Former 49ers linebacker Gary Plummer still keeps up with the game he loves by providing analysis and color commentary to the KNBR game day broadcast. In his Points of the Game column, Plummer usually offers his expert opinion on the upcoming game by pointing out some of the key match-ups and individual battles you should expect to see on Sundays. Since it's the preseason, Plummer covers a variety of topics as the 49ers gear up for their first game.
First of all I'd like to start out with just saying it's good to be 49ers alumni. I have ran into so many guys during the off-season who are proud to be 49ers alumnus which is great because to be honest there were a few lean years there where guys were kind of laying low. It's interesting because now guys are showing up for charity events and anything that's involving the 49ers. Guys just want to be associated with it and be a part of it, which is a great thing.
I think in large part it's because of the expectation level and hearing Coach Nolan talking about 'if we don't win the NFC West this year, it will be a disappointment.' That's what 49ers players are used to. I know he came out a couple of years ago talking about winning the West and everybody mocked him. Obviously it was a lofty goal, but now it's feasible. It's not only feasible, it's to be expected. And that's the kind of self-imposed expectations that the 49ers were always used to. I think that's a great thing because you get out of a person what you expect.
Before I get into talking about the preseason, I'd like to touch on some of the off-season moves by the club that I think will pay off.
First off was the big splash with getting CB Nate Clements which just proves to a lot of people the commitment that owner John York has to making the 49ers special. The other moves to get LB Tully Banta-Cain and NT Aubrayo Franklin might not be quite as glamorous but those are the kind of moves that can make a difference because you are bringing in starters. I like what they did in free agency and the draft. Also, Scot McCloughan and Mike Nolan are constantly looking for players who can upgrade the roster so if someone comes available in the next month or so who they feel could improve competition or depth, they'll go after them.
Now on to preseason. There are so many things that go into the pre-season.
For the players this is the realization of a dream come true for a lot of these guys. The excitement level for those games is unparalleled. I can still remember my first game in 1983 like it was yesterday. There's the anxiety, anticipation, excitement and the nerves all wrapped into one. One of the things that coaches are looking for is what players can handle that pressure, and the stress.
Historically you look and some people say that the preseason record isn't important, but ironically, teams that have done well in the regular season have played well in the preseason. It's not that important for every team, but obviously in having new offensive and defensive coordinators and just getting a feel for how players react to certain calls I think the preseason will be good for the 49ers.
One of the strengths of (former 49ers offensive coordinator) Norv Turner was his play-calling ability so there are some questions heading into the preseason. What's that going to be like this year? Is (QB) Alex Smith going to flow with those calls? Defensively, there's a lot to be expected this year. Greg Manusky is a guy who hasn't been a coordinator before so the preseason will also be important for him to work on his play calling. A lot of times you think about the preseason being for the players, but in this case it's going to be extremely important for the coordinators as well.
Let's take a look now at these two coordinators and what fans can expect to see on both sides of the ball this year.
Manusky is used to working in the 3-4 system and this might be the year where you see much more of a 3-4 scheme versus the 4-3. That's what he did with the San Diego Chargers and he played a lot of that as well when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs. I believe Mike Nolan will be very involved on that side of the football so I think that transition will be pretty seamless.
On the offensive side of the ball, there's a little bit of an advantage because you have a guy who's been there and has worked with Alex Smith the last two years. Having worked in Norv Turner's system, they're going to keep a lot of the terminology the same and that's going to make things easier for that offense. Hostler is smart and he'll put in some of his new ideas and subtle nuances on that offense. There's a lot of people saying this is the third new offense in three years for Alex but Jim Hostler has stayed within Turner's system, and Alex is also a smart kid. He graduated early from college and had almost a 4.0 GPA so he can handle that. I think the fact that they have a couple of more weapons on offense this year actually allows Alex to just be more confident.
Last year I can remember telling everybody that Frank Gore was going to have a breakout year. People gave me a strange look, but that came true. It's the same situation this year for Alex Smith. I think you've got two solid guys there in Darrell Jackson and Ashley Lelie. I also love some of the things that Mike Nolan preaches about this position. If you're not going to be a blocking wide receiver, you're not going to be an every down player.
I know fans want to think that the Broncos will come in looking for revenge after the 49ers ended their playoff hopes last season, but none of that stuff comes into play, especially with a veteran coach like Mike Shanahan. What you see in this game is again that opportunity for those young guys to set a tone. You might be a late-round draft choice, or an undrafted free agent, and you have no time to waste. You have to be a guy who comes out and makes an impact from day one and that starts right here with that first game.
A guy who you think about as far as a breakout year is (TE) Delanie Walker. He's a guy who just stood out all pre-season long last year and I expect him to have a big year. A late-round pick, he would've been a guy who got a lot of playing time last year had he not been injured. I think some of the young guys have to look at that this year. It's always those one or two guys who surprise coaches, fans and teammates and hopefully you're not one of those veteran guys who get replaced by them. That's part of the excitement, that's part of the stress, that's part of what makes football so special. It's the competition, and it starts Monday night against the Denver Broncos.
In addition to his Points of the Game, Plummer will answer questions from our fans during his game day broadcast. During the week, fans can pipe in via email with their questions about the grid-iron action and then tune in to the KNBR broadcast to see if Plummer selects your question. Email to:email@example.com* *