Here is a link to my Sunday column previewing the exhibition game between the 49ers and Cowboys. The full text runs below:
My former editor objected to the phrase “preseason game” in the NFL. “They’re not preseason games,” he would tell me. “They’re just exhibition games.” He told me to write “exhibition game” in my columns and not to write “preseason game.”
So, I got in the habit of calling them exhibition games, and I’ve been thinking about the infinitive “to exhibit.” It means to show or display outwardly. Fair to say the 49ers need to display certain things in their second exhibition game — this one against the Cowboys. The starters will play limited time and the score won’t matter, but the 49ers would be advised to exhibit the following four things.
Show us that Colin Kaepernick can connect on the deep ball to wide receiver Torrey Smith, a new acquisition. Smith is the deep threat the Niners have lacked at wide receiver. Vernon Davis is a deep threat at tight end, but is coming off a mediocre season.
Fact: Kaepernick and Smith have not connected once on a deep pass in training camp. I’m talking a pass 30 yards or more when the offense goes against the defense. I know this because Grant Cohn, who writes a daily 49ers blog for the Press Democrat, tells me so. Kaepernick and Smith have connected a few times in one-on-one drills — quarterback, receiver, cornerback. But the degree of difficulty in one-on-ones is low.
In the Houston game, Smith sprinted far down the field. Kaepernick wound up and threw a bomb. Threw the pass beyond Smith. Wasn’t even close. It was a big miss, a spectacular miss.
And get this. The 49ers barely practiced Kaepernick going deep to Smith this past week. They didn’t try it once on Thursday or Friday. The 49ers don’t want to enter the regular season not having perfected the deep pass from Kaepernick to Smith. They want this pass ready for Game 1, not Game 6.
Smith is good at it. We know that. The Ravens’ Joe Flacco found him deep. The burden of proof is on Kaepernick. It would be a fine idea for Kaepernick to find Smith with a bomb against Dallas.
Show us that Australian Rugby League star Jarryd Hayne is the real NFL deal as a punt returner, kick returner and running back. That he is not merely a training-camp sideshow, a temporary fad.
Hayne played well against Houston in the first exhibition game. He ran back a kickoff 33 yards from seven yards deep in the end zone. I’ll get back to that kickoff return in a moment. He returned two punts, one for 11 yards, one for 13. Nice. Niners special-teams coach Thomas McGaughey Jr. said Hayne showed exceptional lateral quickness on the punt returns. He moved right, faked out the closest defender and took off.
McGaughey cautioned that Hayne played only one exhibition game and reporters should not conclude Hayne has it made. On the 33-yard kickoff return, Hayne caught the ball, took off along the right side, then cut across the middle. McGaughey said, with a laugh, that Hayne does not have the speed for the cross-field cut and is unlikely to thrive on it when games get real.
So let’s see how Hayne does tonight when he doesn’t catch a team by surprise, when a team knows who he is, when a team has film on him and can plan for him — to the extent a team plans for exhibition games. Can Hayne adjust to the adjustments the Cowboys may make?
Show us that the cornerbacks can defend.
Against Houston, the 49ers defense gave up 12 completions on 15 pass attempts in the first half. Eighty percent. Ridiculous. The entire defense was responsible for that sorry performance, not just the defensive backs. And more specifically, not just the corners. But the cornerbacks had great complicity in what happened.
Let’s be specific. The 49ers like Tramaine Brock as a starting cornerback. In training camp, they have him play left corner, right corner and the slot. Why? They want him to guard the opponent’s most dangerous threat at wide receiver. It’s the other corner that’s problematic. The Niners mostly used Shareece Wright and Dontae Johnson against Houston in the first half.
They didn’t play well. They looked lost in Eric Mangini’s defense – lots of Niners players say it requires more thinking than former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s system. Because Wright and Johnson were ineffective, the 49ers downgraded them in practice leading up to the Dallas game. Both played with the second-string and third-string defenses.
Against the Cowboys, the 49ers probably will use Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker as their No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks. Both are second-year guys who missed their first year with injuries.
The Niners are still feeling their way at cornerback beyond Brock, are not settled on their No. 2 and No. 3 guys. They need one or two guys to step up and be ready for the first regular-season game. They need guys to start stepping up against Dallas.
Show us that the blindside linebacker can mount a pass rush. We’re talking about the post-Aldon Smith era here. We’re talking about Ahmad Brooks. Watch Brooks. See if he gets pressure on the quarterback. So much depends on Brooks.
He recently admitted he has not been great at rushing the passer. He never has had more than 8½ sacks in a season. He says he wants double-digit sacks this season. Says he has improved his moves to the quarterback.
Against Dallas, Brooks should display multiple pass-rushing moves. Nice if he sacks the quarterback.
Those are four things the 49ers should exhibit in the next exhibition game.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn.pressdemocrat.com.