Assume The Position: Battles Heating Up
Jim Harbaugh continued his run as one of the most unpredictable head coaches in the NFL last Friday against the Chiefs. While Andy Reid ran his starters out for the whole first half, the Niners’ starters were pulled after one series. The offensive line stayed in for most of the first half to help protect Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien. For the rest of the first team, it was a short night.
There were some noteworthy performances by some of the backups. Let’s dive right into some of those chart-changing performances:
» Colin Kaepernick played four snaps. He threw two passes and completed one for minus-3 yards. While conventional wisdom says you want Kaepernick to establish a rapport with his new wide receivers, Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are comfortable enough with their third-year signal caller and may not want to tip their hand. McCoy and Tolzien have struggled mightily, and that continued. Even with the first-team offensive line, both were inaccurate and had trouble going through their progressions.
» The battle for the No. 2 quarterback became even more muddled when B.J. Daniels looked sharp in the fourth quarter, even leading the backend of the roster to a game-winning drive. Daniels is undersized, at 6-foot, but as we’ve seen from Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, being short isn't a death sentence. Daniels possesses a strong arm and phenomenal athleticism, which may make him a great candidate to back up Kaepernick. With the competition seemingly wide open now, Daniels has a very good chance to claim a roster spot. Look for the Niners to keep McCoy or Tolzien as a more traditional backup, but Daniels will be the developmental third-stringer and occasional gadget player.
» In bigger news, the 49ers cut bait on 2012 first-rounder A.J. Jenkins and sent him to Kansas City for another 2011 first-round bust, Jonathan Baldwin. The implications of this deal are probably more on the financial side. The Niners will take a cap hit this year, but save some room next season. The move is good for both players. Baldwin probably has more legitimate talent, with his size and speed, while Jenkins has a slighter frame and doesn’t fare well against contact.
» This proves that the 49ers’ receiver battle is still completely up in the air. With Harbaugh confirming that Mario Manningham will start the regular season on the PUP list, there’s one player we can cross off the list of impact players to start the season. I envision Kyle Williams lining up across from Anquan Boldin when the offense takes the field on Sept. 9. Baldwin and Austin Collie may offer the most talent, but also have questions about their maturity (Baldwin) and injuries (Collie).
» Marlon Moore may have a roster spot sewn up already. He's taken just a few snaps in the preseason, but all have come with the first team. He offers some versatility on special teams as well. Rookie Quinton Patton also seems to have a stranglehold on a roster spot. Despite missing time with a fractured hand, he's been running great routes, while demonstrating an exemplary work ethic. Not to be forgotten, Chad Hall has impressed the coaches and Ricardo Lockette has made plays on special teams.
» Elsewhere, the secondary battle is actually shaping up to be very good. Eric Wright still isn't close to practicing and may be destined for the PUP or even IR. The other competitors for playing time have been competing well in the preseason. While Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are entrenched as starters, the third corner is a de facto starter because so many teams play three wide receivers in their base offense these days.
» After praise was heaped on Tramaine Brock for his play since Chris Culliver went down with a torn ACL, Perrish Cox stepped up big time against Kanas City. He picked up a couple of sacks and was active in coverage. Cox is a forgotten man in the cornerback battle. Brock was handed the No. 3 job when Culliver went down and the spotlight is already on Nnamdi Asomugha to revitalize his career. After what Vic Fangio called an “up-and-down” camp just about a week ago, the former Eagle has taken steps toward securing a roster spot. The veteran cover man didn't allow a single catch in the game against Kansas City and is certain to get plenty of looks this weekend against the Vikings. While the Niners will not possess any true shutdown corners, it looks like they’ll have enough competent players to offer a variety of looks to opposing offenses. If they can give their defensive front enough time to get to the quarterback, the Niners’ defense will again be one of the more formidable groups in the league.
» The true regular season dress rehearsal for San Francisco hasn’t taken place, so the receiver and backup quarterback pictures are murky. The way Harbaugh and Roman operate, we may not know the starting wideouts until Week 1. At least after Sunday’s game against the Vikings, there may be a little more clarity.