Mike Nolan gave good day-after grades to several players, including Patrick Willis, whom he described as "very active." Willis started the game behind Derek Smith at middle linebacker, but entered during the first series when the Broncos were in a goal-line situation. Willis also played in the team's nickel packages.
"His athletic ability shows because he gets out of trouble sometimes that other guys don't get out of," Nolan said.
Nolan also commended Michael Robinson and Marcus Hudson for their play on special teams. After the game, he said rookie cornerback Tarell Brown and running back Maurice Hicks also did a nice job.
Overall, Nolan was not happy with the defensive performance in Monday's 17-13 loss, reiterating that the 49ers missed too many tackles. Still, he noted that there are several new starters and that effective run defenses play as one unit. In other words, he was disappointed but not entirely surprised.
Some of my observations from Monday's game ...
I thought receiver Brandon Williams looked stronger and more decisive than he did last season - both on returns and as a receiver. Williams is especially hard to cover when he lines up in the slot. I think he is all but guaranteed a spot on the team because he is the only reliable punt returner aside from Arnaz Battle, who, as a starter, probably won't be asked to do that job. If Williams continues to be an asset in the passing game, it will make the coaches' decision that much easier.
Ashley Lelie continues to work with the third-team offense alongside guys like Marcus Maxwell and rookie Jason Hill. I wonder if the coaching staff is still punishing him for missing mini camp and OTAs with a quadriceps strain. When asked if Lelie will get more work with the first- and second-string offense in coming weeks, Mike Nolan said: "Too early to tell. Stay tuned."
It was very interesting to see Delanie Walker start the game with fellow tight end Vernon Davis. Walker is an exceptional receiver and his presence gives Alex Smith four legitimate targets in the passing game - both tight ends plus Battle and Darrell Jackson. For defensive backs, it will be a case of 'pick your poison.'
I was very impressed with rookie Joe Staley, who had to match up against fleet-footed rushers (Elvis Dumervil) and well as more powerful guys (Tim Crowder). Dumervil gave Jonas Jennings and Adam Snyder fits when they had to block him.
Where was Manny Lawson going on that outside run by Mike Bell at the end of the third quarter? It looked as if Lawson thought someone else had the ball and took off downfield to catch him. In the meantime, Bell was rushing for 11 yards down the left sideline. I guess we'll have to chalk it up to players learning their assignments in a new defense.
The only significant injury was suffered by linebacker Colby Bockwoldt, who suffered a thigh contusion. Nolan said he considered Bockwoldt questionable for Saturday's game against the Raiders
Finally, Nolan began his post-game press conference Monday night by noting that former 49er Charlie Krueger was an honorary captain. Krueger was a defensive tackle in the 1960s and his No. 70 is one of 10 49ers' jerseys that have been retired. He also was the one player who really took the young Mike Nolan under his wing when Nolan's father, Dick, coached the team. Nolan said Monday that it was Krueger who helped build his love of football.
Here is an anecdote about Krueger, Nolan and his younger brother Kelly that took place in the late 1960s near the 49ers' Santa Barbara training-camp facility. It's taken from a story I wrote about Nolan in 2005.
"....Nolan grew close to the players, particularly defensive lineman Charlie Krueger, who would include Mike and Kelly in his training camp pranks - quarterback George Mira was the usual target - and after practice would pile the boys into the back of his green GMC pickup to find a good swimming hole.
During one outing, Krueger said he led the boys to a spot on the Santa Ynez River only to find it was teeming with nude sunbathers from the college.
"So I'm saying to myself, 'What's (Dick) Nolan going to think I'm doing with his kids?' " Krueger said. "He'll think I'm taking them out to ruin them. So after practice the next day, I took Nolan aside and told him what happened. And he said, 'Oh, I knew about that. That's the first thing Kelly yelled to his mother when he got home.' "
Said Ann Nolan: "When (the boys) told me what happened, I said, 'Well, once you've seen one (nude body) you've seen them all.' They said, 'No, mom, they're all different.' ""
-- Matt Barrows