For 49ers reinforcements coming soon

By Gabe Schapiro

Despite having a couple of shaky weeks, the San Francisco 49ers (6-2) are having another strong season. They sit in second place in the NFC West, just one game behind the Seattle Seahawks. They have some tough matchups left on their schedule, but the good news is that they have some reinforcements coming.

Before the season even started they were dealing with several major injuries to some key players on their roster, and during the season have dealt with some other odd circumstances that have kept a couple players from being active. While others have stepped up and compensated well, several of those players are on their way back and could be contributing to the stretch drive sooner rather than later.

In Week 16 last season wide receiver Mario Manningham tore his ACL and PCL. It’s been a long road back, but he has now resumed practicing with the team and is tentatively expected to make his return in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers. While he isn’t a huge difference maker, he could bring a much-needed boost to a passing attack sorely lacking in weaponry outside of Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. San Francisco should remain a run-first time, but adding another weapon or two for Colin Kaepernick to utilize should help keep defenses honest.

Cornerback Eric Wright was signed in early August, but has spent the last six weeks on the non-football illness list. He was recently cleared to resume practicing, however, and could be activated shortly. The 49ers secondary has been very good so far this season, and represent the third best defense against the pass in the NFL this year. With that said, however, having more depth is never a bad thing. Wright has had his fair share of off the field problems, but there is little doubt that he is still a talented player.

In terms of making a larger impact, the return of star linebacker Aldon Smith appears to be imminent. Smith last played in Week 3, but has been in rehab since. The hope is that he has dealt with some of his internal demons, and has been activated from the reserve/NFI list. The return of Smith, one of the best pass rushers in all of football, could be a huge boon for the an already strong 49ers defensive unit. Despite having only played in three games this season, he still leads the team in sacks with 4.5. It is still uncertain whether he will make his return in Week 10 or 11.

Looking a little farther down the road, Michael Crabtree remains on track to return in a few weeks. Last season he was easily the best receiver the 49ers had, and his return could be huge for the offense. He is truly a game changer, and the plan for now seems to be to ease him back into action with the hopes that he can be as close to 100% as possible come playoff time. In the span of a few short weeks a sluggish passing attack could take on an entirely new look with the additions of Crabtree and the aforementioned Manningham.

It’s impressive how the 49ers have managed to adjust to having several of their key players out for extended periods of time this season. If they can get all of these players back to full strength soon, they will once again pose a scary foe for any opponents as they make another playoff run.

Receiving game the weak link in 49ers offensive scheme of things

by David Zizmor

SANTA CLARA–The big difference right now from last 49ers season is in the receiving core, the 49ers just don’t have the wide receivers who can make plays at the moment. Until Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham get back their going to have to focus a little bit more on the run game and that’s what they’ve been doing in the last couple of weeks and that’s been to their advantage.

Once they focus more on running they’ll do a lot better actually in the first couple of weeks they obviously had that great game against the Packers where 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for over 400 yards but since then Kaepernick hasn’t thrown much more than 200 yards per game. He’s been kind of quite and part of that is that the Niners have no one to throw to.

They have Anquan Boldin who let’s face it the guy’s really good but Boldin is really the only wide receiver they have whose produced anything if you combine all the rest of the 49ers receivers catches over the course of the season if you added them up they won’t come out to what Boldin has on his own.

Vernon Davis has been great he had that fantastic first half against Arizona where he just dominated like seven catches for 170 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Those are the only two guys making catches and making plays and it’s not going to cut it for the 49ers you need more than two players to succeed in this game. You can’t have a dynamic passing attack where there is only two guys for the defense to stop.

Most defenses can figure out how to stop two guys, obviously Arizona has a pretty good defense especially in their secondary and they couldn’t stop Davis. So the 49ers can find their way in the passing game and they can make plays but over the course over four quarters Davis had they had a great first half and he was pretty quiet in the second half and the 49ers decided their running game was the way to go.

Arizona is also a pretty good running defense and the Niners wore them down, they just kept running and running and running then they eventually busted through to have an amazing 9.5 minute 18 play drive. That really sealed the game for them late and if they can do that they can beat anybody.

You have a nine and half minute long drive your going to win almost every time that means your just dominating the line of scrimmage and if you do that you win that’s usually how it works. As far as the passing game is concerned we know that Kaepernick has the ability but the 49ers problem right now is it’s Boldin and Davis and nobody else.

David Zizmor covers the NFL for Sportstalk radio

Gore tramples Rams on the way to 49ers win, 35-11

By Gabe Schapiro

September 26, 2013

On Thursday night the San Francisco 49ers (2-2) returned to their roots, and in a ground and pound game dominated the St. Louis Rams (1-3), at a final score of 35-11. As many expected they would following two bad losses, the 49ers featured Frank Gore early and often, and he managed to run all over St. Louis, finishing with 153 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries. As a team they finished with 219 yards on the ground. Colin Kaepernick played a smaller role, but avoided mistakes and made plays when he had to.

Both teams came out of the gate a little slow. The Rams offense seemed to click first, managing to string a few plays together. As a result they got on the board first, with a 40-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein to give them an early 3-0 lead. St. Louis, however, struggled to find an answer for the 49ers defense from there.

Through most of the first quarter the San Francisco offense looked eerily similar to the past two weeks, with Kaepernick struggling to find open receivers and a couple of long runs from Frank Gore being their only positive gains. Heading into the second quarter, things took a turn for the better. Halfway through the quarter Kaepernick orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by two long connections to Anquan Boldin, including a 20-yard touchdown grab on third-down and twenty. The touchdown was there first score in over 73 minutes, and the 7-3 score represented their first lead since the opener against Green Bay.

Their improved play continued. On the next Rams possession Donte Whitner intercepted a deflected pass from Sam Bradford in the end zone. The 49ers again immediately mounted a drive, culminating in a huge 34-yard touchdown run from Gore on a fourth-and-one play, bringing the score to 14-3.

By this point in the game the Rams looked lost, repeatedly going three-and-out. Meanwhile, San Francisco kept piling on.

In the third quarter Kaepernick and co. marched down the field with relative ease again, to the tune of an 88-yard, 11-play touchdown drive than took over five minutes off the clock. This time it was a 12-yard pass to Vernon Davis in the corner if the end zone that finished it off, giving them a 21-3 lead.

In the fourth, during garbage time, the Rams finally found the end zone, but it was sandwiched between two more 49er touchdowns. Anthony Dixon punched in a one-yard touchdown run following a San Francisco fumble recovery on the three yard-line, and Kendall Hunter got into the action as well, scampering in for a 29-yarder of his own. Hunter’s run put this game on ice, bringing the final to 35-11.

Kaepernick finished the game with 15 completions on 23 attempts, 167 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He did fumble once in the fourth quarter on a muffed hand-off attempt, but by that point the game was out-of-reach.

Boldin was the teams leading receiver, hauling in five receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown. In addition, rookie Quinton Patton and Jon Baldwin played small roles, but both had their first career receptions in a 49ers uniform.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker NaVorro Bowman was the star, and more than filled the void left by the absence of Patrick Willis. He was all over the field, and racked up six tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, and deflected a pass. Ahmad Brooks had a good game as well, chipping in seven tackles and one and a half sacks.

While it was almost nothing but good news on this night, it did appear as though the 49ers may have a couple new additions to the injury report. Patton limped off the field in the second quarter and did not return. In the fourth, Joe Staley had his legs caught in a pile up. He walked off the field under his own power, but was doing so very gingerly. No report yet as to how severe either injury is, but they will have a long week to hopefully recover.

Next week San Francisco returns home to take on the Houston Texans on Sunday October 6, at 5:25 PM.

49ers look to rebound against Colts after sobering loss

By Gabe Schapiro

Last week the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) were hit with a reality check in the form of the vaunted Seattle Seahawks squad. This Sunday they will look to regain their composure when they face off with the Indianapolis Colts (1-1) at 1:25 PM, back home at Candlestick Park. The Colts are a considerably easier task, but they are a young and improving bunch that can’t be underestimated either.

In what was expected to be an intense dog fight between two division rivals, last weeks matchup was ultimately dominated by the Seahawks, who sent the 49ers packing with a decisive 29-3 victory. The game remained close up until the third quarter where Seattle began to pull away, and the fourth quarter where they hammered the win home. Against what may be the best defensive unit in the league, the San Francisco offense couldn’t get anything going. In uncharacteristic fashion the 49ers turned the ball over five times, with Colin Kaepernick being responsible for four of them (three interceptions, one fumble). The bright sides were few and far between, but Kaepernick did manage to make a few good runs after last week primarily relying on his arm, rookie safety Eric Reid hauled in his second interception in two games, and overall the defense held up better than the 29 points allowed would indicate.

While it may be hard to remember after an ugly outing like that one, the 49ers remain one of the most talented teams in the league. The Seahawks may present problems in the future, but for now they need to set their sights squarely on the incoming Colts.

Indianapolis is coming off of a close loss to the Miami Dolphins, 24-20. They are led by sophomore quarterback and former first overall pick Andrew Luck. He is young but in many ways plays with wisdom beyond his years. His primary weapons are Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Colby Fleener, and running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Through two games their offense is right in the middle of the pack, tied for 15th in the NFL in yards. On the defensive side of the ball they have struggled a bit, ranking 23rd.

While the Colts present an easier task, unfortunately San Francisco will be heading into the matchup having to deal with a few of fresh injuries.

In last weeks loss the previously mentioned Reid suffered a concussion in the second quarter. It is not initially believed to be serious, but with concussions it is hard to know for sure. He will need to pass the NFL’s concussion protocol before being allowed to practice and play again. Should he have to miss any games, Craig Dahl will replace him in the starting lineup.

Star tight end Vernon Davis suffered what is currently being called a hamstring strain, but he is still undergoing further testing to assess the severity of the injury. It is not yet known if he will be able to play this weekend, but if he can’t rookie second round pick Vance McDonald will likely be asked to take on a larger roll in the offense.

More seriously, starting nose tackle Ian Williams suffered a broken ankle in the first quarter, and has been placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Glenn Dorsey, signed this past offseason from the Kansas City Chiefs, will be starting, and played well last week in relief of Williams.

All three potential losses to the lineup are concerning, but thankfully the 49ers have better depth than most, and should be able to adjust accordingly.

This week look for San Francisco to try and re-establish their offense early and often. After an electrifying opener from the likes of Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin, both were almost entirely held in check by the Seahawks. In addition, Frank Gore has yet to really get it going this year, but he will now be facing a Colts defense who has allowed the fourth most rushing yards during this young season.

Game Notes: The 49ers have signed FB Owen Marecic, formerly of the Cleveland Browns….Aldon Smith has 3.5 sacks through two games, leading the team…Eric Reid has both of the teams interceptions.

 

49ers at Seahawks, week 2 preview

By Gabe Schapiro

This Sunday, September 15 at 5:30 PM, the San Francisco 49ers (1-0) will be taking on their division rivals, the Seattle Seahawks (1-0) at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Last season the Seahawks surprised many by finishing the season 11-5 just behind the 49ers in the NFC West, and clinched a Wild Card birth. In the playoffs they were eliminated by the Atlanta Falcons in a tightly contest divisional playoff matchup, losing by a final score of 30-28. The upstart Seattle squad, led by QB Russell Wilson, brings an extremely talented team back this season who most expect to once again challenge San Francisco for the NFC West division crown.

Last weekend the 49ers came away with a victory over the Green Bay Packers in what turned into another high scoring affair, 34-28. These two NFL powerhouses traded scores four times before San Francisco managed to grab onto the lead for good with just under six minutes remaining in the game. Colin Kaepernick and new wide receiver Anquan Boldin were the unquestioned stars from this one. Kaepernick, who is perhaps known best for his running ability, showed that he can beat you with his arm as well, throwing for a career high 412 yards and three touchdowns. Boldin, who was acquired via trade this past offseason from the Baltimore Ravens for a sixth round draft pick, clearly wanted to make a good first impression in his debut. He hauled in 13 receptions for an incredible 208 yards and a touchdown. That total was just nine yards shy of his career high.

The 49ers hope to carry their momentum from the big win in their season opener into week 2, which presents another tough matchup. Kaepernick already appears to be living up to the hype and then some in his sophomore season. In addition, their offense seemed to barely miss a beat despite the loss of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham. Their defense didn’t perform like most have gotten used to seeing, but Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense isn’t one that any time will have an easy time totally keeping in check. They limited their run game, managed to get to Rodgers for a couple of sacks, and rookie safety Eric Reid had seven tackles and an interception in an impressive debut.

Despite Wilson’s talents, the Seattle offense isn’t as explosive as Green Bay’s, but their defense is stronger. So they will prove to be a very different puzzle for coach John Harbaugh and company to solve. Last weekend the Seahawks struggled more than most expected they would against the Carolina Panthers, losing for much of the game before squeaking out a victory with a late come back. It remains to be seen whether it was more of a statement about Seattle or Carolina, but regardless a hard fought game should be expected this weekend.

For these two teams who had almost identical records last season and split the season series, expect more fireworks to fly when they renew this budding rivalry, even if they are more of the gritty hardnosed variety rather than the highflying action seen last week.

49ers vs Packers, week 1 preview

By Gabe Schapiro

As the now famous song goes, are you ready for some football? The games that count are finally upon us. Football fans everywhere officially have plans for at least the next 17 Sundays, Mondays, and the occasional Thursday. For the San Francisco 49ers (0-0), the hopeful journey back to another Super Bowl run begins this Sunday at 1:25 PM at Candlestick Park, where they will be taking on the Green Bay Packers (0-0). The matchup is a rematch of last year’s divisional playoff round, where, in a game featuring almost nothing but offense, the 49ers eliminated the Packers on the back of a record-breaking 181 rushing yard performance from QB Colin Kaepernick.

Green Bay, the reigning NFC North Champions, went 11-5 last season, but lost some veteran leadership this offseason. Most notably, WR Greg Jennings and S Charles Woodson were lost to free agency, and WR Donald Driver retired. They still feature a high-powered offense, however, led by the newly anointed highest paid player in the NFL, QB Aaron Rodgers. His receiving corps of Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb remains strong, TE Jermichael Finley is a coverage headache, and new second round draft pick Eddie Lacy from Alabama should give the team a better running threat then they’ve had in years. On the defensive side of the ball they aren’t elite but they have talent, headlined by OLB Clay Matthews, DE B.J. Raji, and their first round pick from this years draft, DE Datone Jones out of UCLA.

They present a very tough opening week for San Francisco, but it’s one that they matched up well against last season. The 49ers have their stout defense returning, one that allowed just two touchdowns in four preseason games. The Packers weak link on offense is their offensive line, one that the likes of Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Justin Smith and company hope to take advantage of to give Rodgers some trouble. The San Francisco offensive attack, especially with Kaepernick leading the read-option, was one that Green Bay simply had no answers for. They’ve had an offseason to learn and adjust, but whether they will be able to slow down the dual-threat that Kaepernick brings to the table remains to be seen.

Beyond Kaepernick, the 49ers final 53-man roster consists of several weapons that the Green Bay defense will have to account for. At receiver, hoping to pick up the slack for the injured Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham, they have the new additions of Anquan Boldin through free agency and their fourth round pick Quinton Patton. Boldin is a battle-tested veteran who already appears to have an established chemistry with Kaepernick. Patton, who due to a finger injury only played in two preseason games, has already shown flashes of his explosiveness and potential. Of course, the immensely talented Vernon Davis is back at tight end, as well as the workhorse Frank Gore in the backfield. Davis had a down year last season, but flourished in the playoffs, and Gore has been the definition of consistency through his career.

These two historic franchises both appear to have the pieces in place to be strong contenders again this season. One way or another, it should prove to be an awfully entertaining game as this rivalry intensifies.

Game Notes: This week the Packers added two recently cut 49er quarterbacks, Scott Tolzien and Seneca Wallace…The 49ers traded LB Cam Johnson to the Colts for a future seventh round draft choice, and signed WR Chris Harper, a fourth round pick this year, from the Seahawks practice squad.

Preseason preview week 4, 49ers at Chargers

By Gabe Schapiro

In the final tune up for the regular season opener, the preseason schedule comes to a close this Thursday at 7pm when the San Francisco 49ers (2-1) face off against the San Diego Chargers (1-2) at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers finished a disappointing 7-9 last season, a distant second place to the AFC West Champion Denver Broncos. As a result, they enter 2013 with a new general manager, Tom Telesco, and a new first time head coach, Mike McCoy. Their roster is headlined by many of the same key players, namely QB Phillip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates, and RB Ryan Mathews. There have been some changes, headlined by the acquisition of DE/OLB Dwight Freeney and their first two draft picks, OT D.J. Fluker and the controversial ILB Manti Te’o, but with Rivers and Gates declining, there chances of contending appear slim.

Last week San Francisco came away with a decisive 34-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Colin Kaepernick, who played through he first quarter, his longest action of the preseason, started off slow completing just one of his first six passes before settling in. He led an 11 play, 84-yard touchdown drive, culminating in a five yard touchdown pass to rookie Quinton Patton, who was making his 49ers debut. The game was also highlighted by an 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Lavelle Hawkins and a pair of rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter from Jewel Hampton and Anthony Dixon. The 49ers defense was stout once again, but did surrender their first two touchdowns of the preseason schedule.

With the regular season opener just a week and a half away, position battles are becoming clearer and the final roster is starting to take shape.

Prior to last weeks game veteran QB Seneca Wallace was signed to a one-year contract, adding to the competition for the backup job behind Kaepernick. In addition, yesterday it was announced that they had released Scott Tolzien, leaving Colt McCoy, B.J. Daniels, and now Wallace to fight it out. McCoy was unspectacular last week, completing 73% of his passes but also throwing an interception. Daniels and Wallace saw limited action late in the game, completing two-of-three and two-of-two passes respectively.

At wide receiver, Patton finally got onto the field, starting the game as the third receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Marlon Moore, and didn’t disappoint, hauling in a team high four receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown. Jon Baldwin made his debut following the trade last week that sent AJ Jenkins packing, finishing with two receptions for 23 yards. Best guess has Boldin, Moore, Kyle Williams, Patton, and Baldwin making the final roster, with a possible sixth wideout spot still being up for grabs.

On the defensive side of the ball, the picture looks pretty clear. During a press conference from defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, it was announced that rookie FS Eric Reid and DT Ian Williams would both be getting the nods to start the opener. They have both been the odds on favorites to start over Craig Dahl and Glenn Dorsey respectively, but this was the first official word. He also indicated that CB Nnamdi Asomugha has the edge for the third corner back spot, but is a little banged up which has prevented him from officially locking it up.

Following the upcoming game against the Chargers, it will finally be time for some regular season action. For San Francisco the journey starts on Sunday, September 8 at 1:25pm up against the tough Green Bay Packers, at Candlestick Park.

Preseason preview week 3, 49ers vs Vikings

By Gabe Schapiro

In the third game on the preseason schedule, this Sunday, August 25 at 5pm, the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) will be taking on the Minnesota Vikings (0-2) at Candlestick Park. Last season the Vikings went 10-6, clinching a wild card birth before being eliminated in the first round by their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers. This offseason the Vikings made several big moves to try and improve on what was a surprisingly successful season last year. The most note-worthy ws the trade of their star but at times controversial wideout Percy Harvin, the signing of Greg Jennings to replace him, and their impressive haul of three first round draft picks.

Last week the 49ers squeaked out a win against the Kansas City Chiefs, 15-13, predominantly thanks to the leg of new kicker Phil Dawson and the arm of rookie quarterback B.J. Daniels. Dawson went
three-for-three on field goal attempts, and Daniels led the 49ers on their only touchdown drive of the game on a 13-play drive in the fourth quarter. A seventh round pick out of South Florida, Daniels didn’t receive a single snap in the teams first preseason game against the Broncos, but turned some heads with his play last week. He is fighting for the backup job behind Colin Kaepernick with Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien.

The new most note-worthy development as the roster begins to shake itself out with two preseason games remaining, was the announcement on Monday that A.J. Jenkins had been traded to the Chiefs in return for fellow receiver Jon Baldwin. In a classic change-of-scenery type move, both receivers are former first round picks who have struggled to make an impact since arriving in the NFL. Jenkins appeared in just three games last season and didn’t record a catch. He hadn’t been showing much so far this preseason, and so it appears that San Francisco finally decided to move on. Baldwin, a 26th overall pick from the 2011 draft, has played in 26 games over the last two seasons, hauling in 26 catches for 579 yards and two touchdowns.

Baldwin enters a still unclear picture at wide receiver for the 49ers, and last week failed to bring the situation into any kind of focus. For the second week in a row Anquan Boldin and Marlon Moore were the starters, but remained in the game for just the opening drive. Chad Hall was inserted against the Chiefs starting defense, finishing with two receptions for 39 yards, and a team high five targets. Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins were inserted into the game late, and finished with one catch for 11 yards and two catchers for 20 yards respectively. Undrafted rookie Chuck Jacobs had the one touchdown reception of the game late in the fourth quarter. Kyle Williams and Quinton Patton dressed for the pregame warm-ups, but did not play. As has been the case ever since Michael Crabtree went down, the receiving corp will continue to be possibly the biggest area to keep an eye on through these last two preseason games.

San Francisco’s defensive unit, however, seems to be as stout as ever. The team gave the Chiefs starting offense line fits, and finished the game with seven sacks. The battle at cornerback following the loss of Chris Culliver appears to be going well, with Parrish Cox, Tramaine Brock, and Nnamdi Asomugha all putting in solid outings last week. At free safety Craig Dahl started for the second straight week, but coach John Harbaugh said following the game rookie Eric Reid will be getting looks with the first team defense.

The third game of the preseason tends to be when the starters really start to see more playing time as they gear up for the regular season, so as always, keep an eye on these key position battles, and hope for good health.

Preseason preview week 2, 49ers at Chiefs

By Gabe Schapiro

This Friday, August 16 at 5pm, the San Francisco 49ers (0-1) face off against the rebuilding Kansas City Chiefs (0-1) at Arrowhead Stadium. Despite just being the preseason, this matchup comes with some intrigue. After a dismal 2-14 season last year, the Chiefs underwent a major overhaul. They brought in a new general manager, John Dorsey, and head coach, Andy Reid, who had previously spent over a decade with the Philadelphia Eagles. In addition, the Chiefs got themselves a new starting quarterback. In June these two opponents completed a trade that sent Alex Smith, who was somewhat controversially replaced last season by Colin Kaepernick, to the Chiefs for a couple of draft picks. This will be the first time Smith will be taking on his former team of seven years.

Last week in the preseason opener the 49ers lost to the Denver Broncos 10-6. As is to be expected the assumed starters saw little action, mostly just playing in one series. The first-team offense looked solid, going on a 13-play drive for a field goal in their opening possession. The second and third units have some work to do after combining for four turnovers, but that is what this time of year is all about. As will continue to be the emphasis in the coming three weeks, the preseason is all about staying healthy, settling position battles, and gearing up for the real deal on September 8.

With week 1 in the books, the competition at wide receiver seems to be more up in the air than ever. Anquan Boldin already seems to have an established chemistry with Kaepernick, which is great news moving forward, but after Boldin the depth chart looks unclear. Kyle Williams didn’t play last week as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury. Marlon Moore, Chad Hall, Kassim Osgood, and Austin Collie had solid games. AJ Jenkins, however, struggled. He saw his fair share of snaps, but was targeted just three times, and only had one reception. To make matters worse, on his one reception he promptly fumbled, accounting for one of the teams’ four turnovers. By all accounts Jenkins has the talent, but as of yet just hasn’t been able to put everything together. Keep a close eye on the receiving corp, Jenkins in particular, heading into week 2 against a lesser defense.

The competitions at free safety and cornerback continue as well, although both positions look far less muddled. At safety Craig Dahl started the game last week, but presumed starter Eric Reid had a strong debut, getting a lot of playing time and finishing with six tackles. Looking to step up for the injured cornerback Chris Culliver, the trio of Parrish Cox, Tramaine Brock, and Nnamdi Asomugha did well. The group will look to show what they’ve got against former teammate Alex Smith.

As a whole, expect to see slightly more playing time for all of the starters as everyone gets game ready for the regular season opener.

49ers vs Broncos, preseason preview

By Gabe Schapiro

August 5, 2013

This Thursday, August 8 at 6pm, the preseason schedule kicks off when the San Francisco 49ers take on the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park. This matchup features two of the league’s best squads from 2012, and the two odds-on-favorites to win Super Bowl XLVIII. Last season the Broncos finished 13-3, winning the AFC West before losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers finished 11-4-1, winning the NFC West, before falling to the same Ravens in the Super Bowl.

First the obligatory disclaimer that this is still just preseason football. The outcomes don’t matter and aren’t indicative of how well a team will do during the regular season. Instead, it’s a time to hope for good health, to keep an eye on a few key position battles, to look for growth and improvement from key players, and to hope for good health some more.

San Francisco has already been dealt a couple of blows due to injuries, most notably to their top wideout Michael Crabtree who is expected to be out until at least around week 12 with a torn Achilles. He joins receiver Mario Manningham on the PUP list. The 49ers have a stockpile of receivers in camp vying for roster spots, with really only Anquan Boldin penciled in as a sure thing as the new go-to option for Colin Kaepernick. AJ Jenkins, Kyle Williams, Kassim Osgood, and rookie Quinton Patton have all also been limited or have missed several practices due to minor injuries. The team recently signed Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins to join the fray at the position, which also includes Ricardo Lockette, Marlon Moore, and Chad Hall. The wide receiving corp as a whole may be the biggest single thing to look for during the preseason, both in terms of who can stay on the field and who can seize the opportunity and fill out the depth chart behind Boldin.

More recently, San Francisco lost cornerback Chris Culliver for the season with a torn ACL. He had been penciled in as the team’s third corner behind Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. It’s a big blow at a position that already had questionable depth. Keep an eye on Nnamdi Asomugh, Tramaine Brock, and Perrish Cox who will be fighting to take over the spot.

The other major position battles to watch will be at kick and punt returner, free safety, and nose tackle.

LaMichael James appears to have the inside track to be the return specialist, as he is listed atop the first game release depth chart the 49ers have issued at both kick and punt returner. He struggled when he was given brief looks at returning punts last season, but reportedly has impressed during camp.

At free safety, CJ Spillman is currently listed as the starter. First round pick Eric Reid, who the team traded up to get, however, is still considered the favorite to start game one of the regular season. Craig Dahl has reportedly had a very strong spring, but is on the outside looking in at this point.

Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey are fighting it out for the nose tackle spot. Both have been performing well at camp, but Williams has the edge.

Notes: Star linebacker Patrick Willis suffered a fracture in his right hand, which will require surgery. Willis has a history of broken hands, and most importantly a history of playing through them without missing a step. He is still expected to be ready to go for the season opener against the Packers, but will be sitting out Thursday’s preseason opener.