The highest profile rookies all got a lot of game experience Sunday with the first team. This gave everyone their first look at what the 49er rookies are bringing as they try to get it done at the next level.
Mike Iupati - This guy is already the real deal, he looked stronger than everyone he blocked 1v1, got push on every running play and even knocked a couple guys down, if this is an indication of how he'll play this season than his inline blocking is already dominant. I know it's just one game but I think the instant upgrade label is legit. He didn't look quite as well in space and he could have been called for a hold on the play Alex Smith threw the tipped interception. He also had trouble locking onto clean blocks when he pulled, but he's so strong that even when he doesn't get a great lock onto a linebacker he was often able to push them out of the play.
Anthony Davis - Davis looked as bad in space and on the edge as he looked good inline and when he could lock onto his man. Mathis abused him. The upside to the way Mathis abused him is that some of it is coach-able, Jamie Dukes did a good job of breaking down what he was doing wrong at half time. Bending over at the waist and trying to use his head to engage the pass rusher, he wasn't moving his feet or extending his hands like he needs to. He also just looked off-balance and slow in lateral movement. He was beaten badly by a Mathis inside spin move, but Robinson was there to pick up the slack. The good news was his powerful inline run blocking and nastiness. He got good push in the run game, even throwing his defensive counterpart to the ground a couple times. He also came into the end of runs and did a good job of pushing (throwing) the pile. Bottom line he looked huge, strong and mean, but his technique was sloppy. The pass blocking will have to get better or he's going to get Smith killed.
Looking at Iupati and Davis together, I really think the 49ers will need to commit to the run to slow down the other team's speed rushers. For Davis to have a chance against someone like Mathis I think he'll need to be able to hit him in the mouth on several run plays so that he'll be tentative about firing out of his stance in a speed rush. There was such a differential between Davis' run and pass blocking that I could almost see the 49ers employing a 3D down RT or keeping VD in to block the edge on obvious passing downs. As of now, leaving Davis on an island with a speed rusher is a recipe for disaster.
Anthony Dixon - Dixon ran with power, more speed than I expected and a whole lot of swagger. He didn't look like a guy in his first NFL game and while the line opened up some nice holes for him, he also did a good job of making the first guy miss was always going forward when tackled. If he can keep playing at this level he should secure the RB2 spot. His play yesterday made me feel a lot better about Glen Coffee's retirement.
Taylor Mays - My initial read on Mays is that he's thinking too much and needs to let the instinct take over. He looked a little slow to read plays and I felt like he'd have done better if he moved forward while initially reading plays. There were several run plays where he looked like he would have been in position to clean up a missed tackle, but the first guy got the ball carrier down. He was beaten on an out by the TE where he looked like he was playing the deep pass, but it was a nice pitch an catch on a timing route so he would have had to make a great play to stop it. He did get to showcase his ability by blowing up a screen play with no help that could have gone for a big gain. He read the play well and accelerated behind the blocking to trip up the RB just as he caught the ball. It was actually a pretty out of control arm tackle, but the guy tripped up so I can't knock it. Mays looked like he was trying too hard not to make a mistake and he didn't make any glaring ones, as he gets more comfortable I'd like to see him look less tentative and fly to the ball. I'd also like to see what he can do when they call his number on blitzes, seems like that would really showcase his size/speed.
Overall, I was very impressed with the 2010 class. Davis looked like he has the most to learn, but after seeing a glimpse of what a beast that guy is I'm willing to live with the growing pains. The hope is of course that we won't need to see much of Dixon this year, but I also don' t think the 49ers need to be in a hurry to sign a veteran backup. Kyle Williams also looked really nice in the return game and as a receiver, hauling down a 1st down reception towards the end of the first half, I didn't watch him specifically though or Navarro Bowman and Nate Bynam for that matter so I didn't review those guys.