Hurtling toward the Earth end-over-end, the pigskin finally came to a stop in the palms of
It was an NFL game ball.
The 2011 preseason had officially started seconds earlier, when the ball was teed up on the 35-yard-line 70 yards away on the turf of the Superdome and booted downfield. And while Hunter, the 5-foot-7-inch, 199-pound running back from Oklahoma State, was the first 49ers rookie to touch the ball in Friday’s preseason opener against the Saints, he wouldn’t be the last.
By the time the clock ran out on San Francisco’s 24-3 loss, the latest crop of 49ers rookies showed it has plenty to offer for this season and beyond.
“They were just able to make plays and we weren’t able to stop them from making them,” first-round pick
In a disappointing outcome in their first NFL appearances, newcomers like Smith, a physically-gifted linebacker, and quarterback
Smith, the 6-foot-4, 263-pound Missouri product, wasted no time in showing why the 49ers made him the No. 7 overall pick in April’s draft. He debuted on San Francisco’s third defensive series on Friday, establishing himself has a destructive presence early.
Smith spent much of his night in the New Orleans backfield, as he totaled five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Smith’s unique combination of size, speed and strength was on full display in the third quarter, when he blew past his opponent and tripped up New Orleans backup quarterback Chase Daniel for a six-yard loss, making him lose control of the ball. It was also the 49ers lone sack of the evening.
“It definitely felt good just getting out there, getting those butterflies out,” Smith said. “Just getting your first experience in the game, that felt good.”
Following a slow start to the game, the 49ers offense picked up the pace with Kaepernick under center for the team’s sixth offensive series. On a third-and-3 from the San Francisco 27-yard line, Hunter nabbed a pitch from Kaepernick and took it 13 yards around the left end of the line for a first down. Hunter carried the ball seven times for 29 yards.
Three plays after Hunter’s run, Kaepernick appeared to sneak the ball past the first-down marker after scrambling on a third-and-2 play, but it was nullified by a block in the back call. No matter, as the 6-foot-5 Kaepernick stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike to wide receiver
“I’m trying to do everything I can to make sure I’m ready for when I have the opportunity to try and show and perform to be a starter and take advantage of it,” Kaepernick said. “I think tonight was the first step to try and make that progress.”
On the ensuing play, Kaepernick again showed good pocket presence and turned a potential 8-yard-loss into a one-yard loss after evading the rush. Later in the quarter he would scamper for 28 yards to help set up a 59-yard field goal from
“There’s a lot of things I can learn from today, a lot of things I can improve on,” Kaepernick said. “Next week I won’t make those same mistakes and get better moving forward.”
While Smith’s pro debut was certainly impressive, he wasn’t the only rookie defensive lineman to impact the game.
On special teams, safety