Lost in the hubbub of Jerry Rice's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was the fact that aside from the week 9 bye, this past weekend was the last weekend without 49ers football for the next 5 or so months (hopefully on the longer end!). This coming Sunday the 49ers kick off their 2010 campaign on the road against the Indianapolis Colts. Given how preseason games go we likely won't get a whole lot out of this in certain respects (Gore, Alex Smith, etc).
However, there will still be plenty to learn from this game. By the time kickoff gets here on Sunday, we'll have had approximately two full weeks of practice. Although some of you have had a chance to view training camp on one of the open dates, without being there on an every day basis, it's difficult to truly sense how a player is performing. He might have looked good the day you were there, but who knows how he performed the days you weren't present.
Given all that, I wanted to call everybody's attention to Phil Barber's stock reports on the 49ers. He took a look at players on the rise and players on the decline. Barber spends every day at practice and thus is able to get a sense of when a player is gaining momentum on the playing field (whether it be positive or negative momentum).
Anthony Davis/Mike Iupati
The two most interesting players on the rise would have to be OT Anthony Davis and G Mike Iupati. The two rookies were expected to challenge for starting positions at some point, but I don't know if anybody expected it quite this soon. While Iupati moved up in part because of the injury to David Baas, the same cannot necessarily be said about Davis. Adam Snyder appears to be healthy, and yet Davis has been getting more of the first team reps at right tackle lately. Assuming it's because he's earned the reps (and not some other unknown reason), then 49ers fans have to be fairly excited about this possibility.
During the discussion of Jerry Rice this weekend, there was some discussion of the 49ers unloading Freddie Solomon early in Rice's career. Someone mentioned on tv about how Bill Walsh said he'd rather lose an early game with a young guy still learning rather than lose a game late in the season because a veteran was running out of gas. One could potentially see that philosophy on display down in Santa Clara and with the 49ers all season long. I wouldn't be surprised at this point if we saw Davis and Iupati both lining up with the starters week 1 of the regular season. If that's the case, we might see some bumps early on, but over the length of the season, it could be huge for this team.
As we head into the first preseason game, that will certainly be something to which we all should pay attention. It might still be too early to declare Anthony Davis even in the lead in the race for the right tackle position. It will be interesting to see how the playing time is divided between Davis, Snyder and even Alex Boone (who would seem to be bouncing between right and left tackle). Even if guys like Alex Smith and Frank Gore aren't getting a ton of reps this Sunday, the right tackle/left guard position battle will see all the contestants duking it out all game long.
The least shocking inclusion on the rising report would have to be nose tackle Ricky Jean-Francois. RJF has been a bit of a revelation in camp following his extended reps thanks to the absence of franchise nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin. Franklin will likely be in camp later this month as he looks to avoid injuries. In the meantime, RJF is cleaning house as he gets both first and second team reps at nose tackle.
My question at this point would be this: what happens when Aubrayo Franklin returns to the lineup? Let's operate under the assumption that Franklin quickly regains his starting position. Obviously nothing's guaranteed, but just go with me on this because otherwise there's no point to the question.
If Franklin slots right back into the starting lineup, what happens to RJF? If he's the long term answer at nose tackle that's great, but how do you take advantage of that in 2010? Do you rotate him in more frequently and rest Franklin a bit more? Or do you try and get RJF some playing time at left defensive end? They're entirely different positions, but if a guy is performing well for your time, wouldn't you want to figure out ways to get him on the field?
Ted Ginn/Jason Hill
Barber has Ginn and Hill as guys suffering from the drops, which is something that has plagued both of them in their young NFL careers. At this point, I just want to see the two of them in action. For a lot of players the preseason doesn't tell us much. However, for guys who struggle to hold onto receptions the preseason games could be a good first step towards figuring them out.
Given that Crabtree and Morgan would seem to be locked into the #1/#2 WR positions, Ginn and Hill will likely see a fair amount of playing time this Sunday. If the drops continue, so will their playing time.
Barber snuck this one in at the end, but I definitely was pleased to see it:
CB Tarell Brown: He's right where you thought he'd be - the fifth defensive back in the nickel package and the first corner off the bench in case of injury. But Brown has sneaked in for a few first-team reps at left cornerback even when Nate Clements is practicing, and has looked very solid in coverage.
While it would be nice to see Tarell Brown take hold of a starting position ahead of Clements, it's good to see that he's having a generally solid camp. It might not be spectacular, but I'd be happy with him in the nickel role at this point. Things can certainly change over the course of the season (as we saw last year), so we'll certainly have to take this week to week. I'd imagine Brown will see a lot of playing time this Sunday. I'd suspect Clements and Shawntae Spencer will both come off the field fairly early in the game.
Overall, in looking at Barber's two stock reports, things seem to be coming along ok thus far. The injuries are certainly a concern, but that's the case for most every team. Other than that, the team seems to be setting a good pace heading into Sunday's matchup with the Colts.