Game Balls For 49ers-Bucs: 49ers Rookie Class

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 09: Chris Culliver #29 of the San Francisco 49ers intercepts a pass during their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Candlestick Park on October 9, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

I meant to post this earlier in the week, but better late than never. The 49ers dominant performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers meant numerous players were worthy of game balls. Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Carlos Rogers, and more all put together great performances in the 49ers most complete victory in years.

In spite of that, I wanted to use this particular game ball post to acknowledge the 49ers 2011 rookie class. Sunday's game saw half the 49ers draft picks make some contribution or another. Add in two active undrafted free agents and the 49ers 2011 rookie class is making some impressive strides. After the jump we've got a quick look at the 49ers rookies that were active this past Sunday.

Aldon Smith, 1st round pick: Two sacks and more proof that he is a pass rushing demon. He is focusing on the nickel end role for now and is a beast throughout.

Colin Kaepernick, 2nd round pick: 3/3 for 35 yards in mop-up duty for Alex Smith. This is exactly the kind of opportunity I was hoping we would see for Kaepernick in his rookie year. The success on top of the opportunity is the cherry on top. Kaepernick was running a fairly vanilla offense against a fairly vanilla defense, but every opportunity is an important opportunity.

Chris Culliver, 3rd round pick: Played as the nickel back due to Shawntae Spencer's toe injury. Culliver's receiver was targeted three times and he was successful in defending two passes and intercepting a third. Carlos Rogers had a great day, but Culliver was not too far behind. Shawntae Spencer will likely play this week, but I've got to think Culliver has earned himself some additional playing time in the 49ers nickel defense.

Kendall Hunter, 4th round pick: Performed primarily in fourth quarter mop-up duty after the 49ers sat Frank Gore with a big lead. After a touchdown against the Bengals, Hunter had 100 combined yards against the Philadelphia Eagles and then 65 rushing yards against the Bucs. He did get 44 of those 65 on one rush, but over three straight weeks he has shown an explosiveness that could be necessary this week against Detroit.

Colin Jones, 6th round pick: He had one tackle and as expected is being utilized exclusively on special teams. It is pretty cut and dry with Jones as long as he can make plays on special teams.

Bruce Miller, 7th round pick: In the span of a few short weeks, Miller has quickly stepped up as a very solid fullback for the 49ers. He has been a very solid blocker and he also is showing a knack for catching the ball and making plays. Moran Norris has struggled in recent years and Miller appears to have firmly grabbed hold of the fullback position. Not too shabby for a seventh round pick.

Ian Williams/Demarcus Dobbs, Undrafted Rookie Free Agents: The two defensive linemen were active this week due to injuries to Isaac Sopoaga and Will Tukuafu. It sounds like Ice will be back this week, which likely means Williams will be inactive once again. The fact that these two were active in no way means they are destined for greatness or anything of the sort. And it does not reflect some lack of depth on the 49ers roster. Dobbs was downright dominant at times in the preseason while Williams showed enough that the team was willing to roster him for the season so he could further develop.

The 49ers struck out with the Ronald Johnson pick and Curtis Holcomb sits on injured reserve after a training camp injury. Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person have been inactive each game this year and not much is really expected from them this season.

All in all, I'd say this qualifies as a good start for the 2011 rookie class. This doesn't mean they will turn into long term successes. It doesn't even mean they will finish the year strong. Anything can happen. However, for the first five weeks, I think we can safely say "Thumbs Up 49ers front office."

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