The 49ers start their preseason this Friday, August 10 with a home game at Candlestick Park against the Vikings. With the first exhibition game only days away, Jim Harbaugh and his coaches stepped up the intensity at practice to get his players ready for the game. Here is a recap of practices from the past week:
Defense Dominates Offense
Last Thursday, the 49ers offense practiced their red zone offense for the first time at training camp and they started out with a dud. On Friday, the offense continued its struggles against the defense in team drills. This time, however, it was not just the red zone where the defense was in full control, but also on team and situational drills. At the end of practice, Harbaugh had the offense and defense compete in a game simulation. On the final play of practice, the offense was down by eight points and had one last chance to tie. The defense stopped the offense with a takeaway from cornerback Tarell Brown and safety Dashon Goldson. After practice, Harbaugh said, “there’s no doubt the defense got the best of them today.”
Jenkins Try’s Punt Retuning
Even if first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins starts the regular season low on the wide receiver depth chart, the 49ers will want to use in some capacity each game. One of those ways could be in the special teams unit. On Friday, Jenkins joined Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams and fellow rookie LaMichael James in practicing returning punts.
Converted Tight End Continues Learning
Defensive end turned tight end Demarcus Dobbs is making a strong case to make the regular season roster with his play at training camp. On Friday, in 9-on-9 drills, Dobbs showed off his blocking skills by sealing off outside linebacker Eric Bakhtiari which allowed running back Kendall Hunter to rush for a long gain.
The following day at practice the offense started to push back against the defense after getting dominated the previous two days. When practicing goal-line plays, the offense scored an impressive touchdown with Dobbs getting behind Patrick Willis in coverage and catching a 3-yard pass from Smith in the right corner of the end zone.
Cornerback Chris Culliver Making A Mark
A big part of the defense dominating the offense had to do with the play of Chris Culliver. The cornerback has impressed coaches with great defending on the 49ers top receivers like Mario Manningham in one-on-one drills. On Monday, Culliver intercepted his fourth pass in the last five days of practice against backup QB Josh Johnson.
Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown are expected to be the starters for the defense at the start of the regular season. Rogers will hold onto his starting spot, however, we should keep an eye on how Brown and Culliver play against the Vikings. Culliver has great chance to jump Brown on the depth chart if he plays well, especially if Brown struggles.
Michael Crabtree Returns to Practice
After a day off from practice on Sunday, the 49ers returned to work the next day with Michael Crabtree joining his teammates for individual drills. While Crabtree did not take part in team drills Monday, he was back to full practice Tuesday participating in all but the two-minute drill. The receiver was most impressive catching a few passes in 7-on-7 drills.
While Crabtree is inching his way back to 100% after injuring his right calf, it is not known whether or not he will play against the Vikings. A lot will depend on how he finishes practices the rest of the week and he will most likely be a game time decision. Here is Crabtree on his injury,
It’s part of football. It’s a physical game. I just know how to deal with it. Whatever the trainer’s got for me. I can go. I think I got a lot of reps today, the only thing I didn’t do was two-minute… I’m healthy. I’m good, good enough to run without pain or anything like that. It was just my calf, I had to stay off of it, didn’t want to do anything serious. That was all the training staff and the coaches.
Colin Kaepernick Will Be No. 2 QB For Exhibition Game
Coach Harbaugh said second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick will be the No. 2 QB against the Vikings this Friday. Harbaugh will use the exhibition games to determine who will backup Smith for the regular season as Kaepernick is locked in a tight competition with Josh Johnson and Scott Tolzien. At practice on Monday, all three backups took second-team reps in various drills, with Kaepernick the most notable with a 10-yard rushing touchdown in a two-minute drill.
The only way Kaepernick does not win the No. 2 job at quarterback is if he starts to have a really bad training camp and plays horrible in the preseason games. Don’t expect this to happen as Kaepernick feels he can be the starting QB for the 49ers, although that is his assessment. Kaepernick is the best QB to backup Smith as he is more familiar with the offense and he has more playing experience on the field. Here is Harbaugh’s thoughts on him,
Colin Kaepernick is making some great strides. He needs to play in football games and he’ll get that opportunity Friday night. They’re all fighting for that job. The competition is close.
First-Team Units vs. Second-Team Units
Monday’s practice saw the first-team offense going up against the second-team defense, and the first-team defense facing off against the second-team offense. The two most notable plays was a 40-yard play-action pass from Alex Smith to Kyle Williams and a nice lead block from rookie guard Joe Looney on Willis. Looney is showing his recent foot injury is not slowing him down. The following day at practice, Looney showed off his athleticism with a block on undrafted cornerback Anthony Mosley. The block allowed Kendall Hunter to rush for a big gain.
Anthony Dixon Shows He Can Block At Fullback
In blitz pickup drills this past Tuesday, Dixon line up as a fullback and did a nice job of picking up incoming rushers for most of the drill. Dixon’s best blitz pickup came against linebacker Ahmad Brooks that allowed QB Scott Tolzien to pass for a 40-yard touchdown to receiver Brian Tyms. So far, Dixon is winning the position battle at fullback. Keep an eye on him for Friday’s game.
Alex Smith, Randy Moss Make Play of Camp, So Far
During a red zone team drills Alex Smith showed improvement inside the 20-yardline with a nice touchdown pass to Randy Moss. Smith floated a throw to Moss, who tapped both feet in the back of the end zone while he made an over-the-shoulder catch, making it the play of camp so far. Let’s hope Smith and Moss can carry this over to the preseason and regular season games. Those types of plays will go a long way to helping the 49ers improve on their 30th ranked red zone efficiency last season.