SANTA CLARA -- The three practices in which the 49ers remained on the East Coast to match up daily with the Baltimore Ravens signaled the arrival of a young defensive back.
Rookie Kenneth Acker, a sixth-round draft pick from SMU, had mostly been quiet on the 49ers' practice field. He did not allow many big plays during the offseason and the early part of training camp, but he also did not get his hands on a lot of balls in coverage.
But Acker has been a noticeable standout in the 49ers' secondary over the past week. And he inserted himself into the conversation for a spot on the team’s 53-man roster with one of the 49ers’ few strong showings Sunday in a 34-0 loss to the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium.
The light seemed to go on for Acker after the exhibition opener. He played 22 snaps at right cornerback against the Ravens, but he was not involved in any of the action.
“Coach sat all of us down after the first game and talked about how everybody has a chance to be on the team,” Acker said. “It’s an opportunity for us to make a play on any play. So really, I just took it at that. My first couple weeks were a learning experience and now it’s time to play. I get more opportunities to get on the field, and every time I get out there I want to show what I can do.”
Acker had an outstanding week of practices against Baltimore and his own offensive teammates, which included interceptions of backups Blaine Gabbert and McLeod Bethel-Thompson.
“Any time I get the ball back in my hands, it feels good,” he said. “As a corner, we play off a lot of emotion, so seeing the ball around us gets us anxious. I feel like the more I see it coming my way, the more chances I have to take it.”
Acker’s performance on Sunday against the Broncos consisted of a breakup of a Zac Dysert pass in the end zone. Then, he was in good position against wide receiver Bennie Fowler, who was called for pass interference in the end zone.
On the next play, Acker’s interception and 26-yard return were nullified by teammate Aaron Lynch’s offside penalty.
So which was his best play?
“I would say the pick, but it was called back, so we can’t talk about that,” Acker said. “I’d probably say the pass breakup. I made a nice read, and got across the receiver (Greg Wilson) without touching him. So I feel like that was a good play and showed a little athleticism.
“The NFL is looking so hard at DBs at this hands-off stuff. So just being able to listen to the ref, tell me to take my hands off and take my hands off at the right time and show him that the contact came from the other side.”
Acker was simply carrying over his elevated play, which really began when the 49ers had three joint practices with the Ravens in Owings Mills, Maryland.
“It was real good, knowing I could play against another team and actually seeing other teams,” Acker said. “You get here and it’s like, 'This is the NFL now,' and we’ve been practicing against our same team for three or four months. And then you get to see new players. So that’s great to see new routes, new quarterbacks and everything. I feel like it helped me out a whole lot.”
And it also helped that the Broncos, who had their way with the 49ers’ defense for most of the game, decided to attempt to pick on the wrong guy. On the Broncos’ previous possession, backup quarterback Brock Osweiler hit rookie Cody Latimer for a 33-yard touchdown over 49ers rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick.
Then, they tested Acker on the other side.
“It was real nice to see the ball come back-to-back-to-back,” he said. “It’s like, ‘I’m here now.’”