San Francisco 49ers football is officially back, kicking off the 2022 campaign with a 28-21 win over the Green Bay Packers in the pre-season opener. Here are five notes I got from the game.
1. This offense finally has the vertical spacing that it sorely lacks
It’s no secret that Trey Lance has phenomenal physical traits, including an arm that allows him to throw only a few throws from league quarterbacks they could consider trying. Being able to threaten defenses vertically with a Lance down the center will create more spacing below and clear things up in the box to unlock the running game.
Lance was 4-5 for 92 yards in this game, but 76 of them came in a dimmer hole thrown deep into driver Danny Gray’s left sideline. As important as Lance’s arm talent is in the equation, it cannot be complete without players who possess the skill and have the requisite speed to stress defenses at the back end.
Gray proved he had the ability to contribute immediately in the role, using his 4.3 to win out on a spartan road and create enough break to not only create a large playing field but also have room to take off without running. .
Speaking of hole fading, it’s clearly a route they feel comfortable returning to the well as long as the Lance is under center. They ran a lot of them during training camp, and Lance did manage to make a comeback last season.
This play was from the 49ers’ pre-season game with the Chargers last season, and it’s the same set of tracks that Lance and Gray tied against the Packers. It pairs a crush path with the aperture fading and sets the aperture fading as the base reading.
Now here’s Gray’s landing from the Packers game. (Sorry for the broadcast angle, I don’t have an All-22 yet). Watch how the smash path falls to the bottom to open face to one to fade the hole to the limit.
This is just one example of a concept that Kyle Shanahan can now comfortably implement to unlock his crime. Now that Shanahan has the chops to execute these looks, expect more shots in the field this year and a more aggressive attack on the rear end of opposing defenses through the air.
2. Spencer Burford looks like a polished veteran
Burford’s landing the job of the right ranger to start camp was certainly a surprise, but the more you watched Burford, the more you understood why he had made the move. Physical traits are present, long arms, solid base, able to pull and move well in space.
But the thing that impressed me the most about Burford was the poise and coolness with which he played in his first NFL game. Even when Burford was initially defeated, he showed a tremendous ability to recover and find a way to win over the actor.
The resilience that Burford showed in some of these delegates was that of a longtime NFL starter, not a novice playing in his first NFL game. The physical traits that Burford possesses are amazing (we’ll talk about that in a second), but the resilience he displayed was more impressive than anything else.
Back to the physical attributes, which were also on full display in this game. He ignored the outcome of this play and instead focused on Burford’s solo actor from the position of the right-hander. Watch what he does with technique 2 in this play.
Burford is the type of player who can immerse himself in a phone booth while also having the agility to get to the second level in an aggressive outdoor area scheme. I was very impressed with the balance he showed against the Packers, and I look forward to seeing how he tracks that up next week in Minnesota.
3. Kimoko Torai will be the offence robbery
When the 49-year-old Tori signed a one-year deal worth 1.7 million, it was clear that it was going to be a proven deal of sorts. The former second-round pick has exceptional sportiness and a steady drive that never stops.
Toray had five sacks in 11 on 11 days during Wednesday’s training, and his ability to intimidate opposing offenses as an absolute forward has never been called into question. What really caught my eye in the season opener was the way Turay disrupted the players’ ground game.
I counted four separate reps in this game where the dash attempt was stopped by the Packers attack within a yard of the line of scrimmage, and Turay was the main reason behind it.
Watch the way Turay blasts through the C-gap to take down the Packers running back Tyler Goodson for a one-loss 3 and 2.
A closer look provides another angle of the play.
Turay is next in line in the long line of defensive line guys who have resurrected under Kris Kocurek, and the fact that Turay is the third or fourth choice in rim position speaks volumes about how deep the group as a whole goes.
4. Samuel Womack is the nickel cornerman of the future, but also of the present
Rising linebacker Samuel Womack has made his debut as impressively as you can put it. Womack scored two interceptions and was a strong cover fan throughout the night. Womack had 15 breakup passes during his final season in Toledo, so it’s no surprise that he seemed comfortable making a difference against the Packers’ aerial attack.
The most impressive thing for me about Womack is his ability to effectively fill out running events and handle his running responsibilities. Perhaps Womack’s not outright responsibility in the running game is the only thing we needed to see to check he’s willing to make a contribution right away and potentially starting in the slot when the first week rolls around.
The Womack has the physical tools, including its much longer wingspan than you might believe. More importantly, Womack seems to have the intangibles required to be an apprentice in the position from day one, which makes him play a role in the present and in the long run.
5. This listing is as deep as expected
The most impressive thing about the 49ers’ win over Green Bay was how strong they were, even while a good portion of the rookies watched from the sidelines in street clothes. It was very telling the way they came out and played early with a unit made up of some beginners but with the majority of the guys coming from the second unit.
Whether it’s Drake Jackson pressing the quarterback, Ray Ray McCloud dropping a defender to the ground with a double move, or Marcelino McCreari scoring a interception and zipping all the way back for 56 yards, the players who went past the expected start made a huge presence felt.
Colton McKevitz had a solid day, Tyrion Davis-Pryce ran with conviction, and Oren Burks was an interference machine. In a game where Ruby Gold was the only player out of the 49 professional players to dress to match, the 49 players still looked like a well-organized unit capable of playing at a relatively high level.
This is a really good football team, from top to bottom. One downside to this is that there are plenty of talented players who will flash during pre-season but have little or no chance of reaching the Final 53 due to a stalemate in their positions.