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49ers Mailbag: Will playbook open for Alex Smith?

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49ers Mailbag: Will playbook open for Alex Smith?

Welcome to another edition of 49ers Mailbag on this Thursday morning, and thanks to those followers on Twitter who supplied questions . . . Do you expect the Niners to open up the playbook to Alex a little more this year? (@gobo49)
If you're asking whether I believe the 49ers are going to change their offensive philosophy to more of a "pass-first" approach, the answer is absolutely no.But there is a strong chance the 49ers will attempt a higher percentage of passes because they might not be playing with a lead this season as much as they did a year ago.The 49ers do not want to throw the ball more. But they want to throw the ball more effectively when they do throw it. They expect to be better on third downs and inside the red zone, that's for sure.But the same overall approach as last season will be in play.Alex Smith will take the occasional shot down the field, but he's going to check it down and take what's there. That's how he made it through 18 games last season (including the playoffs) with just five interceptions.Coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman want to run the ball. This is not a philosophy that's new to them since coming to the 49ers. Remember, they had Andrew Luck as a junior at Stanford. And with the future No. 1 overall pick at quarterback, they still ran the ball 58.5 percent of the time that season.Should one or more tackles go down with injury who do you see the 49ers playing at the position? (@Michael_RA)
If one tackle goes down, the 49ers might not lose a whole lot. They would move Alex Boone to that tackle spot and Leonard Davis could take over at right guard.But if left tackle Joe Staley and right tackle Anthony Davis became unavailable, then there would be a lot of anxiety. (Of course, every team in the NFL would be in a bad spot if both tackles went down.)
If that were to occur, Boone would probably play left tackle and second-year pro Mike Person would be in line to play right tackle. That is, unless the 49ers make a move after final cuts to get a proven backup. But don't expect that to happen. Proven offensive tackles generally do not lose their jobs at the final cuts.Does Demarcus Dobbs' versatility (now as edge rusher in nickel) make possible to keep 3 OLB's again in '12? (@Tre9er)
Yes. As you know, the 49ers kept three outside linebackers on their roster last season. And it looks as if that's the way they're leaning again this year.The 49ers have three proven outside linebackers with starters Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks, and Parys Haralson, who started every game a year ago.

Journeyman Eric Bahktiari was removed in pass-rush situations in the first half against the Houston Texans on Saturday to allow Dobbs to get into the game. Dobbs is the 49ers' fourth outside pass-rusher right now behind the three outside linebackers.While Bakhtiari has stood out in two exhibition games, it should be noted that he has played well against players who aren't likely to be on 53-man roster this season.Veteran Ikaika Alama-Francis will be given an opportunity in the final two weeks to determine if he can be that fourth outside linebacker.In terms of the 53-man roster, it could come down to a fourth outside linebacker vs. nose tackle Ian Williams. Although Williams has practice-squad eligibility, he has played well enough to put himself in a position to get claimed off waivers if the 49ers let him go.Most impressive guy who WON'T make the practice squad? (@jaynovel)
The answer to that question is a wide receiver.Sorry I can't be more specific, but a year ago I never thought the 49ers would've chosen to retain Joe Hastings on the practice squad (and eventually promote him to the 53-man roster) over draft pick Ronald Johnson and impressive undrafted rookie Chris Hogan.If the 49ers keep six receivers, as I expect, on the 53-man roster, there's no need for them to hold onto more than one receiver on the practice squad. Undrafted rookies Nathan Palmer, Chris Owusu and Brian Tyms each brings a little something to the table. The 49ers face a difficult decision -- much as they did a year ago.Owusu seemingly gets the least amount of practice and play time of any of the receivers. Are they hiding him? Palmer received the biggest signing bonus (10,000) of any of the undrafted rookies. Those two are the clear front-runners for the practice squad nomination.These final two exhibition games might be mostly meaningless, but they could shape the 49ers' decision at wide receiver.

Snap count: 49ers' rookie running backs watch the veterans

Snap count: 49ers' rookie running backs watch the veterans

SANTA CLARA – Rookie running backs Joe Williams and Matt Breida have made strong bids for roster spots. But on Saturday night, the 49ers wanted to see what the veterans could do.

Williams entered the game late and played only four snaps of offense. He carried once for 1 yard. Another designed run play was aborted when a Denver Broncos defensive lineman got into the backfield so quickly he forced a fumble before the handoff could occur.

Breida, an undrafted rookie from Georgia Southern, did not see any snaps on offense in the 49ers’ 33-14 loss to the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said the plan all along was for Tim Hightower and Kapri Bibbs to see a lot of action after neither played in the exhibition opener.

“We’re trying to give them a chance to compete,” Shanahan said. “We see it in practice each day, but in games you want to see what guys do breaking through those arm tackles and see how they perform.

“We have a tough competition at back. If you rotate them every series, you don’t really give anyone a chance to show what they are. We try to do it that way. I’ve really tried to do it that way my entire career. You try to select which games you’re going to try to give guys a number of carries, so you have enough when it’s all said and done after four to try to make a decision.”

The 49ers’ run game was non-existent against the Broncos. Starter Carlos Hyde gained 26 yards on eight attempts. Bibbs managed 6 yards on four carries, while Hightower was thrown for minus-1 yard on three rushes.

In the exhibition opener last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, Williams gained 60 yards on seven carries, while Breida rushed for 40 yards on 11 tries. Raheem Mostert, the 49ers' leading rusher (15 carries, 89 yards) in the exhibition opener, was limited to just four plays on special teams.

Here is a look at the 49ers’ playing time on offense, defense and special teams:

OFFENSE
Quarterback – *Brian Hoyer 24, C.J. Beathard 20, Matt Barkley 4
Running back – *Carlos Hyde 20, Tim Hightower 14, Kapri Bibbs 10, *Kyle Juszczyk 6, Tyler McCloskey 5, Joe Williams 4
Wide receiver – Louis Murphy 23, *Marquise Goodwin 18, Kendrick Bourne 15, Jeremy Kerley 13, Aldrick Robinson 13, Victor Bolden 12, Trent Taylor 11, *Pierre Garçon 10, DeAndre Carter 5
Tight end – George Kittle 22, Garrett Celek 12, Logan Paulsen 10, *Vance McDonald 9, Blake Bell 5, Cole Hikutini 3
Offensive line – Erik Magnuson 25, *Trent Brown 24, *Zane Beadles 23, *Daniel Kilgore 23, *Brandon Fusco 23, *Joe Staley 23, JP Flynn 21, Tim Barnes 21, Garry Gilliam 21, John Theus 20, Darrell Williams 4, Norman Price 4, Andrew Lauderdale 4, Andrew Gardner 4

DEFENSE
Defensive line – D.J. Jones 38, Leger Douzable 36, Pita Taumoepenu 31, *Chris Jones 30, Quinton Dial 23, *Arik Armstead 23, *Earl Mitchell 19, Solomon Thomas 16, *Tank Carradine 15, Noble Nwachukwu 15, Elvis Dumervil 8
Linebacker – Dekoda Watson 33, Brock Coyle 30, Ray-Ray Armstrong 30, Ahmad Brooks 30, *Eli Harold 23, *Reuben Foster 23, *NaVorro Bowman 23, Shayne Skov 22, Alex Calitro 21
Cornerback – Asa Jackson 40, Ahkello Witherspoon 39, Keith Reaser 30, Will Davis 22, *Dontae Johnson 20, *Rashard Robinson 20, K’Waun Williams 11
Safety – *Lorenzo Jerome 37, Jaquiski Tartt 33, *Eric Reid 23, Don Jones 22, Vinnie Sunseri 19, Adrian Colbert 19
* -- Starter

SPECIAL TEAMS
D.Jones 18, Bell 17, Taumoepenu 17, DeAndre Smelter 16, Jerome 16, Celek 11, Watson 11, Coyle 10, Sunseri 10, Armstrong 10, Skov 9, C.Jones 9, Tartt 9, Bradley Pinion 8, Calitro 8, Colbert 8, Paulsen 8, Jackson 8, Kyle Nelson 7, Bolden 7, Bibbs 6, Witherspoon 6, Reaser 5, Dial 5, Davis 5, Raheem Mostert 4, Harold 4, Carter 4, Johnson 4, D.Williams 4, D.J. Jones 4, Robbie Gould 3, Robinson 3, J.Williams 3, Flynn 3, Douzable 3, Carradine 3, Nwachukwu 2, Price 2, Taylor 2, Kerley 2, Barnes 2, Theus 2, Magnuson 2, McCloskey 2, Armstrong 2, Foster 2, Reid 2, Bowman 2, Mitchell 2, Nick Rose 1, Matt Breida 1, Tim Patrick 1, Thomas 1, Bourne 1, Lauderdale 1, Brooks 1

DID NOT PLAY
QB Nick Mullens, WR Aaron Burbridge, DB Will Redmond, DB Jimmie Ward, DB Prince Charles Iworah, LB Sean Porter, LB Aaron Lynch, G Joshua Garnett, DL Ronald Blair, DL DeForest Buckner

Potential big play slips from Hoyer's grasp during preseason loss to Broncos

Potential big play slips from Hoyer's grasp during preseason loss to Broncos

SANTA CLARA – Quarterback Brian Hoyer threw the ball well enough to impress the Denver Broncos’ defensive backs during the 49ers’ two joint practices.

While he hit most of his passes on Saturday night, it was one that slipped away that summarized the 49ers’ 33-14 loss to the Broncos in the second exhibition game for both teams.

Hoyer had plenty of time to throw and saw a potential big play unfolding as he started to throw to wide receiver Jeremy Kerley. But the ball popped out of Hoyer’s right hand as he began to throw.

“I was getting ready to rip it to Kerley,” Hoyer said. “He had a double-move route, and I thought he was going to win. I went to throw it. And I was going to throw it hard, and literally, I think my arm even went forward and I was looking around, ‘What happened to the ball?' "

The ball ended up loose on the ground, where Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris recovered.

“My quarterbacks coach asked me, ‘When’s the last time that happened to you?’ Hoyer said. “Maybe a few years ago in practice, that happened one time. I never had that happen in a game. It’s the worst feeling. You go to throw the ball and you’re looking, and all of a sudden, you look around and you have no idea where it is.”

Hoyer and the 49ers passing game was sharp during two practice sessions with the Broncos during the week, prompting All-Pro defensive backs Aqib Talib and Chris Harris to praise the Hoyer, as well as coach Kyle Shanahan's offense.

Hoyer completed 8 of 11 pass attempts for 89 yards under the lights of Levi's Stadium. He threw an interception when 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin juggled the ball and Denver defensive back Chris Lewis-Harris wrestled the ball away from him as they tumbled to the ground.

“There weren’t any reads on his 11 attempts that I was upset with,” Shanahan said of Hoyer.

“(On) his pick, Marquise has to catch that ball. He threw it to him. That keeps the drive alive. He just didn’t catch it clean and the DB made a good play. I wish Brian could’ve played longer to get a chance to get into some sort of rhythm.”

In the game, the 49ers committed 11 penalties for 86 yards and turned the ball over five times. Denver scored 27 points off those turnovers.

“I don’t think any of us should be pleased right now,” Hoyer said. “When you put the defense in that situation, regardless of whether it’s a regular-season game or a preseason game, you should feel displeased with the performance.”