Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR analysis and color commentator Gary Plummer is back again this year with his Points of the Game. In this column, Plummer will preview the upcoming opponent. Check out his thoughts about Saturday night's contest against the Packers.
When the 49ers host the Green Bay Packers this Saturday night, I think it's going to be interesting to see how different both Alex Smith and Aaron Rodgers paths have been. Alex Smith has been a starter from day one and Aaron Rodgers has had to wait for four years. There are pros and cons to both of those situations.
Rodgers was able to learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Brett Favre. I'm not so sure that Favre is a great player to learn from in terms of the fundamentals, but If you look at the great quarterbacks including Joe Montana, those are the guys who can improvise and make plays. The one thing I'm sure Rodgers learned from Favre was how to have passion for the game. He's also been in the same offense for four years now. That's a big advantage for Rodgers.
On the other hand, Smith is with his fourth coordinator in four years. He was able to learn a lot of things from Trent Dilfer, but what Rodgers learned in four years from Favre was obviously advantageous for him.
With Rodgers' situation, I don't think there's a guy on the planet that could feel more comfortable in terms of the support that the organization has shown him. They let a future Hall of Famer go and they let the face of the Green Bay Packers go, because they wanted Rodgers to start this year.
Smith has gone from being a No. 1 draft choice to struggling with a bad team, to having a pretty good year as a starter, to having probably his most emotionally frustrating season last year with his shoulder injury. And now he's in a quarterback battle. There's no comparison between their careers in that regard.
Another unique dynamic to this game is the return of Packers head coach and former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy to Candlestick. You're always going to hear coaches that go back to the city of their former team say, "This isn't about me, this is about the game."
Having been in that situation, that's the politically correct thing to say, but there's always a little bit of something that you kind of want to send a message to your former team.
But McCarthy has already sent a message to the entire league. He's been amazingly successful – more so than any coach in Packers history in his first two seasons. To have the best winning percentage of any of their coaches is an amazing statement.
On the field, first and foremost, I'm looking forward to seeing Josh Morgan, and whether he can do it again? This time he goes against arguably the best pair of starting cornerbacks in the NFL in Al Harris and Charles Woodson. The Packers play a lot of man-to-man whereas last week he faced a lot of zone coverage.
I also want to see Joe Staley back. I think he missed some time in training camp and that affected his play. Having the two full weeks of training camp, I think you're going to see the real Joe Staley. I want to see him do a better job at the left tackle position.
It would be nice to see more of that pass rush and the pressure that we saw from the first team defensive unit last week against Oakland. It was beautiful and it was done without blitzing. It's not necessarily all about getting sacks on a quarterback, it's the hits and pressure on a quarterback that is so very important in terms of helping out your secondary. We saw that a couple of times with the first unit, but they were only in there for about a quarter. I'd like to see more of that kind of pressure from them.
One player I'm interested in seeing perform is newly acquired inside linebacker Takeo Spikes. I'm not sure how much he is going to play, but wow. What an interesting set of inside linebackers the 49ers are going to have with the defensive rookie of the year and a former Pro Bowler. I think because of Justin Smith, he was one of the reasons Spikes came out here. With Justin telling him, "Look dude, this isn't like how it was when we were back in Cincinnati. You got a bunch of talent on this defense, with a number of guys flying around to the football that are capable of making plays." He's got to be excited about it. I'm really looking forward to seeing him in action.
But the best part of watching preseason football is keeping a close eye on the position battles. Who is going to take advantage of their time? Is it going to be someone like Dashon Goldson, taking advantage of the time he gets with the injury to Mark Roman? Also, who is going to be that strong outside linebacker? Is it going to be Parys Haralson or Tully Banta-Cain? That's great for fans, because nobody can take a day off when you're fighting for a starting job.
I've talked about all these things that I want to see and the most important battle of all is the quarterback situation. I talked about it a lot last week. One of these guys has to, not should, not probably, not could, has to establish themselves as the No. 1 guy. If it doesn't happen this week, now the anxiety level raises dramatically in the organization and in the minds of players.
As a player, you have to say the politically correct thing, "I can't worry about the next guy, and I have to worry about my own job." Trust me – there are guys who are worried about it. The longer it goes on, the more controversial it becomes and the more of a distraction it becomes.
I believe that one of these guys has to step up and make the decision for Mike Nolan, Mike Martz and Ted Tollner, a slam-dunk. It can't be, "Well I like this guy's ability to scramble and I like this guy's knowledge of the offense." Somebody has to step up and be a clear cut winner. That could happen this week. If it doesn't, it is going to exponentially be more of a distraction going into that third week.
Another high profile position battle is at the "ted" linebacker position between Jeff Ulbrich and Spikes. I think Ulbrich obviously has an advantage with his knowledge of the defense. He will be the first to admit that he's limited in his tools, but Ulbrich makes the most of what god gave him. Having said that, Spikes has been to the Pro Bowl. He's a guy who has made big play after big play. It's the whole potential greatness versus steadiness. You're going to get steady play out of Ulbrich.
The other part of the equation that hurts Jeff is that he's such a great special teams guy. If he's not the starter, he's going to be a good soldier and he's going to run down as a wedge buster on the kickoff team and be a great cover guy on the punt team. He'll never be a cancer in the locker room. I think those things actually work against him in this situation. Ulbrich is going to have to have the games of his life in the next two games to beat out Spikes
Lastly, the thing I really can't wait to see is the home debut of wide receiver Isaac Bruce. It sure will be fun to hear the fans yell "Bruuuuce," and have it be a positive thing. When I played against the Rams and Isaac Bruce was a member, nothing was more annoying than having him catch 11 or 12 balls and hear 60,000 people say "Bruuuuce." I'm definitely looking forward to seeing the fans jump on that bandwagon.