Neil’s NFL Daily: July 29, 2013

Neil Hornsby today reports in from 49ers training camp, and, despite sensing some movement in the secondary, finds a team ready to contend.

| 4 years ago

Neil’s NFL Daily: July 29, 2013

Sunday, July 28 — 49ers Camp (Santa Clara)

When I was here a year ago, I happened to arrive on the day the first “steels” went in for the new stadium. They must have been for the far side of the complex because what then looked like it was half a mile away, now looms impressively over the exact same media area. Levi’s Stadium is a towering presence and home for the appropriately named Super Bowl L.

Similarly imposing is the San Francisco roster — it was the best in football last year and could be again with high quality players littering virtually every unit. Normally teams getting to the Super Bowl and losing don’t fare well subsequently — the last time a team recovered from such a loss to win it all was the Giants, and they needed seven intervening years to accomplish the feat. However, no team has as good a chance as this one to break that curse. They have the playing personnel to get it done, even if there are a few areas that need attention and, as we shall see, quarterback Colin Kaepernick may be even better in 2013 than during his formidable first season in charge.

Deep Safety

San Francisco began camp with Craig Dahl as their starting free safety, but after getting burned at least twice yesterday, C.J. Spillman took possession for today’s practice. That may be simply coincidence, but, for whatever reason, Dahl ended up as the second-string strong safety paired with first-round rookie Eric Reid.

While Dahl has the experience but not the talent, Spillman played more snaps in his rookie year of 2009 (106) than he did in the three following years combined. It’s difficult to gauge his ability fully given such a limited sample size, but the signs still seem to be pointing elsewhere. Barring force majeure, it looks very much like Reid will be the opening day starter, and he didn’t do much wrong that I saw today. Without any tackling it’s hard to be certain of performance levels, but he came up quickly and moved well in coverage. Obviously Dahl and Spillman have a chance, but I’m sticking with Reid in my starting chart below.

Kaepernick’s Up

Taking over in mid-season and playing as well as he did was incredibly impressive, but now Kaepernick has another step to take. Defenses with limited footage to fall back on or time to plan struggled to adjust to his dual threat ability, but now they know what’s coming. How good was he? Well, without pressure in his face he was our top rated quarterback and when pressured, although he dropped to 11th in terms of productivity, still ranked above Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (the full story is here).

Going back to his first real test in 2012 — against the excellent Bears defense — the thing that struck me most was the velocity and accuracy of his downfield passing. Initially that was very much in evidence again today, as time and again he hit various targets with uncanny accuracy. It didn’t seem to matter how well the receiver was covered as the perfect placement left defenders pounding the grass.

After a red hot start he did cool, and his work throwing into the short middle of the field never matched his sideline passes.

This year there are no other options for Jim Harbaugh, no supremely talented QB to fall back on if Kaepernick is hurt (or far more unlikely struggles). Colt McCoy is not taking a team even this stacked all the way, so Kaepernick must.

Other Notes

— So who will be the receiver opposite Anquan Boldin if the 49ers decide 22-personnel isn’t the package of choice? Incredibly, if they had to go today, I think it might be Marlon Moore, the ex-Dolphin. A.J. Jenkins, despite protestations in his favor from the team, hasn’t had a great camp.

— Vance McDonald made a couple of superb catches in close coverage and seems the perfect complement to Vernon Davis when the 49ers go to two tight ends.

— Nnamdi Asomugha actually looked quite good today playing with the second-string. The problem is that his only legitimate chance of finding his way into the nickel line-up is to usurp Chris Culliver. Where’s the problem there you ask? Well, Culliver plays on the left, not entirely Asomugha’s forte when in Philly.

NB: I’ve amended the San Francisco depth chart accordingly, added in the position battles in purple and the update is below:

Other editions of Neil’s NFL Daily can be found HERE


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Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • 49ersfan

    Willis plays the strongside; Bowman the weakside.

  • Mark Stevens

    The acquisition of Dahl remains baffling—perhaps the worst cover safety in the league, I do not care what PFF ratings he gets. Thin at WR, S, CB, perhaps DL…1st string looks largely good, but not much behind it. Niners are much more vulnerable than this chart indicates. If Justin Smith falls off at age 34 the D might crumble.