Something worth celebrating

The 49ers got back at it Friday night after a particularly unsettling week, and - in their quest for improvement - they were back on it in several areas during an exhibition game that seemed to go on forever at San Francisco's Monster Park. Here are our impressions, perceptions and contemplations after the Niners pulled out a 16-13 overtime victory against the Tennessee Titans after almost 73 minutes of football to improve to 2-1 in the preseason.

--- This one was for you, Thomas Herrion.

--- With a big assist from Tennessee kicker Jay Taylor, who missed a 41-yard field goal at the end of regulation to give the 49ers a second life in overtime.

--- Instead of pre-game introductions Friday, the 49ers ran out to the center of the field as a team and formed a mass circle on the SF emblem, the prelude to a moment of silence in Herrion's memory.

--- The first-team offense didn't look a whole lot better with Tim Rattay directing it instead of Alex Smith, and that's not a good thing.

--- But at least Rattay gives the 49ers a chance. Smith just isn't ready to, yet.

--- If the first-team defense plays like that every week, it will keep the Niners in a lot of games.

--- Mike Rumph, center fielder. That sort of has a nice ring to it.

--- "We're just trying to prove that we're not the same defense as last year," Rumph said. The Niners tried and succeeded Friday: The Titans managed just three points and 151 total yards in nine drives over 2½ quarters against San Francisco's first defensive unit.

--- If the 49ers can't rely on Arnaz Battle to field punts without an adventure, they are really going to be in trouble.

--- We can tell you right now they can't rely on rookie Rasheed Marshall in the role.

--- When Kevan Barlow picks a hole on third-and-1 and hits it with that kind of power and authority, he's going to get a lot of chances to score touchdowns in the red zone this season.

--- But Barlow also needs to catch the ball when he circles out of the backfield, because that's an option that will have to be called upon often this season.

--- Fred Beasley, too. But he won't drop many.

--- Barlow called his 10-yard touchdown burst up the gut "dominance up front by our offensive line."

--- That's something that won't be seen very much by the line this year, but it was then.

--- When Anthony Adams hits the right gap at noseguard, he's going to make a lot of stops at the line of scrimmage or in the opposing backfield, because he has the quickness to consistently beat centers off the snap.

--- The 49ers still are having trouble getting pass-rushing push from their front line, but Adams and Marques Douglas sure are trying. --- For the first time, the front three in the 3-4 defense looked as though it's on the same page when it's reacting at the snap.

--- The linebackers, too, are becoming much better at adjusting quickly to the power of offensive formations. Maybe this 3-4 thing might have something to it for the 49ers, after all.

--- Another takeaway for rookie cornerback Derrick Johnson? It's fair to say that kid has a nose for the football.

--- Fred Amey can do it all – block down field, return kicks, and he's starting to look like a real candidate to be San Francisco's fourth receiver. The Niners have to find a place on their roster for this undrafted rookie free agent.

--- We think Jonas Jennings is a good addition, but hasn't exactly had a good preseason.

--- And for that price, he needs to be good or better as often as possible.

--- Instead, he looks vulnerable to every speed rusher in the league. The 49ers have just got to have better than that guarding their quarterback's blind side.

--- Jennings hardly is the only one struggling on San Francisco's first-line offensive line.

--- Dwaine Carpenter obviously doesn't agree with that wacky NFL rule on muffed punts.

--- But say this: The guy sure knows how to play the hop.

--- The 49ers need to get David Baas back fast, because Adam Snyder is having a tough time handling it as a starting NFL offensive guard.

--- Does Aaron Walker make it past the first cut with this team? Probably, but we're not too sure about the next one.

--- Even though he just slipped it inside the uprights on a routine 39-yarder, it was nice to see that Joe Nedney can make a field goal, since it was 10 quarters into the preseason before he got his first one.

--- He didn't have to wait very long to make another.

--- And, more than 40 minutes of football later, Nedney was true on the game winner. Let's hope he gets more opportunities such as that when the real games begin.

--- Kwame Harris is meeting pass rushers head-on at right tackle better than he ever did at left tackle.

--- Frank Gore: Quickness personified.

--- And that's why you – and the rest of the NFL – will be seeing a lot of Gore this year.

--- Now, if the wily speedster can just get somebody to block for him.

--- It was nice to see Shawntae Spencer back in there at right cornerback with the first-unit defense, but we're not too sure he should be there instead of Willie Middlebrooks.

--- Eric Heitmann has just got to get better with his shotgun snaps if he's going to be the new center, which he is.

--- And he also needs to know when to snap the ball instinctively when Rattay's cadence gets defensive linemen jumping way offsides.

--- There was a Johnnie Morton sighting Friday night. Just where has that guy been all preseason?

--- And then there was a Johnnie Morton drop on third down to end a drive.

--- We like the way the Niners are consistently moving their defensive backs up and back on receivers before the ball is snapped to create uncertainty in what their coverage is going to be.

--- Fourth-string quarterback Cody Pickett playing on the front line of the kickoff return team? What is that all about?

--- It might be subtle, but Brandon Lloyd is a man of many more moves when running pass patterns this year compared to his first two NFL seasons.

--- Maurice Hicks could make this team on his kick-return ability alone, but you sort of wonder at what other position the 49ers will go light to keep six running backs, which Hicks is forcing them to do.

--- But Hicks has got to hold onto the ball in the final minute of a tie game.

--- That said, he made up for it in overtime after what appeared to be a game-costing fumble.

--- For a middle linebacker, Derek Smith seems to be spending an awful lot of time in opposing backfields.

--- Brandon Moore made his presence felt in a key sequence. Again.

--- Those neck problems look like they're behind Ahmed Plummer now.

--- Now that Chris Cooper is out for the season, Corey Smith is making a real push for a roster berth bid at defensive end.

--- It must not have felt much different for Alex Smith to come in with the second offensive unit, getting sacked on his first play and all, and then sacked again three plays later.

--- Smith almost looked like he was being tortured out there while trying to run the offense during his first three series in the game.

--- But the kid led the Niners down the field for the winning score - the first scoring drive directed by Smith in his 14 offensive series this preseason.

--- Somehow, that seemed like a pretty good way for this marathon evening to end.


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