Sunday at the 'Stick

It ended after three hours of football with Alex Smith failing at the finish and a chorus of boos showering down from the stands upon him. Yep, just another regular Sunday afternoon at Candlestick Park, where the 49ers will be returning on Saturday to play their preseason home opener against the neighborhood rival Oakland Raiders, perhaps with another veteran quarterback on their roster.

--- That quarterback would be Daunte Culpepper, the 34-year-old veteran of 11 NFL seasons who has been out of the league since 2009. After the 49ers conducted a three-hour practice before 8,200 fans as part of a full day of "Fan Fest" activities, coach Jim Harbaugh confirmed that the Niners will bring Culpepper in for a workout Monday when training camp shifts back to the team facility in Santa Clara.

--- "We're going to have Daunte in for a workout and kick the tires," Harbaugh said. "I'm looking forward to that. It's an opportunity to look at a veteran quarterback, put a third guy on the roster who's been there before and has game experience. So, we'll see where he's at physically, see where he's at mentally and emotionally, and have a workout. I'm looking forward to a good workout."

--- The question is, what took them so long? The 49ers should have been bringing in unemployed veteran quarterbacks for a look once the lockout ended last month, and then they wouldn't be in the predicament of scrambling to find one less than a month before the regular season begins.

--- Because, just one game into the exhibition season, it's pretty clear the 49ers need an experienced veteran quarterback on the roster behind Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, just in case.

--- Since the Niners have played a preseason game, Friday's 24-3 loss in New Orleans, and Harbaugh still has declined to anoint a starting QB despite being given several opportunities to do so in his day-after-defeat conference call Saturday, the open competition between Smith and Kaepernick began in earnest Sunday on the team's home field. But neither quarterback said he noticed any change.

--- "From the start, (Harbaugh)'s said the best player is going to play," Kaepernick said, "so he really kind of opened it up from the start. Me and Alex are both out here working hard, trying to compete for that starting spot. Ultimately, it's going to be up to coach where the chips fall."

--- Said Smith, "He hasn't seen us play, so why wouldn't it be an open competition, and why wouldn't he want to see us play football and then go from there? Just the way coach has set it up, it's all about the football. It's all on the field. There's no politics or anything else going on. It's just about performing out here, which is the way it should be."

--- That could be both good and bad for Smith after his performance Sunday, which was mostly good as he began every 11-on-11 session as the starter before sharing snaps with Kaepernick as each session progressed. But it was how Smith ended the final session of practice that will be the image that lingers from Sunday's event.

--- Harbaugh had set up the end of practice with the intention of Smith coming out a hero. With about an hour to go in practice, the video screens along the concourse level began flickering "Cowboys" opposite "49ers" with the score of 27-21 going under each team. The clock locked in at 4:54. For long-time 49ers observers, it was obvious what was going on here.

--- Finally, as the end of practice neared, "Cowboys," and "27-21" and "4:54" returned to the screens. That's what those same screens read almost 30 years ago when the 49ers played the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. What happened next back then was a seminal moment in 49ers history and the beginning of the team's two-decade dynasty. The 49ers drove 92 yards for the winning touchdown in those final moments, with Dwight Clark grabbing "The Catch" from Joe Montana to send the Niners to a 28-27 victory and the first of their five Super Bowl appearances.

--- "We were replicating ‘The Drive,'" Harbaugh said, as Smith and the first-team offense began at their own 8-yard line against the first-team defense. And it went splendidly for a while, with Smith completing five consecutive passes at one point early in what would become a 16-play drive. Some drama ensued moments later when the offense faced a fourth-and-8 at the 20-yard line. After calling a timeout, Smith came through, hitting Joshua Morgan for a first down with 1:15 to go.

--- The fans that stayed until the end were getting into it by now, and one of the loudest roars of the afternoon came down from the stands when Ted Ginn – Smith's favorite target on the day, with several nice connections down the field between them – made a diving catch at the 3-yard line to set up third-and-goal. At that point, the second-team defense was sent in to replace the first unit.

--- Smith had Vernon Davis wide open in the end zone on the next play, but rookie Aldon Smith tipped the pass at the line of scrimmage – the second of two passes the long-armed Smith tipped during the drive as he continues to stand out among his peers at 49ers practices. On fourth down, Smith couldn't find a receiver, double-clutched as the play broke down, then scrambled to his left where he was touched down by swarming defenders at the 2-yard line.

--- Talk about anti-climactic. The boos reigned down as "Fan Fest" ended with a fizzle. Smith had to listen to negative sounds from the stands most of the day. For every, "Alex, you the man," shouted by fans there were at least two shouts of "Alex, you're a good backup," and some that were a little bit sharper in tone.

--- On the flip side, Kaepernick received a nice round of cheers when he ended a previous session by connecting in the corner of the end zone with tight end Delanie Walker, who went up in the air to beat tight coverage.

--- But Sunday afternoon wasn't just about quarterbacks. It was a busy day of work for the 49ers, and also a busy day for the fans on hand, who were entertained by live music and also had several activities at their disposal such as youth football clinics and a Football 101 session hosted by NFL referee Bill Leavy, among other things.

--- It also was a day that nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and free safety Dashon Goldson returned to their regular positions with the first-team defense. Sopoaga was practicing for the first time after missing the first two weeks of training camp with a leg injury. Goldson had only seen sporadic reps with the first team since joining the team late last week.

--- Goldson stood out as an aggressor throughout the day, coming up and popping pads several times with ball carriers. He put a nice crunch on Frank Gore at the end of a run, which got a reaction from the star tailback, and the two players had a few words before Gore trotted back to the huddle.

--- Also getting into it were offensive tackle Anthony Davis and defensive end Ray McDonald, who go against each other often during the course of practice. It appeared Davis finally had had enough of McDonald abusing him, and Davis initiated a post-play tangle before teammates got between the two. McDonald, with his helmet off, kept chiding Davis on his way off the field.

--- McDonald, by the way, continues to look superb. With Sopoaga back, the front defensive wall of McDonald, Sopoaga and Justin Smith – from left to right – looks very formidable.

--- Even the second unit behind those three looks promising. Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams and Ricky Jean Francois worked well together in several packages. If we we're guessing today, all three of those backups make the team. And all three are interchangeable – each can play every line position, even though at 293 pounds Tukuafu isn't likely to see action anywhere besides end in a 3-4 alignment.

--- Alex Smith said he felt "right at home" at Candlestick. "Yeah, it was nice and windy" Smith said. "Really familiar." The wind – which really picked up in gusts as the afternoon progressed – didn't seem to much bother Smith or Kaepernick, who said, "I'm kind of used to throwing in the wind. Coming from Reno, the wind always blows there. I didn't know it was going to start and stop like this, but it's just something you've got to be aware of as a quarterback."

--- Cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Shawntae Spencer also returned to practice after lengthy absences due to injury, though Spencer's reps tailed off midway through the session. Brown continued to work behind starters Carlos Rogers and Tramaine Brock with Chris Culliver coming in as the third cornerback on passing downs. Culliver continues to look a little better every day and should be a factor at the position as a rookie.

--- Brown squirted through the line to block a 43-yard field-goal attempt by kicker Fabrizio Scaccia after a situational drive. Scaccia had drilled a 49-yarder into the wind to culminate the previous drive. Scaccia showed plenty of leg throughout the afternoon, and he would have a much better chance of making a team that didn't just sign five-time Pro Bowler David Akers to a three-year deal a few weeks ago.

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