A promising punctuation to a plucky preseason

The 49ers' exhibition finale had a little bit of everything Thursday night – except a victory that would have left the Niners with a winning preseason. But it took a suspect penalty to nullify Rasheed Marshall's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final seconds to deny San Francisco that, and there were many positives the 49ers can carry into their regular-season opener 10 days from now. Here are our impressions, observations and speculations from a wild 28-24 loss in San Diego.

--- A 2-2 preseason, with every game going down to the wire. If the 2005 season goes anything like that, we can definitely live with it.

--- Even in defeat, this was the 49ers' best game of the preseason, and it comes at a good time, suggesting things will indeed be getting better this season. If you looked real close there, you actually could see a young team finally starting to grow.

--- It was nice to see the 49ers come out throwing to put a good defense back on its heels.

--- Give Tim Rattay time in the pocket, and he'll make the right decisions and get the ball to his receivers.

--- Just like coach Mike Nolan scripted it: He wanted to see the 49ers' first-team offense run 12 plays, and that's just what it did – the 12th play coming to complete a nine-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that finished the preseason on a high note for a unit that struggled this summer.

--- Rattay's only interception of the preseason really wasn't one.

--- But just like Rattay's turnovers last year, it gave the San Francisco defense a short field to work with, and that defense does not hold up well amid those job conditions.

--- Arnaz Battle showed he can get open and make the catch even with a defensive back hanging onto his jersey every step of the way.

--- Battle might want to make a better effort diving for low passes, however, so that opposing defensive backs don't get to them first.

--- But if Battle can get himself open and latch on to passes like he did in just two series of action Thursday, he's going to give the Niners the production they need at the vital flanker position. He finished the preseason averaging a hefty 18.8 yards on his 10 receptions.

--- The San Francisco defense made Michael Turner look like LaDainian Tomlinson.

--- The right knee may ache, but it didn't look like it was hurting Jeremy Newberry's performance any, particularly after so much time since his last live combat.

--- And just like that, it appears the 49ers will have their two-time Pro Bowl center ready to start the regular-season opener. "I've made up my mind," Newberry says. "I'm going to play. I'm going to start the season. The question is how long it holds up."

--- Anthony Adams and Frank Gore: Now, that's one different kind of touchdown-making backfield.

--- If Kevan Barlow can't get the yard on second-and-1, Gore will be getting the opportunity on third-and-1.

--- Gore slips through holes like a speeding missile, picking up power every step along the way.

--- Tony Parrish gets himself in trouble when he doesn't take good angles to the football.

--- Is Julian Peterson ready for the regular season? After being babied through the exhibition season, we think about so.

--- Mike Rumph definitely is going to get his licks in this season from free safety.

--- And in Rumph's place at right cornerback, it looks as though the 49ers are going to be in decent shape with Shawntae Spencer and Willie Middlebrooks.

--- How can Maurice Hicks not make this team after everything he has shown this summer? Expect that he will.

--- The Niners' pass rush will be better than last year if 3-4 ends Bryant Young and Marques Douglas can continue to keep the opposing pocket small and tight like they did Thursday.

--- Alex Smith's first two plays Thursday both resulted in penalties. That sure didn't help the rookie find any of the rhythm he's been looking for all preseason.

--- Neither did all-out blitzes in his face on Smith's next two plays, neither of which was picked up very well by San Francisco's second-string offensive line.

--- Rolling to his left, throwing on the run across his body, then zipping a spiral into the corner of the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown pass: That's a glimpse of what Smith will be bringing to the future of the 49ers.

--- It was undrafted rookie Fred Amey on the receiving end of that scoring play. Go ahead and chalk in that summer surprise as San Francisco's No. 4 receiver entering the regular season.

--- And figure that Rashaun Woods did plenty enough – finally – to earn his keep on the 2005 roster. In the space of three quarters Thursday – which served as his coming-out party as a pro – Woods pulled his lackluster summer from the ashes, producing game-high totals of eight receptions for 89 yards. His preseason totals entering the game: 1 and 10.

--- One thing you can say about Smith: He sure knows how to pick up the late-hit penalty on the right sideline after he turns the corner.

--- It was the good Ken Dorsey on Thursday, which probably will convince the Niners to keep four quarterbacks this season, if they weren't convinced already.

--- Cody Pickett did some convincing in that regard, too.

--- Andre Carter, pass-rusher supreme at defensive end, is doing a good job learning to play the run now that he is an outside linebacker.

--- Oh, and he still can rush the passer with ferocity from that position, too. Just ask Philip Rivers.

--- We were worried about the noseguard position when training camp began, but the Anthony Adams-Isaac Sopoaga combo has alleviated those concerns entering the regular season.

--- Rookie Marcus Maxwell sure looked good this spring and at the start of training camp, but he did zippo to help his chances of making the team during the preseason.

--- Daven Holly has speed and talent, but being raw and unpolished probably will outweigh the positives and keep him off the final 53-man roster.

--- Joe Nedney looks pretty good in the clutch, even if he's making field goals he should make.

--- Richard Seigler did his best to secure a roster spot Thursday. So did Max Yates. But at least one of them figure to be looking for work by Saturday.

--- But Derrick Johnson won't be. This sixth-round cornerback is one fine-looking young defender.

--- Corey Smith looks like he belongs on the final roster, too.

--- The 49ers have a difficult decision to make with Marshall, particularly after that final flash of his talent in the final seconds.

--- In fact, after Thursday's performance, the Niners have a lot of tough roster decisions to make over the next two days.

"The young guys – they became men over training camp," 49ers starting fullback Fred Beasley says. "They're letting their talent take over now. It's going to be real tough for the coaches to decide who they're going to keep and who they're not."

--- Those decisions will come before Saturday's morning practice, when the Niners cut down their roster to the final 53-man regular-season limit.

--- And now, it's actually starting to look like they might even have 53 players that are worthy of being there. Better late than never.


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