Here are some thoughts and observations after re-watching last night's 49ers-Broncos game:
There's been a lot of chatter about how Vernon Davis will be used more as a wideout this season after Michael Crabtree went down with an Achilles' injury. Well, if that's the case, the 49ers are keeping that formation under wraps in the preseason (and in training camp).
Davis played 13 snaps - including the false-start penalty by Anthony Davis - and he lined up at his familiar spot on the end of the offensive line on 10 of them. On two more, he lined up in the slot, which he's done from time to time in previous seasons (See: game-winning catch; Saints; 1-14-2012). He lined up in the backfield as an H-back on one play.
Not to belabor poor A.J. Jenkins, but many of you have been asking whether he was open throughout the game and the 49ers' quarterbacks did not look in his direction. The answer is, yes - at times. The 49ers like to drag Jenkins across the field on shallow routes to take advantage of his catch-and-run ability. This is something he did a lot at Illinois.
Jenkins had room to roam on two of these routes but Scott Tolzien went in different directions on both throws. Earlier in the game, Jenkins was running such a route when Tolzien, under pressure, threw earlier than Jenkins expected. The receiver didn't get his head around and the ball was behind him and incomplete. Jenkins does not have the trust of the quarterbacks at this point, which is one of the reasons why the 49ers give him so many reps. That play was an example why.
In the third quarter, the 49ers seemed to have a designed play for Jenkins. He was running down the line of scrimmage as Tolzien rolled out in the same direction. The play seemed to be one in which the quarterback would dump the ball to Jenkins and he would theoretically catch it on the run and then whip up field. The Broncos, however, snuffed it out well, got penetration and the linebackers tossed Jenkins to the ground. Tolzien had to throw the ball away.
While we're on the subject of receivers ... both Marlon Moore and Kassim Osgood had good games. Moore started the game, which was a double-edged sword. He had the honor of playing with the first-team offense but also, as was the case with the first-team offensive players, he left after a few snaps.
Both receivers have added value because they are gunners on special teams. But so is safety C.J. Spillman, who has been one of the top gunners in the league for the last three seasons. Spillman is certain to be one of the team's gunners. Who is the other? Moore and Osgood are leading candidates, but the question is whether the 49ers would want to keep both?
Austin Collie got into the game toward the end and made two nice catches. (Unlike fellow newcomer Lavelle Hawkins, who had two chances, albeit not easy ones, and did not come up with either catch.) Collie lined up in the slot, which is where he was appearing in recent practices. It will be interesting to see whether his practice snaps ramp up this week.
Who were some other players who stood out?
* I thought Michael Wilhoite deserves mention as the team's MVP last night. He played more snaps (53) than any other 49er, he led the 49ers in tackles (10) and he ran the 49ers' defensive huddle after the fellow starters left the game. You never want to jynx a player by saying he's a lock to make the team, but Wilhoite's big day, in combination with his his special teams prowess, is a very positive sign.
* I thought Perrish Cox stood out, not only as a cornerback but as a return man. He was the first option at kick returner against the Broncos, his former squad. He had a 33-yard kick return and a 15-yard punt return and was very solid at right cornerback with the third-team defense. Cox is a restricted free agent at the end of the season, meaning he is one of the few cornerbacks the 49ers could keep around rather easily if they deem him worthy.
* What about Nnamdi Asomugha? The Broncos didn't test him very often. But he was a physical tackler on the few passes that went in his direction and he was not timid about sticking his nose in on running plays. One of the reasons he is only the No. 4 cornerback at the moment is that he's been playing exclusively at right cornerback. Carlos Rogers is the left cornerback. When Rogers moves into the nickel cornerback role on third downs, someone needs to come in and take over for Rogers on the left side. Tramaine Brock is comfortable there; Asomugha is not as comfortable.
* I thought the 49ers' outside linebackers had strong games. The starters, left to right, were Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith, who made the most of his scant snaps in disrupting Peyton Manning on third down (Rogers had excellent coverage anyway, and the attempt probably would have been incomplete).
The next two were Parys Haralson and Dan Skuta, who were perhaps the best duo. Skuta, in fact, was credited with two sacks. Like Wilhoite and Cox, he also has significant special teams value, so any contributions he makes on defense further secure his spot on the 53-man squad.
The last two were rookie Corey Lemonier and second-year player Cam Johnson. The latter struggled at times. On a three-play sequence in the second half, he and right defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie failed to hold the right side on a long run. On the next play he was fooled by a misdirection play on a short pass to his side. On the play after that, a Broncos running back broke free of his attempted tackle.
* Anthony Dixon is another guy with a double-double - strong plays on special teams and, in his case, on offense. He tied LaMichael James for a team-high 27 rushing yards. Two long runs by Dixon, however, were erased by holding penalties by Joe Looney and rookie Carter Bykowski.
* Undrafted rookie D.J. Harper needs to secure the ball more quickly. But, gee, fellow undrafted rookie Patrick Omameh sure didn't do Harper any favors by whiffing on the linebacker, who struck Harper in the backfield just after he got the ball. ... Meanwhile, fellow running back Jewel Hampton didn't see any snaps. Hampton was the weak link in pass-protection drills early in training camp (though he got better as time went on). His lack of snaps may be a signal from position coach Tom Rathman - if you want to play, learn how to protect the quarterback.
* Daniel Kilgore started the game at center and remained in the contest with the second-team offensive line; Looney took over with the third group.
* Finally, novice defensive lineman Lawrence Okoye played six snaps. One of them was a field-goal attempt and another was a kneel-down. He got double-teamed and knocked off the line of scrimmage on one play. He was a tad late but ultimately recognized a misdirection play to his side. Skuta sacked the quarterback on the play and Okoye was the first to congratulate him.
-- Matt Barrows