Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye spoke today about three players who, judging from your emails and Tweets, are of high interest to the fans: Alex Smith, Nate Davis and receiver Dominique Zeigler.
Following Sunday's game in Indianapolis, the consensus is that Smith had a poor game. His quarterback rating of 7.4 would appear to confirm this. Raye, however, called Smith's development "outstanding" so far in training camp. "I think the game, the pace visually and mentally, has slowed down for him some now. I think he's comfortable with what he's seeing and what the calls are. ... I think it would be asinine to judge the quarterback in the exhibition season based on the variety of people that he plays with and the changes that are in and out of the game-plan situation. To make a judgment on the statistical analysis of what the quarterback does, for me in the preseason, would not be wholesome at all."
Smith, meanwhile, said he felt good about the Colts game. With the exception of the missed pass to Vernon Davis deep down the center of the field, he said he saw everything well and didn't regret any throws. After the game, he said Davis had made an unexpected move on the play. After looking at the film, Smith blamed himself for misreading the route. He said he felt "as good as you could ever feel with a QB rating of seven or whatever it was."
Smith was 9-13 in team drills today. His first pass, a hot route to Delanie Walker, was jumped by Patrick Willis for an interception. His last three attempts - he was 2-3 - were from around the 10-yard line in red-zone scenarios.
It needs to be pointed out right away that Nate Davis is not replacing/challenging Smith for the starting job. However, Raye said he'd like to see the heretofore No. 3 quarterback play against better competition and that he might enter the game earlier in the second and third preseason games. Said Raye: "The one ability that he has is highlighted in the parts of the game he plays in. Because if a guy is open, he'll hit him, he'll get the ball to them. He's another guy who's in a position where he needs to play early on against guys who have played in the NFL. He needs to play in that level. ... In the second and third exhibition game, we will experiment with some of that."
Here's my translation: The 49ers want to see whether Davis' preseason success is based only on instincts and inferior opponents or whether he can couple those instincts with a command of the offense against NFL-caliber players. So far, all of Davis' snaps going back to last season have been as the No. 3 quarterback.
From all appearances, Zeigler, Jason Hill and Brandon Jones are competing for one, possibly two, roster spots. Asked about Zeigler today, Raye said he's had an "outstanding camp." Raye said he saw the same thing a year ago, but that Zeigler suffered a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game and landed on the practice squad. I asked Raye whether Zeigler would have made the 53-man roster if he hadn't sprained his ankle. "He was certainly in contention to make the active roster, yes," Raye said.
Smith, meanwhile, also sang Zeigler's praises. Asked about receivers that have impressed him, Zeigler's was the first name Smith mentioned. "It seems that every time he goes in, he knows what he's doing," Smith said. "He doesn't let the game get too big. He just goes in there. He's a guy in the huddle who I think everyone has confidence in when he steps in." Smith also called Zeigler "strong handed," which means that when thrown the ball in traffic, more often than not Zeigler comes up with the reception.
Odds & Ends
Raye said he didn't know whether newcomer running back Brian Westbrook would play Sunday against Minnesota. He said it would depend on how quickly Westbrook learns the new offense and whether the training staff gives Westbrook, who hasn't gone through any offseason program this year, the green light to play. Westbrook practiced in team drills today. He mostly worked with the second-team offense but got a few first-team snaps today. As expected, he looked very quick, especially when taking screens and dump offs.
Raye seemed to want to talk more about rookie Anthony Dixon than Westbrook. He said he was impressed by Dixon's debut Sunday - especially when he had the ball in his hands. He said that like Nate Davis, Dixon's performance warranted getting snaps earlier in preseason games. Raye also insisted that Dixon was in the running to be the No. 2 tailback behind Frank Gore. Translation: Look for Dixon to be the preseason bell cow to save Gore and Westbrook from unnecessary pounding.
Vernon Davis (knee) did not practice. Michael Crabtree (neck) was limited to individual drills. Brandon Jones (hamstring) practiced sparingly after being full go yesterday. Travis LaBoy did not take part in the morning contact practice but will in the afternoon non-contact sessions.
-- Matt Barrows