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In Search of Six

Posted Aug 30, 2011

On Sept. 11, when the 49ers offense kicks off the 2011 regular season at home against the Seattle Seahawks, the starting lineup will likely appear different than the core players who have lined up in the team’s first three preseason contests.

Four presumed contributors on the offensive unit have yet to play together at the same time.

Running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree will certainly have larger roles than what they’ve had in the exhibition season.

Gore has eight carries for 41 yards in his two preseason appearances against the Saints and Raiders. Davis has two catches for 19 yards in three preseason games. Edwards, who has three catches for 58 yards, has yet to start in any game. Crabtree resumed practicing on Tuesday, when the 49ers removed him from the Physically Unable to Perform list where he was placed prior to the start of training camp.

Not having the full offensive attack hasn’t been lost on players like Edwards, who believes the 49ers offense will pick up its production once the regular season begins.

“Once we get everybody on the field,” said Edwards, “this offense will be explosive. I do believe that.”

The biggest beneficiary will be quarterback Alex Smith, who has been sacked four times and has completed 12 of 26 pass attempts for 153 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns this preseason.

Smith knows this offense has the talent to get rolling, but the necessary growing pains must be experienced first. Fortunately for Smith and the rest of the offense, there’s an extreme eagerness to play right away after they were shut out last week against Houston.

“We’ve got a bad taste in our mouth, that’s for sure,” Smith said. “You want to get that out before the regular season.”

The protection issues that ended drives and kept the 49ers out of the end zone last week against the Texans falls on Smith’s shoulders, too.

“It’s a stat that you can’t just look at paper and then blame it on the guys up front,” said Smith, who will start again Thursday night in his hometown of San Diego.“There’s coverage sacks, quarterbacks holding on to the ball too long, running backs are involved in that, tight ends. It’s a stat that you look at on paper and it’s easy to say, ‘it’s the offensive line.’ But it’s all of us – we’re all involved in it.”

Jonathan Goodwin is one of those players involved and is determined to keep Smith upright in the pocket. The free-agent center will make his first start as a 49er against the Chargers, which head coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed on Tuesday.

Goodwin was listed ahead of Adam Snyder in this week’s depth chart and said the news won’t change his approach.

“Any time you come off a bad game, you can’t wait to play again,” the 6-foot-3, 318-pounder said. “Hopefully we’ll have a better outing this week. We are playing against another 3-4 defense and this offensive line is going to come out and play hard.”

Protection is key for the 49ers, who face last year’s No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL, coached by their former defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

“If you keep Alex upright, you’ll put up points,” Goodwin added. “Any time a quarterback is not getting hit, usually great things happen.”

Playing time for Goodwin and the 49ers starting offense has yet to be determined.

“Coach Harbaugh is very hush, hush,” Edwards said on the topic of playing time.

But no matter what the snap count will be for the first-team offense and its key role players, what matters most are the results.

“I’m going to go out there and play until they tell me to come out,” Smith said. “I’m looking forward to getting out there, getting some first downs and hopefully put some points on the board.”

Harbaugh said the starters could play longer than they did against the Texans. But it really all depends on how the game goes.

“We’re trying to really hit a count of close to 80 to 100 plays in the preseason,” Harbaugh explained. “We can’t predict exactly how it’s going to go but it will be more predicated on that than anything else. Making sure these guys are ready to go as part of the plan.”

The 49ers might have a 1-2 preseason record, but not every important development is tied to the win-loss record.

“We’ve stayed healthy, that’s been a real positive,” Harbaugh added. “We’re reset right now mentally and physically to go forward. The next 12 days including this preseason game against San Diego, I’m looking forward to it.”

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