49ers have chance to show quality

This is my Friday column.

The 49ers have been by far the worst team in the NFL during the preseason.

In two games, the Niners have scored three points and given up 57. That means they’ve been outscored by 54. The Cowboys have been the second-worst team in the preseason. They’ve been outscored by merely 27. That means the 49ers have been twice as bad as the second-worst team.

We know the 49ers still are a quality team. We also know the roster isn’t as deep as it used to be. The 49ers have some horrible backups, like Blaine Gabbert and Jewel Hampton, who should not be on any NFL roster.

Gabbert and Hampton played a lot in the first two games, which partially explains why the Niners were so awful. The starters barely played. But the starters probably will play most of the first half and possibly part of the third quarter against the Chargers on Sunday. Joe Staley and Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin and Eric Reid will play and we expect those four will play well.

The coaches should pay attention to four problem areas:

1. Colin Kaepernick. All offseason he worked on his weakness – accuracy, touch, going through progressions and passing in the red zone. Through two preseason games, he has shown very little improvement in those areas. To his credit, he completed a couple of passes to check-down receivers against the Broncos last Sunday.

In the past, Kaepernick had a tendency to scramble instead of throwing the check down for a couple of reasons – he’s a good scrambler and his throws lack touch. It’s not easy for him to hit the check-down receiver. Kaepernick is a former pitcher and when he throws short passes he looks like one of those pitchers who can’t make the simple throw to first base.

He still has lots to prove. Has he improved his downfield progressions? Can he look right and then throw downfield to his left?

Has Kaepernick improved his accuracy? He overthrew Brandon Lloyd deep in the end zone last Sunday.

Has Kaepernick improved his touch? He threw a pass as hard as he could at Stevie Johnson on third and 8 last Sunday. Johnson had absolutely no chance to catch the pass and it was incomplete.

Has Kaepernick improved in the red zone? He has not yet thrown a single pass in there.

2. Joe Looney. Since Jim Harbaugh became the 49ers’ head coach, the strength of the Niners’ offense has been the offensive line. It’s been the best run-blocking offensive line in football. But two-fifths of last year’s starting O-line is gone. Jonathan Goodwin signed with the Saints in the offseason and Alex Boone is holding out.

If the 49ers and Boone don’t reach an agreement on a contract extension, Looney will have to replace Boone at right guard. Boone is one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL regardless of position – he could start at left tackle for half of the teams in the league. If he had been a free agent this offseason, some team probably would have offered him a five-year contract worth about $20 million guaranteed.

If Looney had been a free agent this offseason, no team would have offered him any guaranteed money. He’s a novice. He’s played 71 snaps in his two-year career. And he’s played poorly through two preseason games this year. And he’s been particularly bad as a run blocker. Can he at the very least be serviceable?

3. Daniel Kilgore. The 49ers might be able to overcome one weak link in the offensive line if Looney is no good. In 2011, Adam Snyder was the starting right guard and he was no good – the 49ers’ offensive line still dominated. But the 49ers might have two weak links in the O-line this season. The past three years, Goodwin was the starting center and one of the best run blockers on the team. From 2011 to 2013, Pro Football Focus gave him a +38.3 run-blocking grade. Joe Staley and Mike Iupati were the only 49ers who received higher run-blocking grades from Pro Football Focus during those three seasons.

Kilgore is a novice like Looney. Kilgore has played just 114 snaps at center in his three-year career. In the past two preseason games he did not run block or pass protect very well.

4. Ahmad Brooks. Including the three playoff games last season, Brooks led the 49ers in sacks with 14. The 49ers need another season like that from Brooks. He’s the Niners’ best pass rusher other than Aldon Smith, who most likely will be suspended at least for the first four games of the season.

Smith missed five games last season and the 49ers won all of them. But they played some terrible teams – the Rams, Texans, Cardinals, Titans and Jaguars. Only the Cardinals weren’t terrible. This season, the 49ers may not have Smith when they will face some of the best offenses in football. Three of the 49ers’ first-four opponents – the Cowboys, Bears and Eagles – finished top-six in points last season.

The 49ers need Brooks at his best if Smith is out for the beginning of the season. So far Brooks has generated zero pass rush in preseason. He’s 30 years old and has played 3,469 snaps the past three seasons including the playoffs – more snaps during that period than any other player who currently starts for the Niners’ defense. Brooks has played more snaps than Patrick Willis. Is Brooks all used up?

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

This article has 92 Comments

  1. the 64,000 dollar question:
    has Colin Kaepernick improved…
    in the red zone….(in any sense of the word).

    up or down; this is all on you, Coach Harbaw.
    Remember: the only thing Niner fans want is
    Lombardi trophy #6. Any other ending means
    that you suck eggs.

      1. Don’t ask that George! You might get an answer thst leaves you banging your head against the the nearest brick wall in a futile attempt at getting that answer to leave your mind.

    1. How many 64,000 dollar questions does one get to ask? Seems you preface every single one of your clueless takes with it.

  2. “In the past, Kaepernick had a tendency to scramble instead of throwing the check down for a couple of reasons”

    Didn’t you write recently that the reason Kaepernick wasn’t throwing the check down was because Roman rarely put the backs in a pass pattern?

  3. Coach said playing time is planned on an individual basis, so the “starters” will not all be playing a set amount of time. Is Brooks all used up? Ha! Too funny….

  4. 1. Mostly wrong on Kap. He looked far more decisive and checkdown-willing in the 3 series he’s played. If you rewatch the throw to Lloyd, it was a good throw. Lloyd either lost the ball and short armed it or Talib was hanging onto his arm (hard to tell for sure). I do agree that he doesn’t like to throw softballs on short crossing/slant routes and I do agree we need to see more end zone throws if possible. Again, small sample size, but arrow up.

    2. Other sources have reported that Looney is playing fine. Improvement has been noted from week 1 to week 2, particularly on Carlos Hyde runs up the gut. Saying Boone is one of the best guards, and could start for half of the teams at LT is reaching. I want Boone back, but this is a master-of-panic argument.

    3. Kilgore has been fine. Too small a sample size at this point to really say he’s as poor as you suggest. Again, Hyde has gained pretty well on runs up the gut so this contradicts your claim.

    4. You correctly note we need Brooks to have another quality pass-rushing season, particularly if Aldon is out for a while. However, to suggest he’s all used up based upon limited snaps in the preseason with no defensive scheming is ridiculous.

    1. Circling back to Boone, if he could truly start for half of the teams in the league at LT, Baalke would have his 2nd round pick and maybe a 1st round pick offer. LTs are just that valuable in the NFL.

    2. Well thought out response Adusoron! It appears you watched the replay of the Kaep to Lloyd throw which backs up your assessment. Not sure what Grant and his Dad were watching. Maybe they got a bad angle.

    3. A, you are right, but I think Grant is compensated in some way by column inch and knows he can provoke us into writing long responses by saying stuff he hasn’t thought seriously about. No slight to you, Grant, that’s your style and it’s working.

    4. Adusoron- It appeared to me like Talib hit the outside of Lloyd’s left leg as he was going down which might have also affected Lloyds stride.

  5. I don’t think Brooks is all used up but we have not seen him get better from year to year. He is still inconsistent from game to game. Some days he looks like an unblockable demon, the other he is undisciplined and lazy. He did however restructure and that’s a noble thing to do for his teammates and organization. Although 30, I think he has only played 6 seasons?
    If the guy jumps off-side more than once this year I might lose my……..

  6. People’s Chant:

    Trouble, oh we got trouble,
    Right here in River City!
    With a capital “T”
    That rhymes with “H”
    And that stands for hubris,
    That stands for hubris.
    We’ve surely got trouble!
    Right here in River City,
    Right here!
    Gotta figger out a way
    To keep the young ones moral after school!
    Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…

  7. How does Hsrbaugh continue to defend Gabbert as our 2nd string QB. How can anyone defend that crap?? What the heck were they thinking when they traded for him?? Didn’t they look at his film?? Wow!

    1. 23jordon- This is almost the exact same tack Harbaugh took in respect to McCoy last season. Almost word for word. I think we all figured out by his playing scared with Kaep that he didn’t believe a word of it.

    2. coach sticks to the plan of being the driver of the bus of team unity…and not play the part of the fan sitting on a couch and willing to throw any player under the bus

    1. Seahawks 21 to zip and I they haven’t even hit the half. I can’t say enough about their running game and I mean Turbin and Michael. And Harvin, no one will ever call him fragile again.

          1. Tuna: I know. I won’t let myself get drawn in, even by compliments ;) There was a bad call against Chicago though; a pass interference. Then Cutler’s pass was intercepted and Seattle scored another touchdown. It’s just not their night and Seattle dominated. It’s the half 31 to zip. I promise not to gloat during the season!

            1. There you go Brotha, help the fan of our most hated rival.
              There is a lot of people who are clueless on this blog, but there is nothing more that I hate than a cocky Seahawks fan!

              1. C’mon, man. You get my drift. You could’ve said “Phooey!” or “Nuts!”.
                (Google that last one.)

              2. Tuna thanks. But I don’t need defending. And Prime Time actually has a point for once. I don’t belong in here. P.S. My language is worse than his ;)

            2. Mary,

              Your team won the Super Bowl last year and you are excited because your team is dominating a team that didn’t even make the playoffs in a meaningless preseason game?


              1. I get it Jack and if you look at my comments about 10 min. ago I said I wouldn’t say anything during the real season. But I think we’re playing really well and have the intensity back. But thanks for the lecture.

              2. Jack,

                given the Seahawks spotty history as a NFL franchise, their fans have to take any success where they can. You have to admit, it’s adorable seeing them get all worked up over a preseason victory.

      1. “And Harvin, no one will ever call him fragile again.”

        lol… I’m sorry Mary, did I miss the part where Harvin played a complete season injury free?

      2. You can post here Mary, but many posters in here are confident that the 49ers are better than Seattle and are going to not only take the division back but beat Seattle in a playoff rematch. Your team is a worthy opponent but dismantling a bad bears defense isn’t going to blow any socks off.

        1. It’s funny how Mary have forgotten that her team was also dominating last year’s preseason games but struggle to secure a victory in their first regular season game against Carolina. It took a great play from Thomas late in the game to secure a victory to the score of 12 – 9!

          1. Mary,

            Ooh, bleacher report! Well, if they say it it must be true.

            Bleacher report is the Fox News or MSNBC of sports reporting.

            1. This is what I like to see. Wilson taking the hit in preseason, and notice the potential for serious injury as his foot is folded awkwardly…..

            2. hmmm nice to see you’re not dead ex-golfer. Apparently, I seemed to be the only one worried about you.

              I was happy with the Seahawks timing, focus, great in the red zone, 3rd down conversions, offense, speed, explosiveness and efficiency. And very few penalties.

              Good luck in your game tonight and I hope you come away with good feelings about it also.

          2. And I counter Mary with the following:

            1. Foolish is the man or woman who puts lasting stock in preseason results. Pete gameplans and plays starters longer in the preseason. Many opponents don’t. Harbaugh doesn’t and he plays starters extremely sparingly. The 2008 lions and 2010 49ers both went undefeated in preseason. Their regular seasons… Awful. The patriots and Walsh 49ers used to be mediocre in preseason but were the best in the business when the games count.

            2. Any time bleacher report is cited as evidence, the opponent wins the argument. They have as much credibility or less than the Fan Sites.

            3. Even though it is just preseason I saw some of the same weaknesses in the hawks offense. Wilson abandoned the pocket and started running around because he couldn’t or wouldn’t pull the trigger on a developing pass route. When defenses game plan, he will take more hits and sacks. Also the online looks as porous as ever. Wilson was bailed out because the bears were undisciplined in their pass rush and the broadcast noted this. That doesn’t happen against the 49ers, cards, rams, saints and packers.

          3. Lol. Bleacher Report!

            The unica cosa peor que las periodistas de Bleacher Report son las periodistas de La Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

        2. Cultler is good for at least one interception per game, but I expect at least two against the 49ers….

      3. Preseason games are 100% meaningless and have zero bearing on how a team performs in the real season. Half the teams that are good, lose the majority of their games in preseason.

        Harvin is fragile and will likely not make it through the whole year. When it happens, be sure to give me credit. Other than Lynch, the hawks don’t have a franchise RB. A couple fill ins. Great defense, good offense…basically it is the same hawks team plus Harvin for a time. They will be right there with the Niners, GB, NO fighting for the SB…I see no real advantage over the other 3 teams (unless at home).

    2. C4C,
      Bortles looks like the real deal indeed. And he is making a push to possibly be the only starter among the rookie QB crop this year.

      When it comes to backup QB’s, the one that has impressed me the most this preseason is Ryan Nassib of the NYGiants. He has been “money” so far.

      1. They’re making the right decision to go with Henne. Let the kid start the season with the clipboard so he can see what a few games look like before Henne’s inconsistency forces them to put in the rookie. The more time he can watch and watch film the better his eventual introduction will be. My guess he’s starting my week 6 or 7.

  8. Hint for Colin K: if you esteem yourself
    as cool as ” Johnny (Manziel) Football ”
    then do not be surprised if you too get hit
    with a $12,000 fine, huh? (look it up…)

    Elite performances tonight by some elite QBs:
    Aaron Rodgers (2 passing TD & a 2-point pass)
    …no interceptions; 1 rushing TD. Even Tolzien passed for a TD..!

    Tom Brady (2 passing TD; no interceptions) 17 of 21 completions
    …..405 total yards; 10 for 15 third down conversion (66%)
    and finally….
    Russell Wilson (he plays for the Seahawks) – two TDs passing
    …He also ran for one TD. 6 of 6 on third down (that’s 100%).
    …12 of 16 passing completion ratio; oh, yeah – no interceptions.

    Try and impress us on Sunday, willya….???

    1. The gentleman in me thinks you pitiably suffer from some social personality disorder. The less savory part of me thinks you should go play in traffic.

      1. Adusoron,
        This person lives on attention. Our responses are it’s lifeline.
        When you give it a response, you give it life.

  9. Hey Grant have you ever said anything good about our team? Go cover another team you hater! You have every 49er fans dream job and you continue to piss on our squad! You and Kwamaki are the lowest of the low when it comes to beat writers go slide down a razor blade into an alcohol river!

  10. Gabbert is Garbage tho that’s the only thing I agree with shame on Harbaugh for that one

  11. One example of why drawing any conclusions from preseason is silly.

    Through the first 2 games the 49ers first team has been on the field for a total of 3 series. Colin Kaepernick has a total of 10 pass attempts.

    In comparison, the Seahawks starters have played 6 series through their first 2 games. Russell Wilson attempted 13 passes in the 2nd game alone.

    1. I think thats what makes Seattle so good and so confident. It’s full go all the time with Pete Carroll. There’s not one thing conservative or with hesitation with him. In contrast Harbaugh plays it close to the vest, safe, and steady.

    2. Great points, Jack! I sense that there’s little frustration coming from the Niners fan base because they haven’t been scoring in the preseason and a little jealous of the way the Seahawks have played so far. May I remind everyone that Seattle have also dominated in last year’s preseason games (winning 4 – 0) but needed a great play from Thomas late in the game to secure a victory in the score of 12 – 9 in their first regular season game.

    3. Hammer,
      I’d like to see Gabb get some snaps with the first team offense. At the moment it seems like the Blaine (blame) game is aimed at him having to play with 2nd – 3rd stringers who may not make the roster.

      Playing with the 1st string starters will allow Gabbert to be surrounded with the actual players who would be his supporting cast should Kap miss time during the season. It would also be a good gauge to see if it is the weaker (2nd -3rd string) players that have been hampering Gabbert’ performance thus far.

  12. Kind of interesting that Seattle is going all out during the preseason. They play in the toughest division in football and as Super Bowl Champs every team will be gunning for them. They are gonna take some licks this season. You think that they would save some steam for later on. Bill Walsh always wanted to conserve energy during preseason and save the best for last. Interesting approach from Carroll.

  13. The Niners have a good coaching staff and talent at multiple positions. The team is pretty deep at most positions except at QB. Even now, after the new contract, we still don’t know what we’re going to get with Kaep. I hate to say it but he still seems like a work in progress. This is his year to show he’s elite. He’s deep at WR, and RB. The only question mark will be the OL.

    1. Tell the blog how you really feel about Colin. None of this concern trolling. It’s very lame in my opinion.

      1. Reminds me of how the poster TIM would bag on Alex Smith for paragraphs and then add “but I really hope Alex does better because I’m a true 49er fan and like him even though I know he won’t because he sucks and I hate his play!”

    2. Fan77,
      Let’s see, so far we’ve gotten a SB appearance, and two NFC championship games, and playoff wins with Kap in his very short career.
      Yup, we really don’t know what we’re getting do we? smh.

      Can you please remind me again who you would prefer to be our QB?

      1. AES,
        First NFCCG Kaep was on the bench. So far we know we have a talented but inconsistent QB who can’t read defenses, and locks on one player, Crabs. So far we know that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. So far we know that he needed improvement to actually WIN the games. In his very short career we have seen a QB who has relied on a strong defense and running game, much like the guy who replaced. SMH is right!

        1. Fan77,
          Look closely at my 11:04 am response.
          One SB: Ravens
          Two championship games: Atlanta and Seattle

          I didn’t count the championship game against the Giants – that was Alex Smith’ game.

          1. The goal isn’t to get to the nfccg, but the superbowl. Yeah in the giants nfccg it was all Alex’s fault for those two fumbles. Likewise, it was not Colin’s fault whatsoever in the Seattle game, where he had three turnovers in the second half.
            Nope. If only had had thrown that pass two more inches. Close is acceptable I suppose.
            But that is last year, this year we hear about great practices but we haven’t had a chance to see some results.

            In Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Ben rothlesberger’s short careers they were able to win it all. Is it too much to ask the qb on a stacked team to do the same?

            1. Fan77:
              “The goal isn’t to get to the nfccg, but the superbowl.”
              “In Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Ben rothlesberger’s short careers they were able to win it all. Is it too much to ask the qb on a stacked team to do the same?”

              Fan, you are contradicting yourself quite a bit today.
              1. Kap DID get to the SB (not just NFC Championship).
              2. Sure Brady and Ben have won SB’s, but they have lost as well in their careers.
              Wilson has won a SB (in short career), but his SB numbers were far from super.

              Kap is entering his 2nd full season as a starter and you continue to throw him under the bus which is your fine, but you have yet to come up with any solutions or another QB that could lead us to the promise land.

              1. AES,
                I didn’t contradict anything. I have high expectations and don’t like to make excuses for falling short. Niners felt short with Alex Smith too. Now that guy got thrown under then bus!
                If Kaep had delivered I’d be singing his praises. If he looked like he was getting better, I’d feel alot better about the Niner chances. Right now he doesn’t look that much better then last year. Maybe this is who he is…

            2. Fan77:
              “If Kaep had delivered I’d be singing his praises. If he looked like he was getting better, I’d feel alot better about the Niner chances. Right now he doesn’t look that much better then last year. Maybe this is who he is…”

              Fan, I agree that Kap did make some crucial mistakes in the championship game against Seattle. But he also made some plays that not many QB’s in the league would be able to make.

              As far as improving, your analysis is incomplete because the preseason is not a good barometer for anyone to determine conclusions.
              Harbaugh has never shown to put great significance on preseason games. If you are making your analysis based on the last two preseason games you are building your case on shifting sand.

              I will give you this. The 3 (undisputed) elite QB’s in the league are Brady, Drew, and P.Manning.
              Brady and Brees haven’t been to the SB in years and P.Manning was embarrassed in his last effort.
              Point; not even the highest ranking QB’s will guarantee a SB win every year.

              Like him or not, Kap is getting the team into the playoffs during his tenure as a starter and I’ll take those number all day. Once in the playoffs (and during the season), it takes a concerted effort by the entire team to get over the top, not just your QB – just ask Payton!

      2. Adusoron,
        This person lives on attention. Our responses are it’s lifeline.
        When you give it a response, you give it life.

        AES-Heed your own advice when dealing with the trolls….

        1. Razor,
          I really don’t put Fan77 in the same category as the Harbaugh “stalker” but I get your point. He never has anything positive to say about CK7.

  14. “Through two preseason games, he has shown very little improvement in those areas.”
    That’s an unfair assessment. He’s thrown the ball I believe 10 times this pre season. Two of those were plays where he hit the check down. One drop by crab and one lazer off Johnson’s hands. And the Lloyd throw would have been catchable if talib hadn’t grabbed Lloyd. And he has had 0 pass attempts in the red zone this far. So how could he show improvement? That’s yet to be seen.

  15. Kawakami > Harbaugh in Presser
    K/ Is the League going to make a decision on Aldon before the season?
    H/ I don’t know.
    K/ Shouldn’t you?

    Ya know……..once a delta bravo, always a db. I just laugh when national media regurgitate his stuff as though he’s this insightful expert on the Niners. If he was, Aldon would have been released and Harbaugh would be coaching elsewhere already, and TK would be joining the daily bloviations on espn, or better yet, he could be Editor-In-Chief at Bleacher Report.

    1. The following is pure uninformed speculation…

      Could the delay in announcing Aldon Smith’s suspension actually be a good thing?

      Suspensions are often announced well in advance of regular season. This allows time for an appeal process. Maybe Goodell is taking his time because he’s not intending to suspend Aldon at all.

      1. OK, so what’s the suspense with with Gordon and, ahem, Irsay? No delay in fining Johnny Beiber for the flying finger, I note.

  16. I take preseason with sizable grains of salt, but I’d like to see quality edge rush from players not named Aldon or Ahmad.

    Last years “super subs” dominated in the preseason… even when matched against opposing team’s starters. Sacks by Lemonier, Skuta or Lynch would rest my mind a bit.

    1. I can’t remember, but Skuta was quick off the edge last year. In the playoffs, he had a great sack called back because of a penalty on another defensive player.

  17. Whoa, Sam Bradford goes down with a nasty twisted leg injury, same one that he hurt last season. Considering how outrageous his contract is (27 million through 2015) compared to his output, if the injury forces him to miss significant games the Rams may just opt to save the money and cut him.

    If this happens, then none other than Shaun Hill becomes the starter! Can you imagine the Niners facing Shaun Hill twice a year? The safeties would not have to look for any deep passes.

    1. And this is why Kap doesn’t play much in preseason. The press not matter how relentless their pursuit of showing something in the preseason would never let Harbaugh off the hook if Kap got hurt.

  18. I wish Grant’s byline were larger. I keep missing it so I read all the way through the article before getting to the bottom and realizing who wrote it. Obviously the Press Democrat knows how bad this guy is or they would make the author more obvious before I and other readers waste their time.

  19. Grant I’d live to see what you wrote in the Nolan and Singletary eras when the team really was bad. I happen to live in the Denver area and the guys on 104.3 the fan were saying it was apparent Harbaugh doesn’t care about the preseason at all. They do have a chance to show something but they won’t.

  20. Woke up to the house rocking and rolling last night. Napa quake kicked some butt over there, but nothing broken here. Its like God giving you a bap on the back of the head to keep you humble.

    1. Looking at the quake damage on the news. Hope you and everyone in the hardest hit areas are ok.

      Yep, earthquakes are definitely attention getters.

  21. We’re all good in Calistoga, other then about 20 minutes of lost sleep no damage done.

    1. C4C,
      Good to hear you’re doing fine. Heard that there have been at least 80 people that have had injuries and a few significant injuries as well.
      Be safe bud.

      1. My guess a good portion of those injuries occurred when people jumped out of bed still half asleep and walked into something or off of something.

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