A pair of scout team wideouts have helped the 49ers tremendously this week. Both wide receivers with size and speed helped San Francisco's defense prepare for what lies ahead.
With the team gearing up for a Monday meeting with the Arizona Cardinals, a team that features wideouts Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts (8 touchdown catches combined), the 49ers defensive backs feel ready for a challenging perimeter matchup.
"We have a great scout-team receiving group," starting cornerback Tarell Brown said in reference to first-round pick A.J. Jenkins and practice squad wideout Ricardo Lockette. "Those guys push us every day. Those guys are definitely out there to beat us every day."
Both wideouts compete against San Francisco's starting defensive backs throughout the week with the intent of getting the defense ready for gameday.
"We try to compete, try to simulate it like it's a game every day," Brown added.
This week, Lockette (6-foot-2, 211 pounds) has made for a good Fitzgerald look-a-like. The perennial Pro Bowl wideout (6-foot-3, 218 pounds) is close to Lockette in size but has far exceeded him in production.
Jenkins (6-foot, 192 pounds) has practiced against the first-team defense in the role of Roberts (5-foot-11, 195 pounds).
Both scout wideouts have been a huge help to the 49ers as they prepare for their second NFC West game in as many weeks.
The practice battles have translated to in-game success as well. San Francisco currently ranks as the league's No. 1 pass defense through seven weeks, allowing 173.4 yards per game.
"It's guys playing well together," Brown said of the ranking. "Our collective group is playing well together, we're all on one page. If we do give up a pass it's nothing too major. With us going out there to compete, make plays and keep everything in front of us and competing for the ball, I think we'll have a good weekend."
The 49ers are also the only team in the NFL to not allow a touchdown pass of 20-or-more yards.
That could be challenged this week against Fitzgerald, one of the most competitive wideouts in the league on deep vertical passes.
"When you think of the Cardinals you're going to think of Larry Fitzgerald, obviously," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "And he's one of the top receivers in our league, if not the best receiver in the league. Future Hall of Famer and justifiably so, and he's a tough guy to handle. He's big. He's fast. He's strong. He's tough to tackle after he catches it. So, him in and of himself is a tough chore."
Brown believes Fitzgerald's all-out nature sets him apart from other wideouts on the schedule.
"He always competes for the ball," Brown said, "Regardless of if it's a great ball or an average-thrown ball."
San Francisco won't devote one player on Fitzgerald for the entire game. The NFL's No. 1 defense (allowing 272.3 yards per game) will rely on a group of cornerbacks to match up with one of the NFC's top playmakers.
In addition, to Brown, Carlos Rogers and Chris Culliver will likely see action against Fitzgerald on Monday.
Brown, however, expects to see the most of Arizona's No. 11. Brown said he'll be lined up mostly on the team's 'X' receiver, the position Fitzgerald plays."They move him around a lot," Brown added. "They do a great job of putting him in the slot, putting him in three-receiver spots as well. I think we'll all have an opportunity to go against Fitzgerald."
Based on their practices this week in Santa Clara, the 49ers feel prepared for what lies ahead, a competitive contest against a standout receiver and an emerging cast of perimeter players.
Roberts, too, has stood out on film. The third-year player leads the Cardinals with five touchdown catches, tied for fourth-most in the NFL.
"He's a lot more polished than he was last year," Brown said. "He's doing a great job of getting a lot of separation from DBs. He's using his hands a lot better."
But as much as they try to replicate what they'll see on Monday, there's only one Fitzgerald, an elite player to defend on a weekly basis.
"Body control," Brown said when detailing Fitzgerald's game. "He uses his hands well – he gets in and out of his breaks well."
So if it's Brown responsible for stopping the receiver with six, 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his first eight years in the league, that's perfectly fine with Brown, a six-year veteran with plenty of experience under his belt.
"Our coaches have confidence in all the corners on the field, the safeties as well," Brown said. "We all can cover and feel like we match up well.
"We'll be up for the challenge."