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August 30, 2012
Notes: Harbaugh says 49ers could keep four QBs


The contrast couldn't have been more stark.

Josh Johnson finished Thursday's preseason finale 9-14 for 125 yards and a 132.4 passer rating. He threw two touchdowns, and was the game's second-leading rusher (behind Anthony Dixon) with five carries for 50 yards.

Meanwhile, Scott Tolzien, Johnson's competition for the No. 3 role, had his roughest outing of the preseason. On one series he severely under-threw receiver Chris Owusu, who had two steps on his defender. Two players later he was intercepted by a Chargers defensive lineman. He finished 3-8 for 42 yards and a 15.6 rating.

Still, Jim Harbaugh wasn't showing his cards on where the competition stands. "It's been tight, it's remained tight and we'll have discussions on that," Harbaugh said.

Asked if he made a statement Thursday, Johnson said, "I'm not sure. We'll just have to find out. My biggest thing was just coming out and playing football, just being a football player."

Many NFL teams keep only two quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters. Harbaugh has said all offseason that he feels the 49ers have four starter-quality passers. But can they keep all four?

"Yes, it's an option," Harbaugh said.

The 49ers could keep all four by placing Alex Smith, Colin Kapernick and Johnson on the active roster while placing Tolzien on the practice squad. Tolzien is the only quarterback eligible for the practice squad.

Dixon had 12 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. His prospects seem good on the eve of cut-down day. "He's played extremely well, both as a tailback, a special teams player and a fullback," Harbaugh said.

Rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins led all receivers with four catches for 59 yards. He also had his first NFL touchdown, a 12-yarder from Kaepernick. "It's a real good thing to get in a rhythm, a little groove," Jenkins said. "Going out there and playing ball just like I did in college - it feels good with the victory."

Another rookie, LaMichael James, said he felt far more comfortable with kickoff returns than he did punt returns. That was obvious. James muffed two punts - he recovered both - and he bobbled a fair-catch attempt in the swirling Candlestick Point wind. With Ted Ginn (ankle) out and Kyle Williams given the night off, James was the only returner Thursday.

"It was really difficult to judge based on the wind," James said. "Because I'd look at the flags, and one flag went one way and the other one's going the other way. So I just have to slow down. I think that's really big for me, you know? I'm a little anxious back there. I want to catch on the run because I like running. But I think I need to calm down a little bit and look the ball in and keep going."

Harbaugh said one of the highlights of the game was a goal-line block 292-pound defensive end/fullback Will Tukuafu made in the third quarter. "I could hear it more than I could see it," he said. "I saw it, but I was more impressed with what I heard. It was textbook. It was a textbook block."

Harbaugh said the plan was to have Alex Smith hand the ball off when he was in the game so that he'd avoid getting hit. So why play Smith at all if he wasn't going to pass? "Just wanted to have him go out there and break a sweat, have the feeling of getting ready for the ball game, starting the ball game," Harbaugh said.

Three injured 49ers seem to be on the mend. Ginn was seen walking without a limp and without the walking boot he was in earlier this week. Running back Brandon Jacobs was walking with just a slight limp.

Demarcus Dobbs, meanwhile, was off the crutches he was using on Monday and Tuesday. "It's just my leg," he said. "It's a little bruised."

At least one of the 49ers' top three outside linebackers have been missing in each of the team's exhibition games. Parys Haralson, who missed practice this week with an undisclosed injury, did not play Thursday. Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith sat out the game along with the 49ers' other first-team defenders.

The numbers were helped by the return of Cam Johnson, the team's seventh-round draft pick, who had missed the previous three games with a knee injury. Johnson entered the game in the second quarter and played left outside linebacker.

Meanwhile, Eric Bakhtiari was in the lineup after leaving Sunday's game in Denver after a teammate's knee slammed into the side of his helmet. Bakhtiari started the game at right outside linebacker. Newcomer Ikaika Alama-Francis started the game on the left side. They combined for a sack on Charlie Whitehurst in the third quarter.

Johnson, Bakhtiari and Alama-Francis are on the bubble to make the 49ers' 53-man roster. The final cuts must be made by 6 p.m. today. The team can begin building its eight-man practice squad on Saturday. Johnson is eligible. Bakhtiari and Alama-Francis are not.

Receiver Mario Manningham missed the game to attend the funeral for his grandfather in Warren, Ohio. Gerald Simpson passed away last week at age 60.

-- 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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