49ers-Colts: Defensive Position Battles To Watch On Sunday

I was taking a look back at the "49ers training camp battles at the first turn" post I did on August 2, and it's amazing how quickly the defensive position battles changed fairly drastically. The defensive battles included the following:

Left Defensive End: Isaac Sopoaga vs. Kentwan Balmer vs. Ray McDonald

Starting Outside Linebackers: Parys Haralson vs. Manny Lawson vs. Ahmad Brooks

Backup Ted Linebacker: NaVorro Bowman vs. Scott McKillop

Of those three, for the short term the starting outside linebackers is set until Brooks' lacerated kidney heals. Scott McKillop's season ending injury called the backup Ted battle. Of course, Bowman has been a revelation in camp and probably would have won that battle anyways. I have to say I'm excited to see Bowman on Sunday. He's one guy to whom I plan on paying particularly close attention.

I'll move left defensive end to its own paragraph because of the bizarre and insane nature of the Kentwan Balmer saga. One day in the not too distant future, somebody will write an ode to this completely random and odd time in the life of the 49ers. At this point, given the player involved, I would argue fans are more perplexed and annoyed by the whole situation, as opposed to actually concerned. It's annoying to see a first round pick bust, but at this point, I just want to move past it. As I mentioned on the Stampede Blue podcast, we're talking about a reserve defensive lineman. It sucks, but whatever at this point.

Looking to Sunday

There are plenty of players that will be competing for some amount of playing time this Sunday. Looking at Matt Maiocco's projected depth chart for Sunday, there are numerous battles that will be available for our viewing pleasure.

Aside from Ray McDonald's battle for the left defensive end position, he'll be battling with Demetric Evans for the role of first defensive end off the bench to spell Sopoaga or Smith, but also for when the team goes to a four-man front on passing downs.

It will also be interesting to see what combinations of Reggie Smith, Taylor Mays, and Curtis Taylor we see in the secondary after Dashon Goldson and Michael Lewis hit the bench. Chris Maragos will get his licks as well, but I'm of the belief that Smith, Mays, and Taylor are the ones most likely to stick around into the season.

In looking over the defense, what players are you most excited to watch do battle on Sunday?

For me, Ricky Jean Francois will be doing a lot of dirty work, but I'm really quite excited to see how much he's improved based on all the talk coming out of camp. I could end up disappointed, but I'm still excited to see how he is doing. In the linebackers I'm excited to see NaVorro Bowman given all the talk of his performances in camp. And, of course, in the secondary I'd imagine everybody is excited to see Taylor Mays finally talk the field for the 49ers in real action.

What position battles and players are you going to be paying close attention to on Sunday?

After the jump I've posted Coach Manusky's post-practice media session.

Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky
Post-Morning Practice - August 12, 2010
San Francisco 49ers

On the progression of the younger safeties:

"Pretty good. I think across the board from Taylor Mays to Reggie Smith to Curtis [Taylor] and Chris [Maragos], I think they're doing a great job listening to their [secondary] coach Vance Joseph and doing the things we need them to do out there - making plays and still progressing just like camp is all the time. I'm excited to see them play in their first preseason game."

On S Taylor Mays' extra work:

"He's always the guy at the end of the meetings sitting in there. I always ask him questions when everybody else leaves and that's always a good sign. He's a perfectionist, you can see that already. That's the one thing you can never judge when you have kids coming out. I love his heart, love his desire and want to be good. So it's always a plus."

On what the major issue is with him:

"I think it's the learning. I think it's always the learning, learning the system. We actually had a conversation last night. I said even though people told you when you played, wherever it might be, they have different technique and fundamentals that might be related to their defense. So when you come to an organization that's new, even though you were taught these certain things, which is fine for their defense they play, it doesn't match what we want. I said, even from a coaches perspective if we leave here and go somewhere else, you kind of have to erase that board and start fresh and new and learn exactly what we want them to do. So, that's what he's doing and he's doing a good job of it."

On an example of his way versus USC's way:

"In part a lot with his eyes and what he's supposed to be looking at. I mean, maybe they have some different technique or different footwork. There are a lot of things that are involved, a lot of details that go into each practice. Sometimes they don't get that in college because of the 20-hour rule. A lot of technique and fundamentals that a lot of young players come out they don't have is because they don't have the time like we do in the OTAs and in the whole offseason programs. These kids develop and once that light clicks on, it's phenomenal."

On whether he has decided how many series the starters will play:

"We spoke briefly, Coach Sing [Singletary] and I. You'll probably see the starters playing one or two series based upon how long those series go. Basically, that's what you'll see out of the starting unit."

On DT Khalif Mitchell:

"I always tell them this is always the starting point when we put the depth chart up there until pretty much the first preseason game and you go through. Right now he's starting, not starting at end, but he's playing end on the left side behind [DT] Isaac [Sopoaga] and [DT] Ray [McDonald]. Now, that doesn't mean he can't be pushed back inside at nose. For younger players like that who are developing, even though we like him at one position, just for me as a backup player when I played, you have to know all of them."

On whether playing defensive end is more natural for Mitchell:

"I think so. The reason why is because he's a bigger body guy that's a little bit more quick twitch, has some power and speed that can relate from the power to speed. I think that's the position where he's the best at right now because he's spent more time at it too."

On the sack totals last season and his scheme:

"I would love to have the ultimate two pass rushers off the end of course, but for the most part it's the system and it's also the guys that are running it, especially on third down situations with [DT] Justin [Smith] and [DT] Ray McDonald. They're unselfish players. They don't care who really gets the sack as long as we succeed and do well. That's what I love about those guys inside."

On the unselfish play of the defensive line:

"There's a couple of pool games which you're not allowed to do, but whatever. Just grabbing guys arms and pulling those guys and letting the other guys get freed up. Unselfish in the sense of that, wishing that the other guys get pressure on the quarterback, taking two guys. That's what I'm talking about."

On whether they'll be able to get away with things on the line after having the umpire in a different position on the field this season:

"We don't teach those types of things here. We teach quality football."

On the type of adjustments they have to make without Kentwan Balmer at camp:

"Kentwan's a different situation. Coach Sing deals with that, I coach the guys that are out here on the practice field. That's my job. This is a job analysis and that's what I do. I coach the guys that are out here. I don't know what's going on with him. But from an adjusting standpoint, we're going to fly another defensive line person in here and he'll be playing defensive end for us."

On whether he's looking for one side in particular:

"Not really, we're just looking to get somebody in here that has some quality to them and get him in here so he could hopefully practice and suit up for Sunday."

On who that is:

"Don't know right now."

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