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August 5, 2007
Banta-Cain, Keasey look impressive

Deep thoughts from Saturday's scrimmage

The Vernon Davis vs. Larry Allen rumble (The Fracas at Practice?) stole the thunder from Saturday's scrimmage, and I realize I wrote virtually nothing about what happened on the field. But I took copious notes, and here are some of my observations:

While Davis was pumping up the crowd on offense, his counterpart on the defense was linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, who will be the primary pass rusher this season. Coach Mike Singletary talked up Banta-Cain in the morning, saying there was no reason why he couldn't be one of the elite pass rushers in the league. Banta-Cain did not disappoint in the scrimmage, "sacking" the quarterback (it was a no-tackling scrimmage) several times and flushing him out on others. Of course, you also have to consider the caliber of competition. With Jonas Jennings sitting out the session, Patrick Estes worked with the first-team offense while Damane Duckett, a converted defensive tackle, lined up at left tackle with the twos. The quarterback also was Trent Dilfer, who was never very nimble and is even less so at age 35.

Alex Smith looks sharp on short passes and crossing patterns. He's been working very hard on developing a quicker release and it showed in the practice. At one point, Mike Nolan had the first-team offense run three straight plays from the 19-yard line. Smith hit Bryan Gilmore and Davis for touchdowns on his first two throws. His third seemed to go through the arms of Arnaz Battle, who may have been screened by safety Dashon Goldson. The point is that all three throws were darts that were right on the money. Smith's deep balls, however, leave a little to be desired.

Speaking of deep throws ... Cornerback Nate Clements intercepted a deep pass from Dilfer that was intended for Ashley Lelie. Clements has an interesting body type for a cornerback. He's not wiry and wasp-waisted like a lot of guys at the position. He's a solid guy with a thick torso and thick arms. And yet he shows ballet-dancer like agility on deep throws - positioning himself better than the receiver and timing his leap perfectly. It was the second day in a row he has made a nice pick on a deep pass.

I watched nose tackle Joe Cohen a lot, mainly because I don't know a thing about him. Cohen, a fourth-round pick, is trying to wrest the back-up nose tackle job from Isaac Sopoaga. Cohen played with the third-team defense on Saturday, which went against the third-team offense. That meant he was going against guys like Nick Steitz - hardly a household name. Cohen was in on a lot of plays, but was not exactly an immoveable object. It will be interesting to watch him in preseason games.

Fullback Zak Keasey has no wiggle, but he hits the hole like a sledgehammer. Just ask cornerback Donald Strickland, who landed flat on his back after Keasey plowed into him. If you're looking for a dark horse to make the team, Keasey could be the man. He played very well at the end of preseason games last year, and if he has a repeat performance this preseason - who knows?

I like John Syptak, the linebacker from NFL Europe. The guy doesn't have a lot of athleticism but he never gives up on a play. He is the quintessential blue-collar player. Syptak was in on a lot of plays while working with the third-team defense. Given the team's depth at linebacker, a spot on the roster is very, very hard to imagine. But he seems like just the kind of guy you want on the practice squad.

--Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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