August 18, 2007, 7pm PST/10pm EST
WALSH FIELD @ Monster Park , San Francisco
CBS (49ers coverage), FOX (Raiders coverage)
After a good and bad opening game, the 49ers return for their second straight home preseason game, this time against the comically inept Oakland Raiders. While Al Davis continues to grow older and more senile, I will give him credit for giving more power to Lane Kiffin. Whether Kiffin can do anything with it is one thing, but at least Davis is open to some change.
The Raiders actually lead the all time preseason series, but the 49ers have actually won seven of the last ten preseason contests (not that it really matters much). The Raiders come into this contest short some of their talent and with questions across the board. JaMarcus Russel remains at his mother's home in Mississippi unsigned (although rumor has it he bought a $3M home in the Bay Area recently). Assuming he's back to 100% (or even close), I see Daunte Culpepper emerging as the starter at some point. People have spoken about how this would make things dicey for Russell, but I don't see it as being such a problem. If Culpepper has a big year, I'd expect him to easily get a big contract somewhere else. Assuming the Raiders eventually sign Russell, he could then move into the starting job next season. Elsewhere on the roster, everyone's favorite non-49er Michael Bush remains on the PUP list with rumors floating around that he could end up on the injured reserve list for the season.
So, we head into the second game of the preseason with some more questions and some parts of answers. Alex Smith looked great in limited action, as did Maurice Hicks. The starting defense did not look so hot. So what should we be looking for tonight against the Raiders?
As starters get more playing time, there certainly needs to be marked improvement in their performance. Considering the team is fully implementing the 3-4 defense, I understand that there would be a bit of an adjustment period. I have said before that a big question is how the new guys on defense come together and how long it takes for them to form some chemistry. With 4 preseason games, I'm willing to see smaller improvements this week. Hopefully a little less over-pursuit, crisper tackling and people not running into each other because they made a mistake on their asignment. The Broncos starting offense ran the 49ers off the field in their one series, so hopefully that will not be the case this week.
Last week, the 49ers offense was on the field for 13 plays (not including field goals and extra points). Coach Nolan has said that the offense would see 24 plays this week, which would likely be about 3 series, maaaaaybe a 4th series. While we'll still be looking at a small sample size, 24 plays will give us a much better idea of where Alex Smith is at. The Raiders rolled out the 5th ranked pass defense, which returns most of the starters, along with some solid, young additions. I see this as a solid test of Smith's game and look forward to some more positive momentum.
This will be a running theme for the next few weeks until Frank Gore is completely healthy. Maurice Hicks looked excellent in limited action, Michael Robinson looked ok and Thomas Clayton showed us some things. While Maurice Hicks seems to fall into that category of "same old retread" option at running back, he is still only 28 and could become a more useful backup. Of course he could rush 7 times for 15 yards today and shoot down that theory, but thankfully that's what the preseason is for. I definitely plan on keeping a close eye on all three backs tonight and see if one of them has any kind of breakthrough.
Joe vs. Kwame
Considering Staley will get a bit more action with the starting line tonight, I'm curious to see how the two of them perform. Nothing really notable happened Monday, so the battle between these two will continue. If both have an excellent game, all the better for improved depth.
Vernon Davis was literally non-existent last week as no footballs were even thrown his way. I'm not worried about that, but it'd be nice to see him get a few catches under his belt and get off the schneid.
Each week brings us that much closer to the start of the season and the starters on full display. All we look for this week though, is no major injuries and any kind of improvement in performance, plain and simple. Also, if anybody is attending the game tonight, feel free to jot down your thoughts in a diary.