Mile High impressions

Observations, estimations and calculations from the 49ers' 26-21 preseason loss to the Denver Broncos on Saturday in the Mile High City.

--- Let's just say it right now: Alex Smith isn't ready.

--- It's difficult to believe that will be any different three weeks from now when the regular season begins.

--- Just like last week, the 49ers were getting overwhelmed before Tim Rattay entered the game. And then the veteran quarterback comes in and starts guiding the offense on touchdown drives while rallying the team from a halftime deficit into the lead.

--- But this time, reserve defenders couldn't hold it.

--- It's about time to see what Rattay can do with the starters at the beginning of games, doesn't everybody think?

--- The 49ers will be – or should be – spending a little more time on tackling drills when they return to practice Monday.

--- A one-yard gain by Kevan Barlow on first down. A one-yard loss by Barlow on second down. A botched snap out of the shotgun formation that resulted in a three-yard loss on third down. No, that first-team offense didn't look any more ready for the start of a game than it did last week against Oakland.

--- The 3-4 defense didn't look so hot to start the game, either.

--- Niners defenders looked considerably confused on assignments as Denver sliced right through them on a 68-yard touchdown drive that took only five plays on the Broncos' opening possession.

--- In the 3-4, when the defensive end gets sucked in, who has outside contain on the edge? The Niners need to figure it out, and fast.

--- And where's the pass rush coming from? Is there a pass rush?

--- Blitzing linebackers are going to have to provide it, and that's going to be a risky thing to have to rely upon.

--- Thusly, the 49ers have to find more ways to get Andre Carter on the field, because outside of Julian Peterson, he's their best pass rusher.

--- Arnaz Battle continues his slow but steady emergence at flanker, as evidenced by his 58-yard catch-and-run during which he could have crawled backward into the end zone and still scored before a Denver defender reached him.

--- Another slow start for Barlow, but that tackle-breaking, sideline-straddling touchdown run makes up for it and shows everybody what he is capable of.

--- That run came around left end, where regulars Jonas Jennings and Justin Smiley started Saturday after missing last week's preseason opener.

--- But it wasn't very encouraging to see Jennings get pushed back into the pocket the first time Smith set up to pass.

--- Does it at all seem disturbing that the first two first downs of Smith's career both came on late hits on the rookie quarterback after he had scrambled out of bounds?

--- With all the blocking problems going on in front of him, Smith is going to have to get rid of the ball a little earlier instead of taking sacks.

--- Smith finished 2 of 7 for 18 yards passing. That makes him 5 of 16 for 43 yards through two preseason games. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

--- The most productive plays by the 49ers' first-team offense Saturday were the result of Denver penalties.

--- A bright spot for the developing San Francisco defense: Isaac Sopoaga. He's a big spot, too.

--- And Sopoaga can hold the spot at the point of attack which, unfortunately, not many other San Francisco defensive linemen seemed capable of Saturday.

--- There is just something that doesn't seem right about Flash 80 playing out the string wearing No. 19 in Denver Blue and Orange.

--- But it was nice to see John Engelberger, another former 49er, doing well for himself. Too bad there just wasn't a place for him on this San Francisco defense anymore.

--- That thin air in Denver gave punter Andy Lee an opportunity to show off his leg.

--- But the Niners don't want him showing off his tackling technique as the last defender down the field.

--- Big Joe Nedney showed what he's capable of in the thin air, too. When's the last time a San Francisco kicker sent a kickoff to the back line of the end zone? And then, did it again?

--- Nedney didn't miss a 56-yard field-goal attempt by much, either.

--- Adam Snyder was a lot better in his second NFL game than he was in his first.

--- Where were those San Francisco linebackers who were all over the field filling space last week?

--- At least Peterson still was doing it Saturday.

--- But one out of four is not going to be nearly enough to make the 3-4 work.

--- If any of those starting backers falters, Brandon Moore will be there to pick up the slack.

--- Keith Lewis is a veritable special teams weapon.

--- Brandon Lloyd's right hand is really a baseball mitt in disguise.

--- Combine that with his left hand, and Lloyd will be snagging most every catchable pass that comes his way this season.

--- Mike Adams needs to be prepared for those quick moves from slot receivers if he's going to be San Francisco's front-line nickel back.

--- Maybe rookie cornerback Derrick Johnson will be able to help out returning kicks, too.

--- It certainly looks like Johnson will be able to help some at cornerback, where he recorded his third interception Saturday, which makes him the NFL preseason leader in that department.

--- Rasheed Marshall still needs to run with abandon and let his athleticism take over if he's going to help this year as a kick returner.

--- Rookie Billy Bajema took a knockout blow from Denver safety John Lynch and didn't even need a standing-eight count.

--- Keep an eye on Bajema: He's already the team's best blocking tight end, and he also has some skills to help as a receiver.

--- The little things count: A false-start penalty by Scott Peters as the 49ers were lining up for a field goal attempt forced the team to punt instead.

--- In the space of two preseason games, Peters has gone from a possible valuable backup offensive lineman to a guy struggling just to keep his hopes of making the roster alive.

--- Mike Nolan said last week he hopes the 49ers, still in the early stages of learning a new system under new coaches, don't get caught with 12 men on the field. So, hopefully, they got that snafu out of their system Saturday.

--- Those new coaches need to work on getting the offensive plays into the huddle a little sooner.

--- The 49ers don't care that Fred Amey is an undrafted rookie free agent. He's putting himself on even ground now – if not above – with the bunch of other young prospects at wide receiver.

--- Marcus Maxwell, who's among that bunch of prospects, didn't look nearly as comfortable or effective on the big stage as he has during training camp practice sessions.

--- Daven Holly didn't help himself in the keen competition going on between the team's young cornerbacks.

--- They came late, but Cody Pickett showed some of the reasons why the Niners should keep him around to develop for the future.

--- You know that Smith will be around then, too, but maybe the Niners should reconsider trying to force him so much to be ready for the present.

--- "Overall, we're still putting the foundation in place," Nolan said. "We're still building and learning. We're still putting it together and this will identify some things for us so we can go forward."

--- The 49ers are another step in that direction now, even if some certain individuals might not be.


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