Former 49ers linebacker and KNBR analysis and color commentator Gary Plummer is back again this year with his Points of the Game, a weekly online column that previews the upcoming opponent. Check out his thoughts about Friday night's game against the San Diego Chargers. **
First of all, I absolutely think the right guy won the quarterback job in J.T. O'Sullivan. In reading the coverage of it, it seems like a lot of the reporters were talking about whether or not Alex Smith and Shaun Hill got a fair shot. Well, all off-season those two guys were the frontrunners, and they had their chances.
I don't think they so much as lost the job as O'Sullivan took it away from them. He won it, and he won it from a disadvantageous position. So more power to JT. That's the kind of guy you want, a guy who can handle the pressure. There was no doubt in anyone's mind at Soldier Field that O'Sullivan is the right decision.
Traditionally in the fourth preseason game, it's one series of play for the starters, unless it's a three and out. There are always some starters who will play a couple of series and I think we'll see that just because Coach Nolan wants to see that they're healthy and capable of playing in the regular season. For the coaches, you have to see if Ashley Lelie is ready to go. Also, you have to see if David Baas is ready. But do you need to see Frank Gore play? No. Gore might not play at all, and if he plays it will be one series and that's it.
Defensively, the guys who are going to have to play a little more are the guys who are still competing to be the starter because I don't think all of those spots on defense have been determined yet.
I'm going to be very interested to watch, not only who gets the starting jobs, but to see if Ashley Lelie shows enough to warrant being kept on the roster or does he get cut? Is Josh Morgan going to continue to excel and be the starter on opening day? We'll obviously see Isaac Bruce for no more than a series or two. I'm also curious to see who will be playing the inside backer position next to Joe Staley. Will it be Takeo Spikes or Jeff Ulbrich?
All of those things will be very interesting to watch.
On the flipside of it with the San Diego Chargers, you will see next to nobody playing. They have one of the deepest rosters in the NFL and are a favorite to go all the way this season.
You won't see LaDainian Tomlinson, you won't see their starting quarterback much and other guys will see very few snaps. This is a game where it's more important for the 49ers than the Chargers. It's certainly more important for a heck of a lot of individuals for the 49ers. Not just to make the team, but to determine if you are going to be a starter on opening day. Those are big deals.
It looks like Mark Roman has beaten out Dashon Goldson, but does that mean Goldson relaxes now? No. He has to continue to be ready because you are always one play away from being a starter. I think as poorly as the special teams have played, Goldson has played his tail off on special teams. He's making big blocks and tackles all over the place.
Guys that have already lost the competition, it certainly doesn't mean to relax and put it on cruise control. You still have to work and try and get better each week. You could be the guy at any point during the season.
Another battle that is unresolved is among the wide receivers. That battle is so difficult to judge. A guy that has been impressive has been Dominique Zeigler. He wasn't just catching those little hitch passes against no-name players. He was doing it against nickel and dime corners for the Chicago Bears, one of the best defenses in the NFL. He's probably not going to be on the roster opening day, because it's a numbers game, but he could wind up on the practice squad because I think he's doing the right things. He's taking the opportunity to be a better player this year having that offseason working with Coach Sullivan and Duane Carlisle and rest of the weight staff.
I'll also be watching the outside linebacker position battle. It's still something the coaches are trying to figure out. Who is the guy going to be, Parys Haralson or Tully Banta-Cain? It hasn't been as clear-cut as the quarterback position. Both guys can help as far as being situational players, but the coaches are going to want somebody at that position to be an every down guy. I'll really be paying attention to that.
I'm also going to be checking out David Baas. I want to see if he's good to go. Also, will Adam Snyder be ready to go on opening day? If both of those guys are, what do you do with Tony Wragge, who has had an excellent camp. I think that spot on the team has gotten better.
I want to see what happens with the fullback position; it looks like right now it's going to go to Zak Keasey, because of his versatility and his ability to excel on special teams. He fits under that old saying, "The more you can do." He certainly can do more than be a lead blocker. He's a guy who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Especially being a former linebacker, he's going to be a much better coverage person on kickoff and punt coverage teams than an offensive player like Moran Norris. Though it looks like he may have a starting job, how does he respond to that? Does he respond by being complacent, or is the excitement more as he continues to improve.
One thing that was really fun to watch last week was literally getting to go inside of Mike Martz's mind. It was funny because I played for the Chargers and Don Coryell. A lot of the principles that Martz uses comes from those offenses from Coryell. The Chargers had a Hall of Fame tight end in Kellen Winslow and they used to run the receivers to one side and isolate the tight end on the backside.
They did that twice in the game against the Bears. They know that's a nightmare matchup against any opponent. If you cover Vernon Davis with a linebacker, he'll exploit him with speed. That happened on the first big pass to Davis on the Bears sideline in front of Hunter Hillenmeyer. And it happened again when he was covered by a strong safety and he was too big for the guy, but the ball was underthrown.
It was neat to watch. A lot of us have wondered how Davis will be used, and that's the wealth of knowledge you get from a guy like Martz. He's been doing it for so long. He has that kind of encyclopedia for a brain that is filled with reading coverages and knowing what plays to run against what defenses and being able to exploit them. Those passes to Davis were two perfect examples of that.
You won't see a lot of that scheming in the last game, because the third game of the preseason is known as a regular season dress rehearsal. But it's safe to say, Mike Martz is in regular season form already.