Second thoughts

What popped into the mind Saturday evening while trying to decide if the 49ers were making progress during their second preseason game, another down-to-the-wire exhibition of furtherance and football follies that resulted in a 20-13 loss to the Bears in Chicago.

--- The score that really decided this one: 49ers 5, Bears 0. That's turnovers, of course.

--- The Bears scored all 10 of their first-half points off turnovers. The final tally: 13 of Chicago's 20 points scored off San Francisco turnovers. The Niners, obviously, aren't good enough to work with that kind or margin for error, now or when the real games begin. Nobody is.

--- Just like Ken Dorsey promised us, he shakes off the bad plays and moves forward without worrying about the throws he can't take back.

--- Which is to say: The kid hangs in there, for better or worse, with the same poise and composure.

--- That said, we'd still like to see Tim Rattay hurry back.

--- Message to Rattay: This team needs you sooner rather than later. Like, right now.

--- The Niners have to prove they can throw deep unless they want opponents ganging up on their rushing attack and smothering what they do well in the short passing game.

--- If you're still waiting to see those aggressive tendencies promised by new defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, rest assured he is saving most of them for the games that matter in September and beyond.

--- That was a much better overall effort by the defense, by the way, particularly considering all the holes it was asked to dig out of.

--- Derek Smith doesn't belong at outside linebacker.

--- He belongs in the middle, where he set a team record for tackles last year, and where he's able to make the best use of his ball-hawking, run-plugging skills.

--- The Niners took a good look Saturday at Jamie Winborn in the void created by Julian Peterson's absence that Smith is trying to fill this summer, but Winborn needs to start spending more time there - and we're talking in practice, too - if the Niners really expect him to be effective in that spot.

--- Seeing is believing: Brandon Lloyd.

--- Turning, twisting in the air, reaching back at an awkward angle with one hand, tipping the ball to keep it alive and then coming down to make the grab in the corner of the end zone while contorting his body to keep two feet in bounds before hitting the ground: That's the magic of Lloyd.

--- And nobody does it better while making it look so routine.

--- Now, Lloyd just has to work on getting himself open a little more often to give himself a chance to make those kind of acrobatic plays on the ball.

--- That drop-off after the first three defensive tackles is rather dramatic. Isaac Sopoaga, hurry up and get healthy and get in there to show us what you can do.

--- We're just not sure if guys such as Riddick Parker and Demetrious Maxie can get the job done. But Michael Landry, we're getting sold on you.

--- That drop-off in quality after the starters along the offensive line continues to look like an area of considerable concern, too.

--- Count on Kevan Barlow to pick up the tough yards this season.

--- He's going to hurt opposing defenses catching passes out of the backfield, too.

--- And, with Jamal Robertson around, nobody will need to fret when Barlow leaves the game for a few plays.

--- More on Robertson: He's legitimate, and also a genuine weapon when he bounces to the outside and makes people miss.

--- He can make 'em miss when he's bouncing around on the inside, too.

--- Maurice Hicks? The Niners would like to figure out a way to keep this guy around, too.

--- That's the poorest we've seen Shawntae Spencer look in coverage close to the end zone in like, well, ever.

--- But we continue to believe Spencer and Jimmy Williams have the potential to give the Niners the best third and fourth cornerbacks they've had since the glory days when San Francisco owned one of the NFL's best defenses.

--- Between Williams, Cedrick Wilson, Jamal Robertson and Arnaz Battle, the Niners promise to have something to get excited about in their return game this year.

--- But after what happened last week, shouldn't we be seeing a little bit more of Battle as the deep guy?

--- Two preseason games. Two Saleem Rasheed injuries.

--- Are Brandon Moore and Richard Seigler moving ahead of Rasheed in the Niners' defensive plans?

--- From liability in pass coverage as a rookie to bona fide dependable cornerback two years later: That's Mike Rumph.

--- If Rumph and Ahmed Plummer hold their own as the starting corners this year, it really could all come together for the San Francisco defense.

--- Andy Lee couldn't use the tricky winds of Candlestick Park as an excuse this time, even if this was the Windy City.

--- It's no aberration: Eric Johnson really will be that big a factor in the aerial attack this season.

--- P.J. Fleck has been making efforts - and catches - like that throughout training camp. There has to be a place on the practice squad for this guy if he keeps it up.

--- That, by the way, was a pretty nice homecoming for Fleck, who was raised in the Chicago area, starred in college at Northern Illinois, and had hundreds of family and friends in the stands to cheer him on Saturday.

--- He didn't let them down.

--- Ronnie Heard has a little bit of nasty in him this year, as we've seen in the preseason and in practice, which should fit in nicely with his other attributes.

--- The Niners can say what they want about Dwaine Carpenter still challenging for the position, but Heard should - and will - be the starter at free safety for the Sept. 12 opener against Atlanta. End of discussion.

--- Bryant Young still can play. The Niners just really need to support him inside so that he can get more of the one-on-one opportunities that he has seldom seen in recent years.

--- Anybody still wondering if Cedrick Wilson can handle a front-line role at receiver? Or if he'll make his presence felt in the passing game?

--- Kwame Harris is a natural. He'll be everything the Niners want and need at left tackle.

--- It wasn't much, just a nice little sideline out pattern. But Derrick Hamilton's first catch as a pro is just the latest sign that he is coming along and coming on.

--- But dropping a slant pass in his hands a few plays later just shows how far he still has to go, just like another ugly drop a quarter later.

--- The Niners finally have the blend of talented youngsters and youthful veterans they need to be effective on special teams.

--- And they will be, as long as they eliminate the bonehead errors.

--- They're not big, to be sure, but the speed of ends John Engelberger and Andre Carter will make them more effective this year in the way they'll be used in the defensive scheme.

--- But that's not necessarily translating into a better pass rush so far during the preseason, which is what the Niners really need from these guys.

--- Justin Smiley or Kyle Kosier? That's going to be a tough call.

--- Smiley didn't help himself much with two holding calls Saturday, when it looked like he was trying to manhandle opposing defenders, but this guy is tailor-made for the sweeps and screens the Niners plan to employ this year.

--- The shotgun formation? You'll be seeing a lot more of that this season than when Jeff Garcia was around.

--- There goes Cody Pickett's reign as the NFL's leading preseason passer.

--- Despite the two fourth-quarter Pickett picks, we're still leaning toward the rookie in his battle for the third quarterback role with Brandon Doman.

But - gratefully - there's still two preseason games to figure that one out, along with a lot of other questions looming over this team.


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