Preseason Week 4 grades

SAN FRANCISCO – Here are my grades for the 49ers 35-3 preseason victory over the San Diego Chargers, who may or may not have shown up to play.

Alex Smith: P. Smith gets a “Pass” even though he didn’t pass the ball once. He played five snaps and handed off five times, and he looked good doing it. Smith may be the finest hander-offer this side of the Mississippi.

Colin Kaepernick: A. Kaepernick dominated the Chargers’ first- and second-string defense, completing 12 of 18 passes for 158 yards and 2 TDs (131.2 QB rating). He may be one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now at throwing on the run, especially while rolling away from his throwing arm. In the pocket he’s still a work in progress – his release is longer and he telegraphs his throws sometimes. He threw a pass right to Chargers’ linebacker Takeo Spikes, who should have intercepted it but dropped it. On the other hand, Kaepernick made two beautiful throws from the pocket – one to Garrett Celek for a 37-yard gain and one to Brett Swain which would have been a 30-yard gain, but Swain dropped it. Kaepernick looks very close to a finished product.

Josh Johnson: A. Johnson probably won the No.3 QB job in this game. Playing against second- and third-stringers, Johnson put up the best stats of the game – 9-of-14 for 125 yards and 2 TDs, plus 5 rushes for 50 yards. He was the game’s leading passer (132.4 QB rating) and second leading rusher. He had been a bit inaccurate in the previous preseason games, overthrowing a couple deep passes. It seemed like he was pressing, but in this game he was relaxed and on point. When he’s relaxed, he looks like the total package.

Scott Tolzien: D+. Tolzien struggled in his third-straight preseason game. He completed just 3 of 8 passes, and he threw an interception to a defensive lineman who will probably get cut this afternoon. Tolzien did make one of the best passes of the night – a 12-yard strike to Chris Owusu on third-and-9, but Owusu dropped it. Harbaugh had Tolzien and Johnson switch off in the second half, putting enormous pressure on the two QBs to battle for the No.3 job. You love to see competition like that. Johnson stepped up and Tolzien didn’t, but I still Tolzien will be a good quarterback because he’s smart, decisive and bold.

Offensive line: A-. They helped the running backs average 5.9 yards per carry, and they only allowed one real sack – Tolzien took it in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick and Johnson got pressured a few times, but they could bail out the offensive line by scrambling. Al Netter looked perfect on all his assignments, and he even made a few blocks downfield, too. Hollywood is making a movie based those blocks, and they’re calling it Netter In Space. Netter is a dark horse to make the team this afternoon – he outperformed backup left tackle Mike Person all offseason.

Running backs: A. The only guy in this group who didn’t have a great game was Rock Cartwright – 2 carries for 5 yards. Everyone else averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry. LaMichael James averaged 5.4 yards per carry – his best performance of the offseason. He even caught 2 passes for 26 yards. Bruce Miller made one of the best catches of the night, hands extended way out from his body.

Wide receivers: B-. The top-five receivers (Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn Jr.) did not play. A.J. Jenkins played most of the game and played well – he beat the Chargers’ backups 4 times for 59 yards and a touchdown. The other wide receivers did not play so well. Nathan Palmer let two passes bounce of his chest, although he did turn a screen pass into a 51-yard touchdown, so his night wasn’t all bad. Chris Owusu dropped two passes, as well. Both guys will probably get cut, clear waivers and join the 49ers’ practice squad.

Tight ends: A. If Vernon Davis played a single snap, I missed it. Delanie Walker got most of the first-team reps, and caught a touchdown. Konrad Reuland caught 4 passes, and Garrett Celek caught 3.

Here are my grades for the defense. Keep in mind, all 11 starters sat out for this game. The backups pitched a shutout against the Chargers’ starters.

Defensive line: A-. They couldn’t contain Ronnie Brown early in the game, but they handled the rest of the Chargers’ running backs. Matthew Masifilo played particularly well, recording 4 tackles and 2 QB hits. Ian Williams also recorded 4 tackles.

Linebackers: A. Tavares Gooden was the defensive MVP, leading the team in tackles (6), including 1 for a loss. He also got 1 sack and 2 QB hits. He’s a stud on special teams, but I’ve never seen him play that well at linebacker. Ikaika Alama-Francis played most of the game at outside linebacker and recorded a half a sack and 2 QB hits. If the Niners carry a fourth outside linebacker on their roster, he’ll probably be the guy.

Secondary: A-. They struggled initially with Philip Rivers, who completed his first seven passes before a goofy left-handed incompletion. Then Darcel McBath picked him off at the goal line, and that was it for Rivers’ night. McBath played a strong game – defending a pass and making a tackle. Tramaine Brock bounced back from his dismal performance last week. He didn’t give up a single reception as far as I could tell.

Special teams: C-. David Akers missed the one field goal he attempted, and LaMichael James couldn’t catch a punt. He bobbled three, but the Chargers never got the ball from him.

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