Friday’s opening exhibition game was quite an improvement over last year’s opening debacle in New Orleans. I wish it meant something more significant than polite applause. Still, it was football and we now get to see it every week till February.
The offense looked in mid-season form on the first drive, no doubt relishing the chance to play against the Vikings defense, instead of their own defense. Conversely, the 49er defense did not look as good, surrending two long drives.
Quarterback controversies are no stranger to 49er land, and this game set off this year’s model. But not for the starting job. Colin Kaepernick, Scott Tolzien, and Josh Joshnson are all vying for the two spots available at backup and backup’s backup. One guy probably has to go. Johnson didn’t get enough action to make much of an appraisal, but the other two did. Kaepernick looks like an excellent wildcat QB and Tolzien looks like an excellent backup QB. We’ll see how they look on Saturday against the Texans. And presumably get a longer look at Johnson.
Jim Harbaugh played RBs Rock Cartwright and Anthony Dixon extensively in the game. This could have been a “save the starters” ploy or a competition to see which of these two had more non-special teams value for what will be only one roster spot. Cartwright looked pretty decent, but Dixon is clearly on his way out of town at cut-down day. If he were smart, he’d already have his bags packed.
Next Saturday’s game against the Texans should be a sterner test for the offense. The Texans are viewed similarly to the 49ers, as young teams on the rise and capable of contending for the Super Bowl. Their defense was was a force last year and is expected to be so again this year, despite the loss of DE Mario Williams.
That brings us up to date on what everybody already knows.
Kaepernick’s 78 yard TD run defnitely caught the attention of the league, which probably thrills Harbaugh and Trent Baalke. Knowing how Harbaugh likes to get all his players involved in the action, it’s no stretch to envision Kappy trotting out for some wildcat plays during the season. Wildcat plays seem to be either quite effective or a total mess. We saw the mess part under OC Jimmy Raye, but we’ll assume that Greg Roman can concoct a more effective effort.
For the future, and thus Baalke’s smile, a few more runs like this one and Kaepernick’s value will increase around the league, making him attractive in trade should he be unable to unseat Alex Smith by the time Colin’s current contract expires. Any success Tim Tebow has this year will also enhance Colin’s value as GMs around the league murmur, “I want one of those.”
All in all, a fun opening game. And one that does nothing to dilute the validity of our offseason high expectations.