year 4-5) "McNolan" uses older vets for very specific needs a.) at critical positions that we lack talent and b.) to use those same vets to establish the standard for the younger players to work towards -- Bryant Young, Michael Lewis, Walt Harris, Larry Allen are all examples of this. Although I don't think Nolan is willing to lose games to get some players more experience, I do think he is willing to let the young players "play" so they get experience even if that means risking losing. I think a great example of this is Manny Lawson - they needed him to learn playing OLB in pass protection and run defense last year and played him that way even though it wasn't his strong suit. Then they spelled him on 3rd down when he would have rushed the passer more. They got him the experience he needed to make him a more complete player this year.
    Aug 30, 2007 at 5:28 PM
  • StonerLab
    &Thank you David for being "The Voice of Reason" Oh my god! I've been on several blogs since the 49er-Bear game & most of the 49er Empire is in "doom gloom" mode. Now I've been following the 49ers since Brodie in the early 70's when Mike's dad was the coach & I'm a little disappointed in alot of 49ers fans that don't seem to be educated enough to know what pre-season is really all about. They're called ;exihibition games" for a reason you know. I would like to give my take very briefly on the offense & defense. The offense will be much better once the season starts with a real offensive game plan along with our Pro-Bowl RB Gore. The defense is going to take some time & I don't think fans realize just how much work & hurdles the defense needs to go thru to actually gel & be effective. Three points, first there might be up to 6 new players on defense this year. The 2nd point is they're implementing a whole new defensive scheme in the 3-4 defense & then to top it all off they have a new defensive coordinator who by the way has never been a coordinator before! So knowing all of this gives me a little piece of mind & patience. I figure realistically we won't see the defense gel together until the 3rd or 4th game of the season. So 49er fans need to be a little more realistic & patient with our defense. David, your thoughts on my comments?
    Aug 28, 2007 at 6:40 PM
    Response: I agree with your points. It will take some time for this revamped defense to work well together and be on the same page. Plus, I like last year, I am sure that Nolan has not revealed too much about what this 49ers team will look like once the season starts.
  • Niners2007
    i have to say that last year at this same time i thought the Niners were going to suck and suck bad!!!!! They had a bad preseason last year as well and although it's never good to lose games albeit preseasons games but we turned out to be a decent 7-9 team. This year....I'm thinking 8-8 maybe 9-7....but if we played like we did on Saturday in the regular season..than maybe 7-9 again.
    Aug 27, 2007 at 11:45 AM
  • adrenaline
    I appreciate the overall outlook of the Niners' "hot topics" so far in this early part of the season. You answered my worries with Leinart as well. Seeing his talent in only his second year is very frightening especially to a team having to go against him twice a year. It also doesn't help he's been spoiled with possibly the best 3-receiver set in the league. I appreciate the points you brought out. Smith and Leinart are in different schemes and offensive philosophies. The 49ers want ball control and efficiency; and although it doesn't make the highlight reel as often as long passes it does get the job done. Besides, the Niners have a better running game. Thanks again.
    Aug 27, 2007 at 11:44 AM
  • Patrick Moore
    First, what inspired you to write a column with the pessimist-optimist angle? This is a great idea. You are able to satisfy the personalities of both. As a long time Niner fan, I am happy with every decision that has been made. From York recognizing his NFL inadiqucies, to Nolan, confidentally sharing his vision, and not wavering during the challenging times, to now, where we are a legitimate football team; a legitimate football team! It has been quite some time since we have been able to claim this proud statement.
    Aug 26, 2007 at 5:18 PM
    Response: I am not sure what inspired me to write using that angle. It was probably this site's forum. We have those fans that overreact and then those that tend to be more calm and take preseason for what it is. I am glad that you enjoyed it though.
  • Damien
    Unless you are a scout, coach, or player the pre-season is meaningless. From a fans point of view the only thing I watch is how the young draftees look, since I have not seen most of them play before. The coordinators are not using even half of their playbooks. The coaching staff is evaluating the backups and such, not even worrying about scores or situations. I personally wish only one or two preseason games were on Tv. Snooze TV
    Aug 26, 2007 at 2:01 PM
  • ladale
    Thanks David, your break down makes me feel a lot better than I did yesterday. But, the 49ers where terrible against physical teams last year giving up close to 30 points in the first two qtrs to the Chargers, Bears , and Chiefs. They looked very similiar yesterday. They seem to be able to jab with the light weights, but just get knocked the h-ll out when it comes to the heavyweights. I also so think that we would do well to go after Simeon Rice and Trotter to have a proven pass rusher and run stopper. These guys have proven they can take a punch as well as give one.
    Aug 26, 2007 at 12:56 PM
    Response: I am not sure that they are good enough to stay in a game with the heavyweights just yet. Give a year or two so our younger guys have a chance to learn and get better. This team has been built mainly through the draft. It will take some time for them to improve. While bringing in older vets like Rice would maybe help win a few more games now, it will stunt the growth of our younger players who would lose out on playing time and experience. So far, I have learned to trust Nolan's instincts when it comes to the players on the team. He has gotten rid of most of the bad eggs and brought in a number of players with tons of potential. This past April's draft is the most recent proof of this.

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