Former 49ers linebacker and now 49ers Radio Network Analyst Gary Plummer breaks down last week's highs and lows and then talks Bears. **
Last week I talked about wanting to see continued improvement in the guys who came out looking good, and that I was looking for other guys to step up and push for jobs.
That's exactly what I thought happened against the Raiders.
Parys Haralson stepped up and played well after struggling some in that first week and that was something I had hoped to see. I thought Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson continued to play well on defense, and hopefully the elbow injury won't slow up Goldson for too long. I think Marcus Hudson also adds great depth for the 49ers in the secondary with his athleticism.
I'm still waiting for Isaac Sopoaga or Joe Cohen to show they are the clear winner for that backup role behind Aubrayo Franklin when he returns. I definitely thought Isaac held the point better, which is really his job. It was definitely one of his better games but that's what you should expect from a guy in his fourth year. There is no more time for him to experiment or develop. It's time for productivity. That's just the nature of the business.
It was nice to see Sam Rayburn make some plays. That's obviously the reason they got him, so that there would be a nice rotation since he can play all along the line. Ray McDonald got better and you can definitely see he's got some potential.
I said last week that I thought Joe Staley would end up a starter, but that I didn't know where. This week Coach Nolan moved Derek Smith over to TED and Willis will start this week at MIKE. I think it's a great thing to insert him in there because now he'll learn how to play next to Derek, Tully Banta-Cain, and Manny Lawson. I really think it's going to strengthen the team, and it's unfortunate for Brandon Moore because you know he wants to be out there, but I think he's going to be a better situational pass rusher. That's what he did so well two years ago, and I think Brandon will strengthen the special teams. I think that was a great move.
Offensively, I was really impressed with Ashley Lelie. He's starting to make plays and is making a definite push for being that third receiver, although Taylor Jacobs continues to impress. It's so ironic that one of the weakest points of this team last year is now going to be considered one of the strengths. If you look at the last two weeks, overall the 49ers have better receivers than the Broncos and the Raiders. We've got a strong crew and it'll come down to Jason Hill, Brandon Williams and Bryan Gilmore for either the fifth or sixth spot.
Justin Smiley is doing a nice job of holding David Baas off. Baas has obviously improved and that's forcing Smiley to improve. Kwame Harris has improved this year, but I just think Joe Staley is so impressive. He really is amazing, and I'm just excited about the whole offense. Scot McCloughan has talked about it as well, that this could be the best offensive line group he's ever seen, which is a phenomenal statement when you consider he was with Steve Hutchinson and Walter Jones in Seattle. But he's talking about the line 1-10, not just the first five. This is a very strong 49ers offensive line.
The tight ends are doing an excellent job blocking. I was really impressed again with Alex Smith. To have a QB rating of 115 and 122 the last week, it just looks easy to him right now. Partially the reason is that teams aren't doing exotic coverages or blitzes, he'll see a little more this week but that's what you expect out of a starter in the NFL. The first games should be easy and Alex has certainly made it look that way.
If Alex comes out of this game with a rating over a 100, you have to feel really good about that – doing that without Frank Gore – it's just going to be that much easier once the season starts. I said it the last two weeks and I'll say it again, I really believe this is a break out year for Alex now that he's surrounded with a great running game, excellent protection and a very good passing game. The sky is the limit for him.
I think the best example so far this season of how well-versed he is in the offense was a play that was a five step drop where he looked to his right to freeze the safety and then threw that touchdown pass to Delanie Walker. He threw the ball to the outside shoulder, away from the defender. It was a text book teaching film for what you want from a quarterback. There was actually zero chance for any defender to defend that play. He looks away, and doesn't even care where the defender is. In my mind what he was thinking was as long as I look that safety off???, all I have to do is throw the ball to the spot away from the defender, in this case another safety in man coverage, and I just have to let one of my guys make a play. He had to have confidence in the guy he was throwing the ball to and a tremendous amount of confidence in himself. It just shows me that he has grasped what I used to hear Steve Young talk about which is that you have to anticipate and throw the ball where the guy is going to be and not where he is.
This third preseason game is the time when coaches want guys to get a feel for what it's like coming out after halftime, so Nolan will have his starters play at least into the third quarter for one series. This game is the most important for the veterans and starters because they are playing against other starters for a longer period, and it's the last chance to feel good about yourself and what you are doing before the start of the season. After this game, you want there to only be little things to shore up before the home opener. It's also the best chance to test your conditioning.
It's also a great test because the Bears have had maybe only two changes to their starting lineup and so obviously they were good enough to get to the Super Bowl last year, so they are a great measuring stick for the 49ers to show where this team is at right now. It'll be interesting to see how Alex Smith and company react to what I'm sure is going to be less of a vanilla approach defensively. He'll see more pressures and more changes in coverage from Chicago.
What's so impressive about Mike Nolan is that he's taken everything into account, and one of the things he has said is that he wants his coordinators to make their decision about being in the booth or on the field by this game. I think it'll be Jim Hostler on the field and Greg Manusky up in the booth because that seems to be where they look the most comfortable. After having a flawless operation in week one when Jim was on the field, there were a few issues last week with Jim in the booth and if it's not broke don't fix it.
The offense has been smooth at home, so now it'll be a bit more of a test because there will be crowd noise and that can disrupt things. It'll be a good chance for this team over the next two weeks to work out any of those kinks.
Lastly, it's been a great preseason so far in terms of injuries, so you hope that continues this week, really for both teams. You hate to lose guys in the exhibition period. The 49ers would really like to start the season healthy and a lot will depend on this game since most of the starters will see their most significant action.