SANTA CLARA — The preseason is here, and the regular season cannot come soon enough.
The Niners beat the Packers 28-21 in the team’s sorta-kinda season debut. And while a large portion of the team didn’t dress for the game and starting quarterback Trey Lance only played two series, we still learned — or at least noted — a few things in the contest.
Here are the big takeaways:
Hey, Trey Lance can slide!
Obviously, the 49ers are not allowed to hit their quarterbacks in practices. That would be a terrible policy. So while we have been able to see first-year starter Lance run a bit in training camp, we had not seen him slide to end a rush.
And that’s a rather important thing to do as a starting quarterback these days, as Lance learned last season when he sprained his knee in his first ever NFL start because he went full crash-test dummy against the Cardinals in Week 5.
So there was a bit of a shock in the press box when Lance scrambled on his second play from scrimmage Friday.
And I’m sure there was a sigh of relief on the sideline when Lance, after gaining seven yards, slid to avoid contact.
It was a good-looking slide, too!
Lance will need to be good at that this season — Niners coach Kyle Shanahan will not hesitate to call for quarterback runs to play “11-on-11” football. If Lance can repeatedly and effectively slide, he should pick up yards in bunches and give himself plenty of space to throw, which, oh yeah, he also did well on Friday, going 5-for-6 for 92 yards and a 76-yard touchdown to Danny Gray.
Offensive line standouts
Spencer Burford has been the Niners’ first-string right guard all of training camp. That was a bit of a surprise in July, but in Friday’s game, he showed why he was given the opportunity and why he will continue to hold it down.
There were a few standout offensive linemen Friday. Burford led the way, with Nick Zakelj, Jason Poe, and Dohnovan West also putting in solid shifts. The Niners have some questions at tackle — Justin Skule had a rough game Friday, allowing two sacks — but there’s might be some positive depth on the interior.
Shifting on the outside
Depth cornerbacks have a great opportunity this preseason to see serious snaps and perhaps make a positive impression on the Niners’ coaching staff.
Samuel Womack did just that on Friday, intercepting two passes. Great stuff.
Ambry Thomas, Ka’dar Hollman, and Deommodore Lenoir did not.
The first name on that list, Thomas, in particular, is a real issue. Third-string Packers receivers were abusing him. For a player who impressed late last season that can’t be the case. It’s something to keep an eye on moving forward.
There’s something about Brock Purdy
We won’t pretend for a moment that Brock Purdy — the last pick in the 2022 NFL Draft — will make the Niners’ 53-man roster, even though he was more impressive than backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld Friday.
But there’s something there with the Iowa State product.
Perhaps it’s the shades of Nick Mullens, who filled in admirably for Jimmy Garoppolo in years past. Purdy has the same weak-but-accurate arm and overall stature.
But there’s something else worth noting: Purdy’s teammates seem to love him. His fourth-quarter touchdown throw had the Niners’ sideline hyped.
There are worse things to be in the NFL than beloved. I wouldn’t be surprised if Purdy is around this team — via practice squad in 2022 — for a long time.
The perils of preseason
There aren’t many players who will actually make the team’s 53-man roster who could benefit from playing in the preseason. That’s why 20 players didn’t even put on a uniform Friday.
But one of the players who could benefit was defensive end Drake Jackson. The rookie out of USC — and the Niners’ first draft pick this season — could use the experience.
The kid has the talent to be an impact player on this team this season — later this season. He’s just a bit green behind the ears.
He was building that experience Friday, playing really well in the first half. He was, no doubt, building the confidence that comes with good play, too.
But Jackson had to leave the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. It was another painful reminder that the preseason juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Hey NFL — cancel these contests. It’s not like you need the money.
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Author: Dieter Kurtenbach