We’re halfway through the preseason, and the San Francisco 49ers have seemingly put their “worst offseason ever” moniker on the shelf – at least, for now – with a 1-1 record.
So far, San Francisco’s preseason has been punctuated by their Week 2 victory against the Dallas Cowboys – a meaningless victory, no doubt, but also one that might lend to some positivity to a team that has not been able to get out of its own way, in terms of negative headlines.
While the national 49ers talking points have focused on the play of one particular player – who, for the moment, shall remain nameless …
… I wanted to highlight some of the other things I noticed in the 49ers’ 23-6 victory at Levi’s Stadium:
1) The defense might not be as devastated as many first thought. Head coach Jim Tomsula has been in charge of a stellar 49ers defensive line since before Jim Harbaugh was interested in NFL coaching. So, with him at the helm, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that, with new defensive line coach Scott Brown, the defensive line is still solid, despite key losses.
While it was pretty difficult to believe that the defensive line would hold up after the departures of Justin Smith (retirement) and Ray McDonald (released), it certainly held its own against the Cowboys on Sunday.
One defensive lineman of note was undrafted free agent Mike Purcell – a bit of a project that signed onto the team’s practice squad late in 2014. Promoted to the main roster earlier this year, he’s been working with Brown – who apparently almost worked together at Colorado State in 2009 – and it’s been paying off.
In two games, he’s provided a few eye-popping defensive plays – snuffing out two attempts at the goal line by Texans RBs Alfred Blue and Kenny Hilliard, for example.
Then, there was this impressive interception of Cowboys QB Dustin Vaughan, subsequently rumbling in for the big-man TD:
If that’s what they can get out of an undrafted Wyoming prospect, imagine what guys like Arik Armstead will be capable of in the near future.
2) Colin Kaepernick still looks like the same guy from 2014 (But take that with a grain of salt). It might have been one of the only bad points of the night, but it was easily the most glaring: Between making inaccurate throws and not getting enough time to run through progressions properly, the 49ers starting QB doesn’t look very different from the guy who was battered into submission in 2014.
Granted, it’s still the preseason, and we’ve only seen a few offensive series, but he has failed to impress with the first-string offense on the field. His throws feel rushed, he’s been hit quite a few times, and he still looks uncomfortable in the pocket. Not to mention that the red zone offense looks as stagnant as ever.
But, I’m still willing to give them all the benefit of the doubt. After all, while Kap was supposed to have a new-and-improved throwing motion – one he has flaunted in various training camp settings – we have yet to see him utilize it in full-on game mode. And, considering the way he’s been playing all his life, it’s hard to train against instinct. It’s going to take a little time for him to apply what he learned to game speed.
That said – for the sake of 49ers fans everywhere, I hope he learns to apply it as soon as humanly possible.
3) It might sound like I’m reaching for straws (and I probably am), but special teams looks good. Hey, special teams is an important part to an NFL team’s success – need I remind you of how special teams has bit the 49ers where the sun don’t shine at the worst possible time?
And, if you look at the special teams play on Sunday, it had its really good moments. For example, take the punt coverage unit, and embattled former fourth-round WR Quinton Patton:
It was an impressive heads-up play that certainly helped the 49ers take a commanding 23-0 lead. And, sure, it was in garbage time, but these are still guys fighting for their jobs – so, it says something about a guy who was expected to contribute as a slot receiver to make a play like that on special teams.
Then there was the play of one No. 38 – which takes me, seamlessly, into my next point …
4) You didn’t think I’d go through this without talking about Jarryd Hayne, did you? The former Rugby League star continues to build on his early success as both a returner and a backup running back. This time around, it was mostly on special teams where the 27-year-old Gold Coast product shined.
First, it was on a punt return that started with a Willie Mays-type basket catch, and ended with a 27-yard return from their own 15-yard line. Then, he put on some impressive moves to make defenders miss on his second punt return attempt, only to get tackled by the punter.
Finally, he showed he can hit the hole as a running back, turning a 3rd-and-2 play into a 34-yard gain. In only his second outing, he certainly looked the part of a professional American football player – and this is a guy who only started learning the game a couple years ago, looking better than some who have been playing most of their lives. Check out the highlights here:
He’s obviously drawn the attention of his native Australia – but also the American media have began closely following his journey to the NFL, hoping the Aussie rugger can transition to American football with the 49ers. Grantland’s Andrew Sharp even likened Jarryd Hayne to a shining light in the 49ers dark and depressing offseason.
While I think that sentiment goes a little too far, I do believe the presence of Hayne on the roster will definitely be a highlight for this team – especially if his ridiculously high learning curve bears out by the regular season.
I just hope he makes the final roster, as Coach Tomsula has said repeatedly to temper expectations of a guy still in his infancy in the world of NFL football. If anything, he’ll sure make things interesting for the 49ers, Australian rugby fans and the NFL fanbase at large.