Earlier Niners Live brought you a summary of the game with “49ers Remain a Work in Progress, Final Score Den 33 SF 14,” that followed an in-depth pre-game article to get you fired up and ready for last Saturday’s contest. Here we will break down the performances of players vying for roles and roster spots along the Offensive Line, running backs and quarterbacks.
After easing into the week of the second pre-season game against the Denver Broncos, the 49ers entered into a high evaluation period with two joint practices that culminated with Saturday’s game against the Broncos. This week we will give you a quick summary of the joint practices followed by a game analysis. Closing with this writer’s expectations for week three against the Minnesota Vikings.
Last week we opened the series after a Kansas City Chiefs game that featured the starting offense playing only 2 drives. This week, not only did the offense play longer in the game, but with two days of practices preceding the game, the starters got a lot of work in. Because the teams were in a practice setting, Coach Shanahan opened up the playbook a little more and ran plays that will be used during the regular season. And right on cue, Brian Hoyer also showed what we hope is his regular season form. Hoyer aggressively attacked the Denver man-to-man scheme with deep passes during a full pad practice on Wednesday. Then followed that up with more short and intermediate passes on a helmets and shoulder pads practice on Thursday. Hoyer not only showed command of the offense, but also, an ability to use the various types of weapons this offense will have on display. As we all know, Hoyer is locked in as the starter for this season.
Unfortunately, sloppy play, turnovers, and a return of the penalty bug haunted Hoyer and the first string offense again this week. Hoyer, on the night, 8-11, 89 yards, and an interception on a pass late over the middle to Marques Goodwin. That pass was behind Goodwin and ripped from his arms as he went to the ground. Had the pass been in front of Goodwin, not only would it not have been picked, but it would have at least netted a first down. During this game, Hoyer showed he is most accurate on bootlegs and plays where he takes short drops. These plays allow Hoyer to get rid of the ball quickly and to pre-determined reads. Plays where Hoyer needed to decipher the defense, he seemed to pull the trigger late and hence deliver passes behind his receivers or into coverage.
But there is a quarterback battle playing out in front of our eyes. Or should I say, that played out in front of our eyes? From the looks of things, the rookie has given the vet a run for his money. With no one believing having Matt Barkley as a third quarterback on the roster is a good idea, that may just be literal money. C.J. Beathard is playing well enough to not only to have forced this competition, but to win it, and send Barkley out of Santa Clara. Beathard played well enough during the two-day joint practices that Shanahan stuck with the idea of Beathard being the first off the bench during Saturday’s game, and Beathard put a stable hold on the backup quarterback job.
During the game, Beathard was an efficient 7-12 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown to college teammate George Kittle that covered 29 yards, to go along with a beautiful pitch and catch to Aldrick Robinson that covered 39 yards. When Beathard played, the team looked much more clean, disciplined, and without the numerous penalties and miscues. Beathard was given a B+ for his effort Saturday. Hoyer a C+.
Barkley did get in the game but he is fast becoming an after-thought, playing only long enough to complete one of two passes. Grade Incomplete.
RUNNING BACKS: (F+)
Carlos Hyde had continued his strong training camp while being steadily pushed by rookies Joe Williams and Matt Brieda, not to mention the savvy vet Tim Hightower, and draft day trade pick up Kapri Bibbs. Offensively, this is one of the most highly contested camp battles as all the participants have consistently kept their best foot forward and steadily on the gas. During the joint practices, no back took a step back.
The battle for Hyde’s backup this week had to be won during the game where no backs that touched the field did much to separate themselves. Williams and Brieda did not see much, or in Brieda’s case didn’t see any, action with the offense as the workload behind Hyde was picked up by Bibbs and Hightower. Hightower rushed four times for -1 yards and a fumble, and Bibbs added only six yards on his four carries. The leading rusher was Hyde, who pitched in a measly 26 yards on his eight attempts, an average of a pedestrian 3.3 yards per tote. His longest rush was seven yards. All totaled, the team had 37 yards on the ground. Hyde seems to freeze up when the front side of the play is a little cluttered. His fumble on a well-placed pitch came on this type of play. And on a few plays, Hyde was indecisive when faced with the same situation.
If you have been reading this wondering how a grade of an F+ can be given, the answer is the A+ given to fullback Kyle Juszczuk. Juszczuk showed why he was made the prize pickup of free agency. From opening running lanes to the side reception where he caught a pass in the flat, showed excellent agility in skating a tackler and using his speed to get up the field for the first down before plowing over the last man who got him to the ground on the 21 yard pass play. Not to mention on the second drive of the game being split out wide as a wide receiver and looked at as the first read on the play. For a fullback, those are the kind of plays that haven’t been seen around these parts since 44, the greatest number in 49ers history, Tom Rathman. And Rathman never showed that kind of wiggle.
Raheem Mostert looks like he is battling Victor Bolden Jr. for a roster spot as the KR. Mostert had 42 yards on two returns, while Bolen put up 184 yards on five returns, with a 104 yard touchdown.
OFFENSIVE LINE: (C)
With the Broncos missing three of their top interior defenders this week, it would seem at least one of the guards battling for a starting job, Zane Beatles and Brandon Fusco, would make a strong case for themselves. Not the case. Guard play was up and down during the practice sessions, while the three starters on the line, tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown, and center Daniel Kilgore held their own very nicely. Brown was called the best tackle in the league by Von Miller, who one upped his praise of Brown from last year’s joint practices. Game day proved to be much like practice.
Once again the center and both tackle positions held up well in pass protection during this game. Run blocking is another story. Especially with the starters. This offense is based on an outside zone running scheme. Which means on most running plays the tackles and the tight ends must set the point of attack. Staley disappointed in this area. Staley consistently struggled to take control of his man and move him anywhere. I don’t know if it is his age catching up to him or a need to refocus in the weight room. Trent Brown has continued to improve in this area. Kilgore was just as on as he was off in the run game. Both of this game’s starting guards, Fusco and Beatles, needed to do a better job getting on the second level defenders. Once again, the team only amassed 37 yards on the ground.
Three positions are set and it is looking more and more like the guards are as well. From the non-starters, it only looks like Eric Magnusson is making a move towards pushing for a starting spot on the line, and that’s at guard. After playing center last week, and playing well enough to be named to the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week, Magnusson lined up this week with the second string line at right guard. He held up well in pass protection and aggressively attacked the second level throughout his time in the game. His play these past few weeks may have earned him a look on the first team. We will find out in practice next week.
Expectations for Next Week against the Minnesota Vikings:
Injuries on the defensive side of the ball has the defensive-minded head coach of the Vikings looking for answers and players to step up and fill big roles in both the front seven and in the secondary. Standout defensive lineman Shariff Floyd (injured), linebacker Chad Greenway (retired), defensive backs Trae Waynes, Terrence Newman and Andrew Sendejo (all injured) were all starters at some point last season and all have missed significant time this training camp. The good thing for Zimmer is that he has some young players looking to use this as an opportunity to make a name for themselves. Not to mention this is a defense that still has outstanding players throughout both the front seven and in the secondary. Edge player Everson Griffen will test Staley in both the ground and passing games. And linebacker Anthony Barr will prove to be a test for Zane Beatles to get a hat on him while trying to open lanes for this week’s runners. This defense will provide all three position groups a true test of not only their conditioning, as they will go three-quarters, but their effectiveness against a truly stout and aggressive unit. If there was ever a chance during this training camp for someone to lock down or take a job, this is the game to do it.
49er updates, interviews and news:
On a Niners Live side note:
Team captains for last Saturday’s game were (all former #Broncos): LB Elvis Dumervil, G Zane Beadles, LD Dekoda Watson, RB Kapri Bibbs (via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle).
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving Staff Writer @NinersLive.net and Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims