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MSR Analysis: 49ers vs. Ravens, 2014 Preseason

What to take away from San Francisco's opening 23-3 preseason loss to Baltimore

While 49ers backup QB Blaine Gabbert didn't impress on Thursday, a number of Niners did.

While 49ers backup QB Blaine Gabbert didn’t impress on Thursday, a number of Niners did.

It’s the start of the NFL Preseason – a time where every team has the opportunity to simultaneously show off their shiny new offseason additions, and determine who to keep and who to cut.

For the San Francisco 49ers, a team still in the mix for a Super Bowl title, it was a time to look at what they had outside of their bonafide starters. Though, there were some standouts, it appears that there is still some work to do.

Ultimately, the final result of a 23-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens was somewhat insignificant in the scheme of things. However, there were a few things that could be taken away from the action on Thursday:

1) RB Carlos Hyde may have already cemented himself as the heir apparent to Frank Gore in the 49ers backfield. Considered a bona fide steal at the 57th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, former Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde was set to compete for a backup spot in the 49ers’ crowded RB core.

However, when RBs LaMichael James (dislocated elbow) and Kendall Hunter (torn ACL) were lost to injury, and Marcus Lattimore (ACL) continues his extensive rehab, Hyde’s role will be vital this season. Judging by his first carries vs. the Ravens’ first-team defense, the 49ers look to be just fine.

Rookie RB Carlos Hyde (right), thrust into a starting spot on Thursday night, impressed in his NFL debut.

Rookie RB Carlos Hyde (right), thrust into a starting spot on Thursday night, impressed in his NFL debut.

He gained 39 yards on only 5 carries, and the consensus was that he looked good doing it, finding holes in the defensive line and slashing like a veteran. If he continues this trend up, he could be the unquestioned starter in a couple of years.

2) The defense certainly isn’t the same without their veteran starters. On the other side of the ball, it was apparent that the 49ers were missing defensive mainstays Patrick Willis and Justin Smith – both were given the night off. And give credit to second-year DT Quinton Dial for his production throughout the game (six tackles, two forced fumbles).

But it wasn’t encouraging to watch the Ravens’ first-team offense slice through the 49ers’ D for a 10-play opening drive for a touchdown. Hopefully, this isn’t indicative of the defensive front, especially with talk that LB Aldon Smith may miss at least six games to start the 2014 season.

3) You have to like the new additions to the defensive backfield. One of the biggest question marks about the 49ers D was with their DBs – it may have been their biggest liability in 2013, and they lost CBs Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown to their rivals across the Bay. Who would replace them?

Well, for one, former Minnesota Vikings CB Chris Cook looked comfortable out there – even picking off a pass in the third quarter against QB Tyrod Taylor. Meanwhile, rookie nickelback Jimmie Ward showed his versatility by playing a number of positions for the 49ers throughout the game – from cornerback to safety to punt coverage duty, it looks like the newcomer is willing to do anything and everything for San Francisco’s defensive backfield.

Rookie 1st-round pick Jimmie Ward was literally all over the field during the 49ers' preseason loss in Baltimore.

Rookie 1st-round pick Jimmie Ward was literally all over the field during the 49ers’ preseason loss in Baltimore.

4) If the 49ers have to rely on their backup signal-callers in any significant capacity, they are in deep trouble. Two things were certain after starting QB Colin Kaepernick finished his snaps in this first preseason game – the 49ers offense can move the ball with Kap under center (but still have problems in the Red Zone); and primary backup QB Blaine Gabbert looked lost out there against the second-team defense.

The new addition from Jacksonville finished with 4-for-14 on pass completions for only 29 yards, and an ugly interception, playing the majority of the first half. Fellow backups Josh Johnson and McLeod Bethel-Thompson didn’t fare much better, and the team came away with only 3 points. Again, luckily, this was only the first preseason game. But hopefully the offense, as a whole, looks better against the Denver Broncos next Sunday.

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