49ers Blog and Q&A

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

August 30, 2013
Film review: Cam Johnson answers sickle-cell concern; Bubble boys Stupar and Hawkins stand out


First a statement from Captain Obvious: Cam Johnson had a great game. He finished with six tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, two additional quarterback hits and, oh yeah, he also blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. My sense is that Johnson already was heading for the 53-man squad; his performance should reinforce that impulse.

After all, other teams will scan the waiver wires over the next two days for quality players, especially pass rushers. I think the most notable thing about Johnson's performance was that he played nearly the entire game on both defense and special teams. As you might recall, the scouting report on Johnson last year was that he carried a sickle cell trait, which can cause mild anemia during games. Johnson slipped to the seventh round of the draft, and the suspicion is that his medical report had a lot to do with that. Teams were worried that he'd start to flag as the game went on.

Well, Johnson was revving high throughout Thursday's game, which ought to put any sickle-cell rumors/concerns to rest. He also gets style points for his slide-and-cradle when the ball was sitting there like a road apple in the end zone. At least Leon Lett thinks so.

A lot of the so-called "bubble" players had good performances. Inside linebacker Nate Stupar, for example, led all tacklers with nine and he also tipped an interception to Craig Dahl. Would the 49ers keep five inside linebackers (in addition to five outside linebackers?) on the roster? Probably not, which would pit Stupar and rookie Nick Moody.

Stupar played longer than Moody, which is largely why he had better statistics. Moody, for example, finished with one tackle; he also missed a tackle on a crossing route by a receiver. Both looked good throughout training camp, but as I wrote yesterday, it's been Stupar who's stood out consistently. Special teams doesn't help give a read on the situation. Stupar was in on kick returns last night, Moody was in on punt coverage and both were on the field for kickoff coverage.

If Stupar were the draft pick and Moody the undrafted free agent, I think the choice would be obvious. Instead it's reversed, making this a tougher call. Both are eligible for the practice squad.

How did the snapping battle go? Undrafted rookie Kevin McDermott took all the long snaps and, by my estimation, did very well. Phil Dawson missed a 52-yard field goal far to the right in the beginning of the fourth quarter. After the game, Jim Harbaugh said the laces were wrong.

But it didn't seem to be McDermott's fault. The snap was slightly to the inside. But holder Andy Lee snagged it cleanly and there seemed to be plenty of time to spin the laces correctly. "Tough call," Harbaugh said of the battle between McDermott and long-time snapper Brian Jennings. "But we'll have to put our heads together and make the right decision."

Dawson, by the way, was 9-11 on field goals, including 3-4 from 50 yards and beyond. His misses came from 52 and 44 yards.

Colt McCoy hasn't received a lot of love - any love - from the fan base this preseason. One notable from last night - he's good at avoiding pressure. McCoy's pocket was constantly collapsing against the Chargers, but he managed to avoid a sack, and he threw his first touchdown on a catch-and-run by Anthony Dixon.

After top backup Adam Snyder left the game with a hand/wrist injury - the severity of which is unknown at this point - the offensive line, from left to right, was Kenny Wiggins, Joe Looney. Daniel Kilgore, Wayne Tribue and rookie Patrick Omameh. The 49ers will scan the waiver wire for quality offensive linemen, but so will every other team. The fact of the matter is that there are few available and that most teams don't have even half the talent the 49ers have with their top eight linemen.

Cornerback Tramaine Brock didn't make things easy on defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Brock finished with five tackles, knocked away a pass and stepped in front of a receiver for an interception. Earlier in the week, Fangio said Nnamdi Asomugha had taken a lead in the race for the No. 3 cornerback but that it still was a bit fuzzy.

That's because Brock had been banged up recently, which allowed Asomugha to take control. Asomugha, however, did not play against the Chargers, presumably because he's been a bit nicked as well. Asomugha was in a non-contact jersey for practice in the run-up to Thursday's game. We'll see next week if Brock has pulled even.

At receiver, Quinton Patton again looked as if he was a five-year veteran instead of a rookie. As stated before, he just seems to fit. He's natural and the game is not too big or fast for him. Both he and Marlon Moore juked cornerback Marcus Cromartie for big gains in the first quarter, Patton's a 43-yard touchdown. Patton also handled the kick returns early in the game.

Meanwhile, I agree with the fans who say Lavelle Hawkins offers more explosiveness than Jon Baldwin. Of course, Hawkins' highlight-reel, circus catch wouldn't have been so amazing if he had, you know, caught the ball on the first try. But he's quick and fast, and he's another player who must make the 49ers think.

Baldwin's $1.06 million salary this season, however, is guaranteed. That means he'll count that much toward the salary cap whether he's here or not. ... Meanwhile, Austin Collie had a chance for two eye-opening receptions but couldn't haul in either. He finished with one catch for 12 yards.

On the 14-yard run by Jewel Hampton, Dixon - who played a lot of fullback last night - had a nice block on linebacker while Vance McDonald sealed off a defensive lineman. McDonald's blocking has improved throughout the offseason; the better he does in that regard, the more he'll see the field.

- 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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