Returning to the field with 2:15 remaining in the third quarter, Joe Staley looked across the line of scrimmage and saw former Central Michigan teammate Dan Bazuin staring back.
The feel-good moment ended abruptly when Staley remembered his blocking assignment for the pair's first meeting in a professional game: he would have to perform a cut block, a maneuver designed to trip up an opponent by diving at his knees. This against a former teammate who has been recovering from a knee injury suffered not long after April's NFL Draft.
"My responsibility on that play called for me to cut him," Staley said. "I had to because we were running a quick slant and he needed to get down. I told him afterwards when I helped him up that I felt bad about it."
The play was the first in a six-play touchdown drive for the 49ers. Staley and Bazuin lined up across from each other for just two series, playing mostly to a stalemate.
"It was a little weird, I have to admit," Bazuin said. "To see him across from me and have it be a game situation, it was definitely a little strange. But, it was fun at the same time to be able to play against him.
"We were joking about it after the game," Bazuin said of the cut block on the opening play. "I was saying, ‘My mom is going to be so mad at you.' It's just something he had to do."
Bazuin saw action with the Bears' No. 1 punt return unit and played most of the final 1-½ quarters at defensive end. He sacked Trent Dilfer on a third-down play midway through the fourth quarter that forced a San Francisco punt.
Staley, meanwhile, split time with Kwame Harris at right tackle for the 49ers. He was in on both of San Francisco's first two scoring drives, the first of which culminated in a 2-yard Maurice Hicks scoring run behind a lead block by Staley.
The Bears built a 31-13 halftime lead on their way to a 31-28 victory.
With two weeks remaining in preseason camp, Staley and Bazuin find themselves in positions to earn playing time with their respective clubs. Staley is in the midst of a battle with Harris for the starting nod at right tackle on San Francisco's offensive line, while Bazuin's exact role for his rookie year is still to be determined. He was listed third on Chicago's depth chart at defensive end entering Saturday's game.
Despite competing with veterans for playing time, both rookies said their teammates have helped ease the transition from college to the professional ranks and been influential in their development as players.
"The whole defensive line has been very influential in always pointing out things that I'm doing that are technique errors or things that I could do to better myself," Bazuin said. "That's something that I don't think all teams have because you're competing for the same job. Here, they want to be so professional that they are willing to help you learn. It's been a great surprise for me to have those guys behind me all the way."
Staley has experienced much of the same in San Francisco.
"The whole offensive line has been great," he said. "They're not big-timing me at all. If I ask a question they're willing to answer it, and they're all really great guys. This is a great team. I definitely can tell this is a team on the rise. We have a great attitude and there are a lot of leaders on this team."
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