Quarters coverage: 49ers-Saints in exhibition opener

August 12, 2011, 8:12 pm
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
NEW ORLEANS -- Coach Jim Harbaugh has paced the 49ers through 11 practices.That's 33 hours devoted to practice and evaluations over the past two weeks. So anything that happens in the 49ers' exhibition opener Friday night against the New Orleans Saints will merely be an addendum to what Harbaugh and his staff have already seen, he said.
"As far as evaluations go, it'll mean something that it's a game," Harbaugh said. "But I don't think it'll mean as much as the 11 practices we've had under our belt right now. It'll augment it, definitely. But what these guys have been doing and what they're working on, those things to me kind of tip the scales."Still, there should be plenty to watch throughout the "game" . . . First quarter
There's this guy -- Alex Smith is his name -- who will enter the huddle with the 49ers' first-team offense as the quarterback. It's certainly no make-or-break game for Smith, who somehow remains with the organization for a seventh season. But Smith can make things a lot easier on himself by getting off to a good start in the exhibition season. The starters are expected to play about 20 snaps. At least that's what Harbaugh said earlier this week. How much will running back Frank Gore play? With a contract extension in the works, it goes to reason that Gore would not see much action with Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter, Xavier Omon and Seth Smith all available for duty. Right tackle Anthony Davis struggled in road games last season. Although it's only an exhibition game, we'll see if Davis does a better job of handling crowd noise and locking quickly into his pass-block sets. Defensively, the 49ers are looking for left cornerback Carlos Rogers to provide an upgrade over Nate Clements. He'll get his first chance to show what he can do. Also, Ray McDonald takes over as the starting defensive end after signing a five-year, 20 million contract to return to the club with more responsibility.Second quarter
Harbaugh said quarterback Colin Kaepernick is the most "game ready" of all the team's rookies. Perhaps we'll find out. He is making the difficult transition from college to the pro game without the benefit of the months of coaching in the offseason that rookies are generally afforded. Let's start with the basics. Kaepernick is still working on taking snaps under center. Also, Kaepernick's first reaction in college was to take off running to produce big yards. At this level, it's important that he remains in the pocket and learns that it's not a bad thing to just throw the ball away when nothing is there. Veteran Jonathan Goodwin, who started for the Saints the past three seasons, will probably enter the game as Adam Snyder's backup. He is getting close to taking over as the starter. First-round pick Aldon Smith and third-round selection Chris Culliver will get plenty of action as they maneuver for significant roles for a pass defense that ranked 24th in the NFL last season. Smith has shown good pass-rush moves as an outside linebacker, and Culliver has held up well in coverage against his teammates.
Third quarter
Rookie offensive linemen Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person will see a lot of play time. Kilgore has lined up mostly at left guard, while Person has been working at right tackle. Undrafted rookie Chase Beeler is the only player on the roster, aside from Goodwin, who has significant experience at center. He'll get his chance to show what he can do. There are some spots available at inside linebacker. Navorro Bowman has the inside track to start alongside Patrick Willis. Larry Grant, Keaton Kristick, Blake Costanzo, Alex Joseph and Scott McKillop are also slated to see action. McKillop was the subject of an erroneous transaction Friday on NFL.com that listed him as being "cut." The team says McKillop was never cut, and NFL.com eventually removed the listing. Still, he knows his spot on the team in tenuous. Special teams will play a huge role in which inside linebackers make the 53-man roster.Fourth quarter
The 49ers have been up front about contacting teams around the league to see if there is any interest in a trade for safety Taylor Mays. He is likely to see action in the second half. There is pressure on Mays to make some plays to convince the 49ers -- or some other team -- that he has a future in the NFL. Donte Whitner, Madieu Williams and C.J. Spillman are expected to see action ahead of Mays. Dashon Goldson suited up for his first practice Wednesday after signing a one-year, 2 million contract. Goldson is not expected to play. Reggie Smith is out after undergoing arthoscopic surgery Monday on his knee. Mays will be weaved into the defensive backfield among a group of fellow safeties that includes Chris Maragos, Curtis Taylor, Colin Jones and Anthony West. Harbaugh said he anticipates playing all four of the 49ers' quarterbacks. Behind Alex Smith and Kaepernick are undrafted rookies Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The 49ers have to decide whether they would be content to open the season with either of those players as the No. 3 quarterback.