August 13, 2007, 5pm PST/8pm EST
WALSH FIELD @ Monster Park (Damn that sounds perfect), San Francisco
ESPN, Simulcast on local CBS affiliate
And so it begins. While training camp has been going on for a couple of weeks now, the 2007 season gets that much closer with the first exhibition game. The 49ers find themselves in a rematch of their Week 17 OT thriller at the Denver Broncos. If this were the regular season, a big storyline would be the revenge factor for the Broncos, who were eliminated from a wildcard spot thanks to that loss. However, as this is the preseason, the storylines are thrown out. Mike Shanahan has already said he'll be going with a very vanilla playbook and holding back some of the tricks he likes to use.
For the 49ers, and for the fans, this game will give us a chance to see positional battles taken to the next level and key backups getting plenty of playing time. During the regular season, you're really just looking to win games. In the preseason the real value comes from the on-field performance of specific individuals we've been talking about for months and will finally see perform tonight. If we can come out of this with no major injuries, it will be a successful evening.
The game day threads will likely be a bit different when the regular season starts. Once the season starts I'll be throwing out rankings and some analysis of both teams heading into the matchup. For this game and the rest of the preseason, I'd rather look at the positional battles within the 49ers. While we won't be able to give much assessment on Alex Smith and other starters like that, the backups will get enough time to provide some insight.
This is obviously one of the most important battles. Michael Robinson and Maurice Hicks are battling for the primary backup spot, with Thomas Clayton just looking to justify some playing time. Considering the injury to Frank Gore, it would be nice to see one of the running backs take firm control of the sole backup spot.
Joe Staley will get his first playing time as a rookie and obviously we are all hoping for great things. We'd like it sooner rather than later, but he definitely has some time to learn. While I'd love to see him take a starting job right away, I'm not holding my breath. As long as he can show continual improvement, I'll be happy.
Will Taylor Jacobs build upon his impressive training camp with some solid play in game situations? Spurrier receivers while solid at times have never really been all that spectacular at the next level. Additionally, we'll get to see Jason Hill on the field for the first time. If he can approach the talent he has, he could be a steal of this draft, but it's going to take some time for him to develop. Finally, I'd like to see Ashley Lelie jump out to a good first impression on the field tonight.
Obviously we're all excited to see Patrick Willis out on the field. As a rookie I'm curious to see how he reacts to the speed at the NFL level. He dominated in college and has the talent to dominate in the NFL, it's just a matter of time.
According to Mike Nolan's Sunday notebook, Bryant Young, Aubrayo Franklin, Frank Gore, Patrick Estes and Walt Harris will all sit out tonight's game. Also in that notebook, Nolan said that the starters will get roughly 15 plays, or through the end of the first quarter, whichever comes first.
Like I said, there's really no point in making a prediction of the final score. We simply want to see the talent on display and have no major injuries. If that happens, then this game will be a victory, no matter the final score.
I'll be attending the game tonight, but am also TiVoing the ESPN coverage. I'll get up a quick recap tonight and get some more in depth analysis up tomorrow before lunch. My law school orientation starts tomorrow at noon, so this is certainly a week of beginnings. I hope everyone's ready for what should be a wild ride this year.