Amidst all of our collective grumblings about an abysmal offensive performance, the 49ers first team defense put together what I would characterize as a strong effort. It's hard to clarify exactly what constituted portions of the first team defense due to substitutions, but the guys that were on the field during Drew Brees' own time put together a very solid effort.
The defense was not entirely the first team unit due to some injuries, but we got a good look at much of the starting unit. The significant changes saw Tramaine Brock, Ricky Jean-Francois and Madieu Williams starting the game. Shawntae Spencer has been out since the end of the first week of training camp, Isaac Sopoaga has been out all of camp with hamstring issues and Dashon Goldson only has one practice under his belt since returning to the team.
Aldon Smith was arguably the "star" of the game (ok, maybe Andy Lee!). However, among the starters I'd say Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner put together the two strongest performances in week one. Some players did not see a lot of action go there way, but among players that saw Drew Brees and the Saints offense come at them, Brooks and Whitner were arguably strongest.
Brooks was making plenty of noise during the first quarter. He was able to pressure Brees out of the pocket on one play and generally seemed to do well against Jon Stinchcomb. It's tough to tell how the three-player OLB rotation of Brooks, Smith and Parys Haralson will play out by week one. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say Smith and Brooks are the most talented duo of the three OLBs. At the same time, while they have more upside there is the possibility of significant downside at times. If they can show some level of consistency play in and play out, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see them starting over Haralson against the Seahawks next month.
Donte Whitner came over to the 49ers with a reputation as a solid run stopper, but a bit shaky in the passing game. Whitner had no tackles on Friday, but his pass coverage was quite solid. On the Saints second offensive series, Whitner broke up a short third down pass to tight end Jimmy Graham. Later in the quarter he provided solid step-for-step coverage on Graham after Chase Daniel had entered the game. If Whitner can develop some consistency in pass protection, all the better.
Aside from Whitner, Brooks and Aldon Smith, did anything else about the defense stand out for you?