When the 49ers' offense lines up on Sunday, one of the team's first-round picks in 2006 is likely to be staring into the eyes of the other first rounder that year. Linebacker Manny Lawson, the second of those picks, is now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, and one of his roles in that team's 4-3 defensive scheme is covering running backs and tight ends.
That means one of his top assignments this week will be keeping tabs on the other first rounder, Vernon Davis. The 49ers selected Davis with the No. 6 pick five years ago; Lawson was taken with the 22nd pick.
In 2006 the 49ers envisioned Lawson, a defensive end in college, as a pass-rushing force as an outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. Lawson never lived up to that billing. The highest sack total he had in five seasons with the 49ers was six in 2010, and the team decided not to pursue him when he became a free agent this year.
But Lawson did other things well, especially pursuing ball carriers and dropping into coverage. Those strengths appear to mesh well with what Cincinnati is asking him to do in their defense. "He's doing a really good job for them," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "They play him on the line, they play him off the line. Here he was primarily an on-the-line-of-scrimmage player, but he's doing a really good job."
Davis, meanwhile, has been the 49ers' top pass catcher the last two seasons and is the leader - by two yards - so far this season. But he has been frustrated by the team's overall output on offense, which prompted a meeting with head coach Jim Harbaugh earlier this week.
"I had on my mind some things we could have done better in the (Dallas) game," Davis said. "And I pointed them out to him as far as getting everybody involved. I mean, everybody - all the playmakers we have. Because that's what we need to win games." Davis has been particularly effective in recent years when running seam routes deep downfield. This year, he said, opponents are double-teaming him on that route with a linebacker and a safety.
Sunday against the Cowboys, however, the 49ers were able to exploit that double team by throwing to the team's other tight end, Delanie Walker, who beat Dallas outside linebacker Anthony Spencer for a 29-yard touchdown. "They were sleeping on Delanie," Davis said. "He's just as fast as me and he got open. Either one of us was going get open on that play. It was either going to me or Delanie, and Delanie got open. I'll take that."
Walker, too, said he expected to see plenty of Lawson, someone with whom he battled over the last few years in practice. "Manny is fast, long and he can cover well," Walker. "So we've really got to work on our routes, keeping our eyes up and making precise cuts."
Odds & Ends
Jim Harbaugh said that rookie Colin Kaepernick received more repetitions than usual in practice this week because of Alex Smith's concussion on Sunday. Smith practiced in full throughout the week and is listed as probable on the injury report. Kaepernick said he got a few more repetitions each day. "They just threw me in," he said. "I'm just trying to roll with the punches -- whatever they ask me to do."
Michael Crabtree (foot) is listed as probable on the injury report. He's been limited in practice all week, an indication that he won't play every snap against the Bengals. Cornerback Tramaine Brock (hand) also is listed as probable. Neither Shawntae Spencer nor Dashon Goldson is listed on the report. Goldson is likely to start at free safety.
-- Matt Barrows