You’ve probably read that the 49ers’ first-string offense played poorly against the Broncos on Saturday. (I can verify that). That unit’s mistake-filled game, however, overshadowed the 49ers defense, which despite being saddled with bad field position limited the Broncos to a touchdown and two field goals. The longest drive against the San Francisco’s first stringers was eight plays and 36 yards.
The safeties were perhaps most prominent. Eric Reid looked like he’s custom-made for the strong safety role while rookie Lorenzo Jerome again had a strong outing, one that included two big hits at the line of scrimmage as he darted forward in run support. Jaquiski Tartt also was thrown into the mix on the Broncos’ initial goal line sequence, showing one of the scenarios in which the 49ers will have their top three safeties on the field at the same time.
Tartt mostly played strong safety with the second-team group. He led San Francisco with seven tackles, including a sack. Reid finished second with six tackles, Jerome had two, plus a pass defense. He played 37 snaps, more than any other starter. You’d hate to say that an undrafted rookie like Jerome already has sewn up a roster spot, but it’s very hard seeing him not making the squad at this point. He also played special teams and is capable of lining up at nickel cornerback. Which is to say, he’d serve several functions on the 53-man roster, even when Jimmie Ward comes back.
Tank Carradine and Pita Taumoepenu also had strong outings. Carradine started at left defensive end but got extended looks at the three technique and put pressure on the quarterback from both spots. If you were looking for a player the 49ers could trade — that is, who might be available and who would draw interest from other squads — Carradine and Quinton Dial would be high on the list.
Taumoepenu got his first NFL sack by slipping inside of the right tackle in the fourth quarter. He also chased down a ball carrier on the ensuing play then drew a holding call on the next series. Nose tackle Earl Mitchell and linebacker NaVorro Bowman also looked good in the opening quarter. … Newcomer Leger Douzable was visible late in the game. The eighth-year player led all defensive linemen with five tackles, including one in the backfield.
Taumoepenu makes for a difficult decision. He’s still raw and still learning the game and can be engulfed at times. But the sixth-round pick also is full of hustle and had some other teams interested in him on the final day of the draft. Can the 49ers risk waiving him and trying to put him on their practice squad?
Taumoepenu also can play strong-side linebacker, one of the positions the 49ers are trying to sort through. Eli Harold has worked a lot with the first-string defense at that spot in the summer. But it was assumed that was because Ahmad Brooks is 33 and, like John Theus getting some snaps at left tackle for 30-something Joe Staley, he was being given rest. Kyle Shanahan, however, said that the two are competing for the starting role and that since Brooks started against Kansas City, Harold would start against Denver.
Brooks is the far more accomplished player and has been remarkably durable since joining the 49ers in 2008. But he also is 10 years older than Harold, is signed only through this season and has a cap figure of $6.1 million. Harold is signed through 2018 and has a cap figure of $823,000.
It was clear that Shanahan, who has seemed unflappable to this point, was upset with the turnovers and penalties on offense. But for the second straight game, the starting offensive line also got no push in the running game, which also irked the head coach. The 49ers are saving their full arsenal of plays for the regular season, of course. But they want to work on the foundational stuff, which so far has been ineffective. San Francisco averaged 1.9 yards a carry Saturday (though Carlos Hyde was able to eke out 3.3 yards per run on his eight attempts). The 49ers’ pass blocking was far better than their running blocking against Denver.
A young offensive lineman who hold promise: Erik Magnuson, an undrafted player out of Michigan. He played right guard with the second-string unit and center with the third-team line. He seems like someone the 49ers are eying for their practice squad.
Undrafted rookie Victor Bolden had the most explosive play of the evening for the 49ers, a 104-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. He also looked good during the week of practice, including on a 45-yard pass down the sideline from Hoyer. There’s only one hang up with Bolden: He’s yet another small-bodied receiver. The 49ers have several in that mold and would prefer that one of their 6-1-plus wideouts grabs a roster spot.
The pass from Brian Hoyer to Marquise Goodwin that was intercepted may have been tipped by a Broncos defender at the line of scrimmage. The throw was behind Goodwin and he had trouble bringing it in, which allowed the Broncos cornerback to take it away.