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Defensive Pre-Season Game Reactions
August 6 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
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It was just pre-season. Is a clause that will be tossed around until the 49ers start winning in pre-season. At that point of course, fans can stop making excuses; and while many are taking the Ďwho caresí attitude, others are panicking. Truth be told, neither side is fully in the right here. Itís rare that I sit on the fence with any issue, but in this case, I will. There is no need to panic yet, but certainly pre-season games should not just be blown off.

The pre-season games are a great time to see how your teamís players will fair against the competition. But really with teams pulling their starters at different times on both sides of the ball, itís not as good an indicator as it should be. Rather it gives coaches a true assessment of how their players match up with others in the league. Sometimes the match-ups are first stringers against first stringers, and other times, its first string against fourth string. Hence pre-season is useful, and important, but a loss, even a blowout like what the 9ers suffered through this past weekend should not be discouraging.

The 49ers first string defense, for example, looked very good against the Redskins first string offense. Of course, it should be noted, that the Redskins first string offense, was not under the guidance of their best quarterback. Similarly the 49ers third and fourth string defense was torn apart by the Redskins offense - but at the time, the Redskins offense was guided by one of their better quarterbacks, who was protected by the starting offensive line. Hence the Redskins were able to run up the score. As the score ran up though, the 49ers staff were able to evaluate its depth chart against a first string style offense - a rarity for a pre-season game.

There were some notable players on the 49ers defense. Ahmed Plummer, who played little, had an interception. He continues to be a solid corner for the 49ers. Jason Webster sat the game out as he continues to rest an injured leg. The 49ers are being extra cautious with Webster. Mike Rumph took Websterís place on defense, and played most of the game. He was on the field for 50-snaps, second only to Kevin Curtisís 54. Rumph was beaten pretty badly for a touchdown, but also broke up two sure touchdown passes, nearly intercepted another (that fell incomplete after he tipped it), and made some other good plays. Rumph is still not perfect, but heís showing that he can play in the NFL, and does not make the same mistake twice. Rumph has joined Webster and Plummer in nearly all their practice activities. The three of them even watch film of their practice sessions a rarity, as players normally reserve film sessions to only game footage. Jimmy Williams saw a fair bit of time throughout the game too. He looked good coming on the corner blitz and in coverage. Safety Kevin Curtis is punishing when hitting, but needs to brush up his pass coverage skills. Safety Ronnie Heard on the other hand looked better in pass coverage than when hitting. Rashad Holman was not overly inspiring at cornerback. Rookie corner Teddy Gaines saw minimal action and was beaten on several accounts - still he did make some good plays.

The run defense was outstanding. It gave up only 42-yards over the entire game. They were very quick to swarm the ball. Defensive lineman Reggie McGrew, and Jim Flanigan were very good, and received praise from coach Mariucci. Bobby Setzer looked quite good too. The unit was also able to get some pressure on the Redskinsí quarterbacks. Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield played very little. Having to deal with a new encroachment rule that prevents, even the head of defensive lineman from entering the neutral zone before the snap; I saw on a few occasions that a defensive tackle would actually line up parallel to the line of scrimmage. Perhaps itís a new technique that the 49ers defensive staff is working on.

The linebackers are very solid and very quick. Jamie Winborn continues to excel at the top backup, but Saleem Rasheed, Frank Strong and Brandon Moore were all very quick and effective in this game. Rasheed in particular seemed to be in on every play.

My overall impression from the defense was that the starting group continues to be very strong. Most of the backups seem to be a second or so, late on every play - in the same way that the defense was two years ago. Just missing a sack, or breaking up a pass. Still they all swarm to the ball and rarely get beaten long. They are very quick, and that speed was used against them with the screen pass. The second stringers in particular have to watch their containment on such plays. The entire defense looked a little rusty tackling, but that should be expected as the team does not practice tackling in training camp, in order to minimize the risk of injury.

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