Former 49ers linebacker and now 49ers Radio Network Analyst Gary Plummer breaks down last week's highs and lows and then talks Raiders.**
First I'll start off by pointing out some of the things I saw in Monday night's game.
Alex Smith's confidence level from last preseason to this preseason was night and day. To see the weapons that he had, there was no fear there. He was very confident to go to Darrell Jackson who was covered by the best corner in the NFL in Champ Bailey. It was a perfectly thrown ball, the coverage was great and he put the ball right where it needed to be. That was exciting because it's a preview of what's to come. The pass to Arnaz, that is one of those throws you have to have the attitude of a Dan Marino or John Elway to make that kind of throw. He didn't hesitate and that's a big difference. He's not throwing to where guys are, he's throwing to where guys are going to be and that takes confidence in the operation, the offense, the protection and his receivers.
The great thing about that is that the first unit was working without arguably their best player on offense in Frank Gore. I thought that Michael Robinson showed that he can be a legitimate 2nd string running back in the NFL. Maurice Hicks played well too, although I still see him as a third down back and a big-time help on special teams. Thomas Clayton did a great job when he was in there. He's got time to develop still and could end up on the roster or the practice squad.
Moran Norris continues to blow people up in the running game and the offensive line looked very sharp. You have to be happy if you are Trent Dilfer and you are going in there with Joe Staley, Tony Wragge, David Baas and Adam Snyder. I think for a veteran quarterback to not have to go in with a suspect offensive line is tremendous because that can be disconcerting when you've been a starter and are used to top protection. Joe Staley can start at right tackle right now on a lot of NFL teams, and it might happen here before season's end.
I was impressed with Taylor Jacobs. He's been a much maligned guy in his career who hasn't really lived up to his potential and he looks like a guy who could definitely do that this year. CJ Brewer did some nice things late, and I thought Jason Hill did a great job blocking.
I was disappointed in the run defense because it was pretty much non-existent on that first drive, but Bryant Young and Aubrayo Franklin were missing and they are big differences in there. Ronald Fields continues to show a lot of hustle and penetration into the backfield. Sam Rayburn looks like a guy who will be exactly who we need, someone who can get into that rotation, and give a guy like BY or Marques Douglas a rest.
Nate Clements just looks smooth. He's so built for a corner and that's unusual. Our corners have gotten out-muscled against Arizona's big guys and that is a great thing to see Clements out there playing the way he does. I think he'll match up on both sides this year and be a very physical presence.
The standout on defense clearly goes to Tully Banta-Cain, who was just a beast. You don't see that very often in the NFL. I've been amazed when I had the opportunity to play with BY in some of the things he's able to do to arguably some of the best athletes in the world, and Tully did exactly that as well. He was planting guys in the lap of Jay Cutler. I didn't realize he had that kind of strength. Setting the edge in a 3-4 defense is so important and that's not a concern anymore. Just mark it down because it's done every time Tully is in there.
I think Joe Staley looked a little nervous at the start but by the end of the game, he looked like a veteran player. I think there's a very real possibility he could be a starter, not just on the nickel defense. I think Derek Smith played very well and he will remain a starter, but it could be a matter of where Patrick will fit in. It could end up being at the other inside position.
The worst part for the defense was the tackling, but sometimes you can let that go in the first game because there hasn't been a lot of contact in camp. That'll be addressed this week and you'll see a different tackling team on Saturday, and if not, you'll see some guys who won't be here anymore. Once it's repeated behavior, that's when guys get an apple and a road map.
It was fun to watch guys like Tarell Brown and Dashon Goldson. That pick that Brown made, he really made an unbelievable break on the ball. I'd like to see some more of Ray McDonald this week because I didn't see him show up as much as I expected.
I'd like to see either Joe Cohen and Isaac Sopoaga really step up and have someone show they really want that backup job. I'm interested to see more from Parys Haralson. He looked a little rusty which is hopefully just because he missed a bunch of games last year. Brandon Moore missed some tackles, which isn't like him. In this game, I'd like to see Manny Lawson show up more and look less hesitant and be more of a playmaker like Banta-Cain.
The operation for the entire team was phenomenal in game one. The tempo on offense, in and out of the huddle, shifts, motions, different groups, that takes a ton of practice and it's evident that Jim Hostler knows what he's doing. Those guys are comfortable with this offense.
Defensively, after the first drive the unit came right back with the three and out and that was good to see that operation with Greg Manusky worked. He made some adjustments and they got together and so there were a lot of good things to point to.
Now to the Raiders.
With a new guy like Raiders head coach Lane Kiffin, you're going to see a coach who wants to make a big splash, as opposed to what we saw last week with the Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. Kiffin will want to make a big deal out of this, not only with his players, but with the fans because of the 49ers/Raiders rivalry. This game could likely be a little more emotional because of that.
The game is a big deal to fans in this are, but the reality is that most of the players on the current roster aren't from the Bay Area so they don't understand the rivalry to its fullest. That's what this old rivalry is all about really, the fans. For the players it's just another game, especially since it's in the preseason. For veteran players, it'll probably be twice as much playing time as they had last week. It's the opportunity to hone your skills a little bit against different competition, which is always good. But as far as the rivalry, it's strictly for the fans.
Ironically, I've heard Raiders fans over the past couple of years complain that 49er fans have been too raucous. The big deal is usually made about playing in Oakland and in "The Black Hole", but again I've heard from some Raiders fans that they're scared for their life going over there to Monster Park. It's a good thing because for years it has always been the Raiders with the intimidating crowd. I think you're going to get a much more passionate preseason 49ers crowd for the Raiders game than you saw last week with Denver. There will be more energy in the stadium for the players, which is always good. It's just a different feel for 49ers fans when they go against the Raiders. There will be more energy in the stadium for the players, which is always good
For the 49ers, it's almost like looking in the rear view mirror. The Raiders are exactly where the 49ers were three years ago, coming off of a 2-14 season and picking a quarterback to lead your franchise to greatness. The 49ers did that with Alex Smith and now this year the Raiders picked Jamarcus Russell and hired a brand new coach. All those things seem very parallel.
The 49ers have built through the draft, they've put a heavy emphasis on the offensive line, and have been more selective of whom they get in the free agent market. If you look around the League, the teams that have been successful have done that same thing.
Al Davis likes to do things his way, which I would say probably hasn't worked since Jon Gruden left. If you're going to be successful in the NFL right now, you have to do it like the 49ers have been doing it. We'll see if Kiffin can convince Davis of that!