Niners’ Preseason Goes from Peace to Panic

Aug 15, 2010 at 8:36 PM20

As I strapped myself in for Camp Singletary 2.0, I felt a familiar knot in my gut. Here we go again, I thought. Another camp as old-school as the man himself. Another camp of relentless pounding, with a matching body-count.

Another camp of Singletarian madness.

But I'll give him this: the guy can surprise you. THIS was Camp Singletary? Where on earth was the Toughness Patrol?

His signature drill, the infamous nutcracker, was merely a shadow of last year's absurdity. When the players were dragging through padded two-a-days, he actually noticed and gave 'em a break. And what's that sound? Is that music playing? Is that...JAZZ?

Man. Just when you think you've got him pegged, Camp Singletary turns into Camp Minnehaha.

But the results were encouraging. Only one serious injury (with special-teams ace Scott McKillop the loser in this year's ACL roulette, though Ahmad Brooks' kidney and Eric Heitmann's fibula will bear watching). And more importantly, the team's play looked on schedule, with even the (gasp!) passing game turning the occasional head.

You could quibble about Aubrayo Franklin's franchise-tag protest, an S.O.P. you'd like to think Singletary could break. But on the whole, through camp's first week, a strange sensation predominated. A sensation we're not quite used to around here. A sensation that led you to think--stop me if you've heard this one--we're finally ready to soar.

A strange sensation of peace.

Boy, THOSE were the days, eh?

On day 10, the cracks started to show. Kentwan Balmer, who'd skipped practice the day before, was excused to deal with what the Niners called a "personal matter." (Mercifully, there was no confusion about whether they meant a "PERSONNEL matter.") No details were offered, but Singletary promised that Balmer would be back. The next day, though, he wasn't, and he became, officially, a deserter.

Balmer, of course, had been teetering on the brink of first-round bustdom. If he hadn't quit he might well have been cut. So no biggie. Get back to me when someone ELSE quits. Then we might have an issue here.

Okay, said Glen Coffee. I quit.

Now THERE'S a guy we were counting on. Sure, as a rookie only a year ago, he didn't exactly set the world on fire. But he was the increasingly valuable backup to the increasingly vulnerable Frank Gore. The #2 runner on a run-first team. And completely out of the blue, he "retired" at 23. Apparently, he'd found religion in college and been uncommitted to football since. Singletary said he appreciated Coffee's "honesty." Now if only he'd been honest a little sooner, like, say, in his pre-draft interview.

And just like that, our peaceful camp was turned upside down by two desertions in three days. Just in time for our first exhibition game. On the road, against the Colts.

And the first-team results--the only ones that really matter in the preseason--were as predictable as a Mike Singletary offense. Alas, no surprises were waiting here.

Our first play. Naturally, a run up the middle. With Gore sitting, this would've been Coffee, but instead it's Michael Robinson, now frighteningly high on the depth chart. He fumbles, of course. And in 14 seconds, our run-first O hangs our D out to dry.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2009 49ers! Oops. 2010 I mean.

Our second play, another run up the middle, though this three-and-out is chiefly the product of Anthony Davis's best Kwame Harris. After our D makes Peyton Manning look every bit as great as he is--he goes 6 for 6 on a 90-yard march--now we're down 10, and NOW of course we'll open it up. Obviously more comfortable (again, just like last year), Alex Smith makes a couple of nice connections. But then, with Vernon Davis wide open on his way to the end zone, Smith quite simply throws behind him. Three more incompletions and a tipped pick later--all of which are high, wide, or both--Smith's day is done. He's 3 for 9 for 37 yards and the pick, for a rating of 7.4.

Maybe it's okay, though. Maybe he's still just "arm weary."

Things got a lot better when the first teams were gone. Anthony Dixon looked as good as we're gonna need him to be, and Nate Davis did nothing to quiet the shouts for more reps. But those highlights were lost in the haze of a starting O that lived all the way down to our very worst fears. "Continuity," all right, in the very worst way.

Please, spare me the fact that it's just the preseason, and just the first game. It was the Colts' first game too, and THEY didn't seem to show any rust. Of course, they're a championship contender. You EXPECT contenders to be ready, to come out firing on all cylinders. That's just what contenders do, right?

Oh, sorry. I thought we were a contender too.

These guys--both players and coaches alike--need to understand something, quick. Yeah, they're the hot pick to win their division, if only by default. They've heard all about this breakout season they're destined to have. But not everyone's convinced. Our archenemies, those Football Outsiders, say we'll finish our division DEAD LAST. These guys are promised nothing. And if they don't raise their game--and if they don't raise it QUICK--nothing's exactly what they're gonna get.

Ah, well, so much for peace. But if you listen to Singletary, peace is overrated. "It would be very easy to go through the entire offseason and go through training camp without facing any adversity at all," he said. "Go into the season and you have one setback and think, 'Oh my goodness, how are we going to deal with that?' [This way, we] can deal with anything."

Well, that's ONE way of looking at it. And naturally, I hope he's right.

I think, though, I'd still prefer peace.
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.


  • Honney
    Thanks for sharing. What a pleasure to read!
    Jun 4, 2011 at 7:01 PM
  • STL Niner Fan
    Terry B. - If your comment is referring to my last comment I think you clearly misunderstood my point. My original comment here was that it is foolish to make regular season projections based on one - or frankly any - preseason game. The piece written by Kaplan did just that. My second comment's point was if we are going to make such negative, gloom and doom projections based on what we saw in the first preseason game then I think those projections should be revised to reflect the team's most recent performance. IMO we shouldn't be making any real projections one way or the other from preseason performances. There is just no data to prove preseason greatness translates into regular season success or that preseason bumbling translates into regular season failure. I think people get so hyped and impatient for the season to start that they look for anything, and I do mean anything, to use to start forming conclusions about their team's upcoming season. The bottom line is you won't know anything at all concrete until after the SEA game. So please take a deep breath and step back from the ledge.
    Aug 24, 2010 at 9:20 AM
  • Terry B.
    Interesting that when the team stinks, the excuse is that it's just the preseason, but then the same people who say that want to celebrate and say everything is perfect when the team has one good drive.
    Aug 23, 2010 at 5:45 PM
  • STL Niner Fan
    Ok, so after last night's performance, can we take our finger off the trigger? Again, the bottom line is this is preseason. If we tank hard in SEA then feel free to start loading up the gun.
    Aug 23, 2010 at 6:49 AM
  • Noe Longoria
    Either invent a new o-system or go back to the West Coast Offense! We don't have the horses to pull off a RUN-FIRST offense. I have a feeling we are being set up for another disappointing year. I hope they prove me wrong, but I just don't see it happening.
    Aug 18, 2010 at 10:55 PM
    Response: Ah, the WCO. The 49ers' classic, glorious identity, which was just too fancy (and smart) for a dinosaur like Singletary. Well, at least OTHER teams are keeping it alive. Shanahan and McNabb made it look pretty good right off the bat, didn't they? It's outright tragedy that we have to look elsewhere to see reminders of just how great we used to be, while we're stuck here with this.
  • mdoran4
    Jeff, I agree with your response to Sig's comment. I agree. Smith does have to be better and we can only hope he works out the kinks in the pre-season. He is going to be the starter come week one, and the schedule is not that easy to start the season. I pray the rookies learn quick on the fly here, because that will also play into the success of the O.
    Aug 18, 2010 at 9:47 PM
  • Shane
    Love the writing, but hope you're wrong... i know you do too lol... But i was thinking bout an interesting dilemma before bed, raye is obviously a Sing choice cuz they are both sugar free vanilla on offense, but (assuming Raye wastes all this talent) is it better to run Raye's cloud of dust offense but know what we have or bring in yet ANOTHER O Coord. next year who has much more potential yet we are basically starting from scratch again?? BTW bye bye Jones... curse of the number 81, there goes another one, let's banish that number.
    Aug 18, 2010 at 9:06 PM
    Response: That's not a dilemma in MY mind, Shane. Like I've said, continuity just for the sake of continuity is as bad as change just for the sake of change. Continuity is good only when what you're continuing is good. And if THIS is what we're continuing, we can't start over from scratch soon enough.
  • Shane
    Hey Jeff, I also agree that if we continue to be a run first offense this is going to be the most disappointing season in a long time! (can you imagine greenie of mike and mike has us at 12-4, sick) I don't understand why we can't have balance. It's a copycat league and it seems it would be easier to find success the way 11 other playoff teams did rather than duplicate the one team that won with running and D. With that being said I think the Indy game was cause for concern. I don't buy this "it's one game, 2nd yr in the system" nonsense. Peyton Manning lights us up and Smith has a rating of 7. I'm not suggesting that Smith is or ever will be Manning but my point is a QB you can count on doesn't post a 7 rating, even in preseason. I honestly feel we are gonna get vanilla all preseason and we won't know what this offense will truly be until game one. All we can do is wait till we are in seattle and find out who we really are... I'm still ready to believe.
    Aug 18, 2010 at 7:08 PM
    Response: I admire your willingness to believe, Shane. But c'mon, you know that run-first isn't just our preseason vanilla O. You know that run-first is what we'll be as long as Singletary's in charge, or at least what we'll be until Singletary starts feeling some heat.
  • Sig
    Jeff, I gotta agree with you on this one. Personally, I look at this team and who we have on this roster, and there is NO way we should be trying to be a smash mouth, run first football team!!! The only reason that we HAVE to be this kind of team is because we don't have a QB that can deliver!!! We have basically had to settle for something that we shouldn't because they are so in love with Alex Smith. Are you telling me that with Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Josh Morgan, Ted Ginn Jr., Frank Gore and now Brian Westbrook (who is an awesome receiving threat)...that we are going to simply rely on the running game up the middle to be the bread and butter for success?!!! Does anyone else see that this is ridiculous? We should give Nate Davis a chance to work with the starters or even David Carr to see how well the passing game can be. Today's game is more about the passing game! Name the last football team to win a Super Bowl that was a run first team. (Jeopardy music playing.) I know it was only the first pre-season game, but Alex missing Vernon wide open for 6 is just another example of what CANNOT happen. One play like that can be the difference in an entire game or season outcome.
    Aug 18, 2010 at 4:09 PM
    Response: It's a vicious cycle, Sig. No QB could look good in Singletary's run-first scheme; even John Elway looked bad when Dan Reeves (whom Singletary wanted as OC, remember) had him throw only on third and long. And in a pass-first scheme, Smith just hasn't been good enough. Based on last year, I thought he deserved this last chance, but against the Colts he looked not at all improved. The answer, though, isn't to revert back to Singletary's run-first scheme, which as you pointed out is a relic and a waste of our weapons; the answer is to stay pass-first and, if Smith can't cut it, to find someone who can. Although Singletary will never go pass-first unless and until he's desperate (like last year), it's encouraging to hear that Nate Davis will be getting more reps. The Niners can downplay that all they want, but that's bad news for Smith. Stay tuned.
  • andrew bernal
    smith is garbage. how many more games do we have to watch him mess up? i don't care how many offensive coords we had. he can't and will never win against any team that is good. 4 years is more than enough. please please put in carr or davis.
    Aug 18, 2010 at 1:31 PM
  • overthemiddle
    Jeff according to shobbrobb you were reporting - It was my understanding that you were not a reporter and your writings were more editorial based. If you are reporting then this article sucks as in reporting you're supposed to keep your personal opinion to yourself. Now if your writings are editorial based then this article is just fine, even tho you state your case in your typical flamboyant style, your observations are on the mark. So Jeff are you going to be a reporter or are you going to editorize (is that a word lol). Anyhow if you choose to be a reporter then so be it, you're not very good at it. I am truly hoping that Singletary and Smith do very well this year, and I am not talking about a winning record, I am talking about being good at what they do and if they are good then the wins will come.
    Aug 17, 2010 at 6:16 PM
    Response: No, no, of course I'm not a reporter; as you know, OTM, I've already been through that. I don't think Shobb was speaking literally when he said "reporting"; I think he was just agreeing with my "editorializing" (which I think was the word you were going for). In any case, I'm certainly selling my opinions, and I appreciate that you're buying.
  • 9moon
    I really don't pay attention too much during the preseason. I really think it's for the players who are on the bubble. Marv Levy of the Bills used the preseason to see which young and new players are worth keeping.
    Aug 17, 2010 at 9:33 AM
  • shobbrobb
    Be careful reporting EXACTLY what happened Jeff. for some reason some fans have a problem with that....lmao
    Aug 17, 2010 at 8:35 AM
    Response: (snicker)
  • STL Niner Fan
    Dear God, here we go already. It's been one preseason game. I finally had a chance to watch the game last night and based on the comments I read in this piece I was expecting MUCH worse. Just goes to show how sensationalized writers can be. I don't think Smith played that bad. There seemed to be a couple miscues but IT'S THE FIRST PRESEASON GAME. If I'm not mistaken Manning had a miscue in the end zone on their first possession of the game after the fumble. These things happen IN THE FIRST PRESEASON GAME. To project success/failure after a few series of play is premature at best and downright ignorant at worst. How many times during the course of a regular season game do you see a total shift in offensive/defensive success from the first quarter to the 4th quarter. If games were decided by a few series of play then this game would really suck. guys must really be desperate for something to write about.
    Aug 17, 2010 at 6:42 AM
  • Dan
    Brian Westbrook is backing up Frank Gore. That's huge. There will be no peace, for anyone. All we have to look forward to is mauling, slashing, and cracking skulls. The camp features it and the games will too. If you want finesse go watch a Packers game.
    Aug 16, 2010 at 11:45 PM
  • mdoran4
    i'll wait til the third or fourth preseason game to worry if these performances keep up. yes, everyone's throwing Smith under the bus for his performance (he's still dragging behind the bus from years ago in some fans' eyes) but i don't think he did terrible. swing pass to Robinson that he dropped was right in front of his face and in stride, a ball that should've been caught. i think miscommunication between VD and Smith on the should've-been touchdown. looked like Smith expected a skinny post and VD took more of an angle out of his break. Regardless, Smith needs to be better, but so do a lot of the players on the team to be a contender.
    Aug 16, 2010 at 7:29 PM
  • Marco
    Accuracy is the most important trait for a QB. Alex Smith has NEVER been an accurate QB and NEVER will be. Smith is also lacking in pocket feel and the ability to go to the second and third reads fast enough. If Singletary and Raye want to save their jobs, they better insert Nate Davis into the starting line-up right away. Nate Davis has the pocket feel, accuracy, and total physical tools! Singletary and Raye are in way over their heads, so they NEED to go with a QB that can overcome their shortcomings.
    Aug 16, 2010 at 5:51 PM
  • Dan B.
    There was nothing really surprising about the game, Smith was so-so (predictable), A. Davis struggled in pass blocking(predictable being that he's 20), our run-oriented defense was picked apart by the best passer in the game (again nothing surprising), and Iupati was a monster (knew it all along). BUT and that's a big but! We had our second team D in when the Colts had that long drive, our first team D held them out of the endzone. And Smith didn't look as bad when you consider how little time he had to throw. He was the reason that A. Davis didn't give up 6 sacks! Smith made quick reads and got the ball out's hoping he's arm-weary!
    Aug 16, 2010 at 12:50 PM
  • Kevin McHugh
    Panic? It's the first preseason game, I'm sure 3 subpar offensive series=PANIC!!!! Let's fire the coaches because of three bad series. Gore and Crabtree didn't play either. Chill out.
    Aug 16, 2010 at 10:56 AM
  • Jeff Kaplan
    Our apologies, but we had some technical difficulties that temporarily disabled our feedback system. Those difficulties have been fixed. As always, your comments are encouraged and appreciated!
    Aug 16, 2010 at 9:54 AM

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