A new beginning

The Mike Nolan/Alex Smith era began with a thud Saturday, but then was lifted off the Monster Park turf by two unlikely candidates – embattled veteran quarterback Tim Rattay and rookie cornerback Derrick Johnson. That duo produced all three San Francisco touchdowns during the 49ers' improbable 21-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders to begin the preseason, and each gets high marks in our observations, impressions and proclamations from the Niners' first exhibition victory since 2003.

--- Twenty-one points in fewer that six minutes: Now, that's something we haven't seen from the 49ers in a long, long time.

--- We haven't seen a preseason victory in a while, either, as the Niners snapped a five-game exhibition losing streak dating back to the first August of the Dennis Erickson era.

--- The debut of Alex: Three and out.

--- And on Smith's fourth play, Bobby Hamilton welcomed the rookie to the NFL.

--- Which led to another three-and-out. Anybody think it was a good idea now to start the multi-million dollar baby behind that makeshift offensive line?

--- Warren Sapp came by to say hello to the No. 1 overall draft pick, too. Ouch.

--- Which led to a third consecutive three-and-out, which led to a fourth consecutive three-and-out, which adds up to a 12-and-out to begin Smith's career in San Francisco.

--- Of course, the offensive game plan was so vanilla with Smith in the game that nobody really could have expected much better.

--- But in the final analysis: Smith looked like a timid 21-year-old playing with the big boys for the very first time, and maybe not quite ready for it.

--- Smith earned the first first down of his career the hard way, taking a late hit on the sidelines from burly Oakland lineman Tyler Brayton.

--- That first San Francisco first down of the evening came with one minute remaining before halftime, for those keeping track.

--- At least Smith's offensive teammates seemed eager to protect him AFTER he took a big hit.

--- Total yardage at the end of the first quarter, for those counting: Raiders 113, 49ers 11.

--- Those numbers were 203-39 at the half, with Smith 3-of-9 for 25 yards passing and a quarterback rating of 42.4.

--- It was like pulling teeth: The Niners trying to move the ball behind Smith in the first half.

--- And then Rattay steps in during the second half and completes a 30-yard strike on his second pass. And then, on the next play, Rattay uncorks a 36-yard touchdown bomb for San Francisco's first points.

--- Quarterback controversy anyone?

--- Brandon Lloyd was on the receiving end of both those Rattay passes, indicative of what we have been seeing all summer – B.Lloyd has now emerged as the team's top receiving threat.

--- It was nice to see Arnaz Battle get in the end zone with a Rattay pass, too.

--- Nobody need teach Johnson how to jump on an out route.

--- That 87-yard interception return for a touchdown will move Johnson up on the depth chart real fast, and increases his chances of making the final roster manifold even at this early juncture.

--- The 49ers will be better at the start of games this season simply because Joe Nedney will put his kickoffs much closer to the opposing goal line than Todd Peterson ever did.

--- It only took Mike Nolan a couple of quarters to know how and when to work the replay challenge.

--- The Raiders went right after cornerback Ahmed Plummer, which is what a lot of people will do this season, but safety Tony Parrish was there to help out. And the best part about it was, Plummer didn't need the help.

--- Willie Middlebrooks plays better than he practices.

--- Mike Adams is a man to watch in the battle for nickel back duties.

--- And as Mike Rumph's backup at free safety, too.

--- So far, the heat off the edge doesn't look any better coming from the 3-4 defense than it did last year coming from the 4-3.

--- But the new scheme is going to put Andre Carter in a lot of advantageous positions to rush the passer.

--- Isaac Sopoaga is giving some glimpses of what the 49ers were missing in their defensive interior last year.

--- Rayshun Reed has been having a good training camp, but he didn't do much to help himself in extended playing time Saturday.

--- He's a plucky little player, but the 49ers need better than P.J. Fleck returning kicks.

--- You read it here first: Ken Dorsey could be in danger of not making this team.

--- Kirk Yliniemi's chances aren't looking too good, either, after he missed a gimme 24-yard field goal with two minutes to play that left a window of opportunity open for the Raiders at the end of the game.

--- Chris Cooper wants a job in this defense, and so does Tony Brown.

--- Cooper's power inside rush move will earn him some time on passing downs.

--- Corey Smith still is a longshot to make this team at defensive end, but two fourth-quarter sacks never hurts anybody's chances.

--- Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich look extremely content flying around in the middle of the 3-4.

--- The 49ers need their injured starting offensive linemen back. Fast.

--- It was typical Dwaine Carpenter on Saturday: Nice athleticism, but poor reflexes and judgment with the ball in the air.

--- Keith Lewis also is a safety who needs to have his coverage skills catch up to his athletic ability.

--- But there is no doubt Lewis knows how to lay down the hammer.

--- Backup LB battle: Saleem Rasheed looks good in the open field, but Brandon Moore looks good all over the field.

--- Richard Seigler still is allowing too many ball carriers in his grasp to get away.

--- You've got to like Fred Amey's fire as a gunner on special teams. Too bad the undrafted rookie – who has been very impressive in training camp – suffered his concussion before he got an opportunity to show his fire as a receiver and kick returner.

--- The 49ers are going to have to find a way to keep Maurice Hicks on the roster.

--- We hope left guard Scott Peters enjoyed his first NFL start, because he may not ever get another one after that performance.

--- All in all, this preseason opener has to be considered unmitigated success for the 49ers.

--- And that even goes for Smith, too, mainly for one reason: He left the field upright.


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