The San Francisco 49ers cut their roster down to 75 active players on Monday, and Kenneth Acker's name was still one of them. That is thanks to the second-year cornerback's strong performance of late in his opportunity to play with the first-team defense.
Acker was inserted into the starting lineup for both joint practices against the Denver Broncos last week before receiving the start on Saturday night in the team's third preseason contest.
The cornerback took full advantage of the opportunity by recording two tackles and two passes defended in the game, including a second-quarter interception of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Acker also broke up another pass in the end zone intended for Cody Latimer to force the Broncos to settle for a field goal.
"It was nice to be in there with the ones (first team) and everything, showing that the coaches have confidence in me," Acker said. "I felt good out there playing."
On the pick, Acker covered Broncos star receiver Damaryius Thomas stride-for-stride down the right sideline, positioning himself perfectly to make the interception in the end zone.
The play, in a sense, proved to Acker that he belongs in the NFL. Preseason or not, there aren't many quarterback/wide receiver combinations that have been more potent in recent years.
"It's somebody that I saw before I got to the NFL," Acker said of Thomas. "It feels good just knowing I can stack up against those guys I've been watching all these years."
The 49ers sixth-round pick in 2014 was placed on injured reserve before the beginning of last season, missing all of his rookie campaign with a foot injury. Now the corner is working towards earning a roster spot and cementing his role with the 49ers defense in 2015.
Acker is well aware of what will be required of him in order to accomplish that feat.
"Consistency," stated the corner. "I need to make sure that I'm on my 'Ps and Qs' and making sure I'm at the right place at the right time so I don't have a drop off. That's the big thing. I can't just have a good game or a good showing and then go back to old ways. (I've got) to make sure everyday that I'm getting better."
The 49ers first-team defense as a whole was outstanding against the Broncos, keeping Manning out of the end zone and holding the Broncos high-powered offense to just six points in the first half.
"It was fun out there," Acker said. "Everybody was communicating. Everybody was feeling good. Really, whenever we're out there, we're not really looking at the scores. It's just another drive for us. Every time we just look what down it is and get ready to play."
The highlight of the defense's night, as was well documented, was NaVorro Bowman's nine-tackle, two-sack performance.
Acker spent most of his time chasing around Broncos receivers, but that doesn't mean he didn't get to admire the linebacker on a few instances.
"I'm watching just like you are at certain points," Acker said. "It's just good to be able to play with a person that you know is a great person in this league. It's cool to be able to play with those guys I've been looking up to and those guys I've wanted to play with for all these years."