Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham shy away from a certain topic that has been prevalent so far…
49ers vs. Vikings: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs down: The 49ers first-team defense only played a few series, but that was long enough for the only new starter on that rugged unit – outside linebacker Aldon Smith – to sustain a hip injury that forced him out of the game. The preseason opener is not a place you want to see starters getting hurt, though Smith's injury appears minor. "It looks like we dodged a bullet there," coach Jim Harbaugh said afterward.
Thumbs up: Brandon Jacobs looked everything like the big, bruising short-yardage back he's supposed to be on his first carry as a 49er, making like a dump truck at full speed while plowing up the middle for three yards to convert a fourth-and-1 play. Jacobs looked pretty good in the open field, too, when on his second carry two plays later he put an outside move on safety Mistral Raymond and turned the corner for a 23-yard gain. All four of Jacobs' carries went for first downs, the others coming on a third-and-1 and two second-and-1 plays.
Thumbs up: And further displaying the talent and depth the 49ers now have at the running back position, newcomer Rock Cartwright – who's listed as no better than fifth-string on the team's current depth chart at halfback – burst over left end for a 19-yard gain on San Francisco's second offensive play. Fullback Bruce Miller had a big block to break Cartwright loose, one of several impressive lead blocks by Miller during the one series the first-unit offense was in the game.
Thumbs up: And that first-team offense, with three-time Pro Bowl halfback Frank Gore sitting this one out, didn't look too bad on its first possession of the summer, driving 84 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown and eating 7:21 off the clock. Quarterback Alex Smith completed all three of his passes and Jacobs, Cartwright and slippery Kendall Hunter combined for 69 yards rushing on the drive while averaging 8.6 yards a pop.
Thumbs up: And who would have thought it would be Brett Swain catching San Francisco's first touchdown pass of 2012? Swain made a nice move off the line and broke for the left pylon, and Smith zipped a perfect spiral into his hands for a 4-yard scoring play that put the 49ers on the scoreboard.
Thumbs down: Left cornerback Carlos Rogers deservedly made the Pro Bowl last season for his coverage skills, but Rogers can also giveth what he taketh away when left alone on the corner. Rogers bit on a move by Stephen Burton on the second play of the game, and the second-year Minnesota receiver streaked by him to grab a 52-yard pass from Christian Ponder that probably would have been a 76-yard touchdown play had Ponder hit Burton in stride instead of floating the pass. Rogers had no safety help behind him on the play, and it looked afterward like he was expecting some as he had a few words with free safety Dashon Goldson.
Thumbs up: One thing nobody has ever seen before Friday night during Michael Crabtree's four years with the 49ers: Crabtree taking a snap in a preseason game. That dubious streak of summer non-activity finally ended as Crabtree, who has missed most of training camp with a leg injury before returning to practice this week, started the game at wide receiver. He also recorded San Francisco's first reception of the preseason on a hitch pass before leaving the game with the other offensive starters.
Thumbs down: For a defense known for its excellent and consistent tackling, the 49ers looked rather shoddy on 16-yard run around right end by Toby Gerhart, who broke through lunging head-on shots by Goldson and linebacker Ahmad Brooks. Those are two starting defenders the 49ers signed to contracts totaling a combined $43.2 million this year.
Thumbs up: For a guy whose hands and pedigree have been a bit in question this summer, rookie A.J. Jenkins sure looked like the real deal during the first catch of his professional career. San Francisco's first-round draft pick ran a crisp out route and extended his arms and body for a lunging 15-yard reception on a sideline throw from a Kaepernick.
Thumbs down: The next two times the ball came his way, Jenkins flat out dropped passes from Kaepernick and Scott Tolzien that were thrown right into the middle of his hands. Those are balls that Jenkins has to catch if he wants to get on the field this season with the team's logjam at wide receiver.
Thumbs down: Speaking of rookie drops…Undrafted rookie Nathan Palmer has had a solid camp to get a look at receiver, but he didn't do himself any favors with a conspicuous drop of a third-down pass that ended a San Francisco drive in the third quarter. Tolzien took a big hit from a blitzing safety, but still delivered a nice pass near the right sideline to a wide-open Palmer, who took his eyes off the ball as it arrived and allowed it to slip off his fingers.
Thumbs up: Demarcus Dobbs was wearing jersey No. 40 on Friday and the Niners announced his position as tight end before the game. But the second-year veteran, who made the team as an undrafted defensive lineman last year as a rookie, made an impression at his more customary defensive end position, twice putting the heat on backup quarterback Joe Webb to force him into hasty incompletions. It appeared Dobbs pressured Webb into an intentional grounding penalty, but the replacement referees decided to pick up that flag after throwing it.
Thumbs down: And those replacements referees? Well, let's just say… Shaky at best. Good thing this is only the preseason.
Thumbs up: Rookie safety Trenton Robinson, the team's sixth-round draft pick, continued his strong bid for a roster spot with a fine play in deep coverage. Robinson read quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson's deep throw and broke perfectly on the ball to arrive at the pass and intended target Devin Aromashodu at the same time, putting a simultaneous hit on both to break up the play.
Thumbs up: Anthony Dixon is in tough to keep his roster spot this year at running back, but he's not going to give it up without a fight. Dixon showed burst and power while breaking tackles on a nine-yard run for a first down with the 49ers backed up near their own goal line in a third-and-8 situation. On the down side, Dixon later dropped a pass and got lost in pass protection as the same drive bogged down. But after the Niners got the ball back for one final time, Dixon made up for it with a powerful 12-yard run to the goal line at the two-minute warning. The Niners then decided to take a knee and run out the clock rather than tack on a final touchdown. Dixon finished as the game's leading rusher among running backs with 46 yards on 12 carries.
Thumbs up: Newcomer Perrish Cox had a strong debut as a 49er and capped an overall fine performance by San Francisco's defense with a diving interception in the final minutes to halt Minnesota's last offensive possession. Cox finished second on the team with three tackles, one behind the line of scrimmage, and also contributed a tackle on special teams.
Thumbs up: Does the name Eric Bakhtiari mean anything to you? The first-year player made a lot of plays with San Francisco's reserve defense, leading the 49ers with four tackles, two sacks and two quarterback hits.
Thumbs up: And finally, in the what-a-difference-a-year-makes department, this 49ers team looked light years ahead of the San Francisco team that began the exhibition season a year ago at this time in New Orleans. And that's because it is.
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