Defense Gets Ready for Denver

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When the 49ers host the Denver Broncos this Friday night at Candlestick Park, it will be the 33rd preseason meeting between the two teams.

It will also be the first matchup of Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan against the franchise he served as head coach for the past three-and-a-half years.

But facing Nolan for the first time isn't something that consumes current 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who was hired by Nolan at the start of the 2007 season.

Manusky's merely focused on getting his players ready for the regular season.

"I've kept in touch with him during the summer and I've spoken to him a couple of times," Manusky said after the team's first of two Tuesday practices. "I'm not worried about what Mike's doing down there, but it's a situation that we're playing each other in the first preseason game. Best of luck to him, he's a fine coach and I'm looking forward to playing against him."

Manusky won't be preparing for the Broncos offense like a regular season game. Instead, he'll make sure his players are comfortable running the plays in his system.

"It's let's run what we run and see what they do," Manusky explained. "It's not like we're going to game plan them per say. I want to see our players perform and see if they can perform at a high fashion. The first preseason game you're grading the players and not so much the scheme."

For the players, Friday's game is a chance for the defense to carry out head coach Mike Singletary's vision for the team.

"As a defensive unit we want to show some toughness," starting free safety Dashon Goldson said. "We want to be physical out there. And be an aggressive secondary, contesting every football thrown to the wide receivers."

Manusky said the amount of playing time for his starters has yet to be determined.

To Goldson, that's fine. He's going to make sure he comes out ready from the very first snap of the game.  

"As a unit, we get tired of beating on each other so it's a time to come out and show what we've been doing through the offseason, OTAs, minicamps, and training camp," Goldson said. "It's time to just turn it on somebody else."

The 49ers rookie class will also be looking to show what they've picked up since joining their first professional football team. But Manusky doesn't have unrealistic expectations for his youngsters; he simply wants to see improvement.

"They're making steady progress as rookies," Manusky said. "They continue to get better and try to make as many plays as they can."

Rookies like fifth-round draft pick Scot McKillop see Friday's game as a great

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opportunity to gain experience with the starters likely playing a series or two.

"It's valuable," the backup inside linebacker said. "You're going to make mistakes but the important thing is that you have to learn from them.  This is our first opportunity to go up against someone from a different team and not our family.  It's special and I'm looking forward to it."  

Even more special than getting reps on the field for the rookies is playing in their first game in the NFL. Butterflies are to be expected, but it's how the rookies will harness those nerves that will be a key in the game.

"Not many people get the opportunity to play in the NFL," McKillop said. "I'm going to take full advantage of that.  I'm excited, nervous, and have a lot of mixed emotions.  I think that once we get out there and you get that first drive over with, that first tackle, the nerves will be away.  Then, myself and my fellow rookies will be fine."

In a similar vein, the veterans will be looking to capitalize on their snaps with roster cuts looming in a couple of weeks.

"I've got a good feeling that everybody is coming out there taking this thing seriously," Goldson said speaking on behalf of all the 49ers veterans. "A football game is a football game, whether its preseason, a walk-through or whatever it is. You've got to know what you have to do and do it to the fullest."

Tuesday Practice Notes

For the second straight day, cornerback Marcus Hudson intercepted an Alex Smith pass. But this interception happened during 1-on-1 drills. Hudson cut in front of wide receiver Mark Bradford on a seam route down right sideline and came down with the football.

Smith was intercepted during the team period, when Goldson intercepted Smith's pass on a comeback route intended for Josh Morgan by the left sideline.

Smith rebounded with a couple of nice deep touch passes. He threw one perfectly over Dre' Bly into the arms of Arnaz Battle for a 15-yard completion.

The play of the day occurred when Damon Huard launched a deep ball to Morgan, who out-jumped Bly and caught the ball at its highest point.

Later in the morning practice, Hudson came up with another turnover after he stripped Morgan from behind. Hudson celebrated by jumping on top of a bunch of blocking bags on the sideline, knocking them over like bowling pins.

Rookie tight end Bear Pascoe had his finest catch of camp, hauling in a fingertip catch down the right sideline. He beat Manny Lawson's coverage to catch up to Shaun Hill's pass.

The 49ers afternoon practice was devoted entirely to special teams.

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