49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

August 8, 2008
Five things to watch later (in some cases, much later) tonight

It's now t-minus *eight* hours before the 49ers and Raiders get it on in Oakland. Of course, some of you will have to wait even longer to see the game because, not having been sold out, it is subject to the NFL blackout rules and thus tape-delayed. (In Sacramento, the game will start on time. Why? Apparently, the league is more lenient in the preseason.) If you're not in Sac, you can log on to one of the very excellent blogs (Psst! Over here!) that cover the 49ers. Those same NFL rules prevent us from giving you a play-by-play account of the action. But we are allowed to summarize, generalize and give our opinions. Such as: J.T. O'Sullivan looked crisp on the first drive, going 4 of 5. The team opened the game in a two-tight end formation. O'Sullivan hit Delanie Walker once for 11 yards and threw a nine-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis, who immediately earned an illegal celebration penalty ... or something to that effect.

Here are some of the things I'll be watching when the game begins.

1. J.T. O'Sullivan. You might have heard somewhere that O'Sullivan will get the start tonight. He's looked sharp in practice, sharp in Monday's inter-squad practice in Napa, and it'll be very interesting to see him in a game situation. Many observers are starting to get a sense that O'Sullivan very well could be Mike Martz's next diamond in the rough. He has the shaggy dog background common to Martz's former pupils, and he reminds Martz of Marc Bulger. A couple of things going against O'Sullivan today: He doesn't have very much experience - a week and a half - throwing to the 49ers receivers in team scenarios and the 49ers' top receivers probably will be on the sideline. He also is facing a very, very good Raiders defense.

2. Young guns. Speaking of receivers, two guys have really stood out in training camp thus far - Josh Morgan and Jason Hill. That's mainly because, unlike the other receivers, they have managed to stay healthy. But for a young wideout, that in itself is a genuine accomplishment. Morgan and Hill are both big-bodied receivers, and their consistency in training camp has earned them playing time.

3. The chameleons. I've stopped listing Justin Smith as a defensive lineman. From what I've seen, he mostly lines up as an outside linebacker, and it will be interesting to see how effective he is from that spot tonight. The 49ers are building their pass rush around Smith, and they want to see how he performs at several positions. The other chameleon is Manny Lawson, who was excellent early last season before tearing an ACL. It will be interesting to see whether his game speed has returned less than a year after the injury.

4.The interior line. The 49ers' offensive tackles - Joe Staley and Jonas Jennings - have looked very good this summer. The interior of the line, however, has been a mixed bag. Eric Heitmann seems to be back in form after struggling early last season. At right guard, Tony Wragge is dependable but not dynamic. At left guard, Adam Snyder has struggled. He won't get any breaks against a good Oakland defensive line.

5. The Ted shuffle. Keep an eye on who is playing next to Patrick Willis (and later in the game, Dontarrious Thomas). Jeff Ulbrich will start the game, but coaches and evaluators want to see if Brandon Moore returns to his 2006 play-making form and if rookie Larry Grant, No. 57, starts to capitalize on his potential.

-- 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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