Back down to earth

That thud you heard coming out of Oakland on Sunday evening was the 49ers coming back down to earth after last week's impressive preseason opener against Chicago. It was an opposite kind of performance in San Francisco's second exhibition game, and here are our observations, impressions and speculations from the Niners' lopsided 23-7 loss to the Raiders.

--- Well, now, that ought to temper some of the early enthusiasm generated from last week.

--- The 49ers probably aren't as good as they looked against the Bears, but they probably aren't as bad as they looked against the Raiders, either.

--- But say this about the Niners: Even when they look bad, they still look better than last year.

--- But nobody can be happy with a defense that makes Aaron Brooks looks good.

---- After a surprising 397-yard effort last week against an opponent that ranked second in the NFL in total defense in 2005, the NFL's worst offense of 2005 showed some of its warts Sunday.

--- The trade of Kevan Barlow only means you'll be seeing a lot more of Frank Gore a little sooner than expected.

--- Gore has been ready to take over as the 49ers' featured back long before the New York Jets came asking about Barlow.

--- The guys behind Gore figured prominently in the decision to let Barlow go. "Frank is fully healthy now and he's had a very strong showing for us so far," Niners coach Mike Nolan said Sunday. "Maurice Hicks is another back for us that we have a lot of confidence in, and Michael Robinson is doing an outstanding job, and Terry Jackson is still in the fold. I'd like to use all of our backs. We have a lot of different type schemes and personnel groups that we use, and I would think we would use our other backs as well to keep them all fresh. We do feel good about this stable of backs and we'll use them all. They all have some value to us. And not just if someone goes down, but in each game all of them have good value to us."

--- Gore is going to get a lot of yardage this season running left behind Larry Allen and Jonas Jennings, and he won't be the only one.

--- Sunday's game marked the one-year anniversary of the night that Thomas Herrion died, and the fallen 49er still is close in the hearts of his former teammates. "He's certainly a big part of the team," Nolan said. "We did have a thing last night as a football team just to remember Thomas and the things that he added to our football team. He certainly made an impact a year ago, and he's with us all the time."

--- Alex Smith's first two passes Sunday looked nothing like all those precise throws he delivered in the Niners' preseason opener, both of them resulting in negative yardage.

--- His first interception of 2006 wasn't pretty, either, being forced into tight coverage as it was.

--- With Smith, plays such as that will be known as taking the bad with the good this year, instead of just something to add to his list of mistakes and ineptitude like last season.

--- "There were a couple of times I was a little off the mark with my receivers," Smith said after going 6 for 12 for 81 yards passing with two interceptions - quite a comedown from his 16-for-21, 137-yard, no pick performance last week. "But that's what the preseason's for. I need to learn from it and get better."

--- The upgraded offensive line is doing a much better job of protecting Smith so far, and he's doing a much better job of feeling the rush and stepping away from it.

--- Ugly reminders from 2005: A lot of soft spots in the middle of San Francisco's secondary, and opponents quickly finding them and exploiting them.

--- That San Francisco pass rush conjures unpleasant memories of last season, too.

--- Oakland quarterbacks had enough time to nap in the pocket before delivering their throws, and that's always going to help in locating those soft spots.

--- It's just not on the edges that the 49ers need to find a pass rush. It's up the middle, too.

--- You just don't see Joe Nedney miss field goals that badly, even if they are from 54 yards out.

--- Why don't the 49ers just go ahead and give Delanie Walker a legitimate opportunity to return kickoffs? The kid sure knows what to do with them.

--- Having Sammy Davis around at cornerback this year means the 49ers' depth at the position is going to be much better this season.

--- Even if he continues to start at nose tackle, Anthony Adams could contribute just as much at end this season in the team's 3-4 system.

--- Keith Lewis' standout play on special teams is what will give him an edge when the 49ers have to make their final decisions on who will stay and who will go at safety.

--- Tony Parrish's nose for the football still is experiencing a few sniffles, but you can tell he's on the scent again.

--- You won't see many running backs bouncing off the inside linebacker tandem of Derek Smith and Jeff Ulbrich like LaMont Jordan bounced off them Sunday.

--- T.J. Slaughter and Jim Maxwell: They're the top backups to Smith and Ulbrich now, and they should be in the same place when the regular seasons begins.

--- Rarely, if ever, have we seen Antonio Bryant drop a pass in his hands on the run this summer like he did the first time the football came his way Sunday. And that was one of the knocks on Bryant before he came to San Francisco.

--- But, as Bryant also has shown us often this summer, he'll make up for it with a big play the next time he gets a chance to do so. Like a 46-yard reception big play.

--- About the last thing the 49ers need to see in the preseason is Trent Dilfer getting blasted in the open field while attempting to scramble for a first down.

--- As he displayed Sunday, Dilfer is much better when firing from the pocket.

--- Anybody surprised that the 49ers' first touchdown pass of the preseason came from the arm of Dilfer and not Alex Smith?

--- As he has displayed all summer, Mike Adams is learning to position himself to make plays on the football.

--- But he has to learn to finish the job and make those plays, because a missed opportunity for an interception later was turned into Oakland's first touchdown.

---Lance Legree is working hard to make the team, and if he can get his assignments down, he has the talent to do it.

--- Ronnie Fields is losing ground in the competition along the defensive line, and if it comes down to a roster choice between him and sixth-round draft pick Melvin Oliver, we're taking the rookie.

--- Billy Bajema showed why he's going to make a team that already has Vernon Davis, Eric Johnson and Delanie Walker at tight end.

--- "It was a complete turnaround from last week, that's for sure," Nolan said after his team was out-gained 394-209. "We played very flat and didn't come out with a lot of emotion or tempo early in the game on both sides of the ball, and that's the way we stayed throughout the game. You can't be flat. I don't care if it's the preseason or what it is. There's a lot of guys here playing for jobs and you have to play with emotion. It's preseason and we've got to learn from it. A little adversity is a good thing in the preseason, to see how we respond from it."

For the 49ers on this Sunday, that about sums it up.


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