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Notebook: Defense Looks Deeper

Posted Aug 10, 2012

If Perrish Cox had his way, the 49ers would have scored seven more points on Friday night at Candlestick Park. As it was, San Francisco kicked off the 2012 preseason in convincing fashion, claiming a 17-6 win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Playing in his first NFL game action since Jan. 2, 2011, Cox made a conspicuous return to the field in his 49ers debut. The talented cornerback, who signed a two-year deal with the 49ers this offseason, ran with the second-team defense throughout the night but stayed on the field until the end of the game.

He capped off his night in memorable fashion, recording a diving interception on the left sideline with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Cox was all smiles after the contest, but he left the field with much to be desired.

“I’m kind of low-key mad,” Cox said with a laugh. “They came in the huddle and said on that play, if we get a pick or a fumble to stay down. I saw the end zone but I had to stay down.”

While Cox thinks he would have been able to waltz in the end zone for a pick-six, his teammates weren’t so convinced. Upon hearing Cox’s proclamation in the locker room after the game, fellow cornerback Tramaine Brock shouted, “He thought he would have scored.”

Cox had a fitting introduction to the 49ers Faithful in his first action at Candlestick Park. It was also just the latest chapter in what’s been a warm welcome to his new organization.

“Just to be around the whole environment, it’s back to what I love doing,” Cox said. “They brought me into make plays and that’s just the whole focus. I’ve got a lot of energy built up in me and I’m ready to go out and have fun.”

Cox’s play wrapped up a dominant evening for the 49ers defense, which held Minnesota out of the end zone and just 208 yards of total offense. San Francisco gave up some uncharacteristic big plays to start the game – including a 52-yard pass from Christian Ponder to Stephen Burton – but the defense clamped down when it mattered most in the red zone.

Defensive captain Patrick Willis and the first team unit played two series on Friday night, allowing 127 yards from scrimmage and 6 points, and leaving plenty of room for improvement.

“We’re not satisfied about some of the plays we had out there as a defense,” Willis said. “But at the same time, one of the things we always talk about is that we might bend, but we’re not going to break.”

Once the second unit took over the game in the second quarter, the Vikings gained just 81 yards the rest of the way. Fourth-year defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois started the game in place of Justin Smith, who earned a veteran’s day off, and stayed in the game with the second unit as well.

In their four series of action, the second-stringers allowed just two first downs, with one coming via a defensive pass interference call. Whether it was through the air or on the ground, the 49ers had an answer for every play call.

As he looks at his teammates heading into 2012, Jean Francois said he sees a deeper and more well-rounded group than last year’s menacing defense.

“We go one, two, you might get a third. You might have three teams worth of ‘D’ on our team that can actually play on this level,” Jean Francois said. “We’re real deep.”

The night did feature a scary moment for the 49ers as second-year star Aldon Smith left the game in the first quarter with a bruised hip. Smith stayed on the field for one more play after injuring himself but was soon replaced by Parys Haralson. Following the game, Coach Jim Harbaugh said the 49ers “dodged a bullet” and that Smith will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.

Among the backups, there were several notable individual performances.

Hours before the opening kick-off, the 49ers formally announced Demarcus Dobbs changed his jersey to No. 40 and changed his position to tight end.

While Dobbs didn’t have any catches on the day, he still saw plenty of action on his natural position of defensive end and on special teams. Reserve outside linebacker Eric Bakhtiari also notched two sacks on the evening and led the team with four tackles.

Notes and Quotes

Local product Giorgio Tavecchio had a busy debut in his first NFL preseason action. The young, left-footed kicker took over field goal and kickoff duties for All-Pro veteran David Akers, who rested on the sidelines.

Following Brett Swain’s 4-yard touchdown catch on a fade in the first quarter, Tavecchio knocked through the extra point to split the NFL uprights for the first time. The Moraga native and Cal grad received a hearty congratulations from Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley following the made attempt, who gave him a helmet-to-helmet bump and words of encouragement.

The rest of the 49ers rookie class also got a heavy dose of action. First-round pick A.J. Jenkins recorded two catches for 20 yards, including a 15-yard reception for a first down, while LaMichael James carried the ball three times for 15 yards.

“First impression, I was a little anxious,” James said. “I was just trying to get going, just hit a little more. It’s all fun. It’s really good for me to get out there and play around a little bit just to get used to it and make this transition from college to the NFL.

Sixth-round pick safety Trenton Robinson played with the second team, while undrafted wideout Chris Owusu led the 49ers with three catches for 35 yards and Nathan Palmer had three catches for 21 yards.

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