San Francisco 49ers football is officially back, and the 2022 campaign kicked off with a 28-21 win over the Green Bay Packers in the preseason opener. Here are five takeaways I had from the game.
1. This offense finally has the vertical distance it sorely missed
It’s no secret that Trey Lance has amazing physical attributes, including an arm that allows him to make throws that only a handful of quarterbacks in the league can even think of trying. The ability to vertically threaten defenses with Lance below the center will just create more space underneath and clear things up in the box to open up the run game.
Lance was 4-5 for 92 yards in this game, but 76 of those came on a final fade thrown deep down the left sideline to speedster Danny Gray. As important as Lance’s arm talent is, it can’t be complete without skillful players who have the requisite speed to emphasize the defense at the back.
Gray proved he has the ability to instantly contribute to that role, using his 4.3 speed to win out on a spartan route and create enough separation to not only make a large playing field, but also clear the space. have to take off without being run over.
Speaking of the lock blur, it’s clearly a route they’re comfortable with going back to the pit as long as Lance is below center. They used a bunch of them during training camp, and it was something Lance had success with going back to last season.
This game was from the 49ers’ preseason matchup with the Chargers last season, and it’s the same route combination that Lance and Gray made against the Packers. It associates a smash route with the slot fade and designates the slot fade as the primary read.
This is Gray’s touchdown from the Packers game. (excuse the broadcast angle, I don’t have the All-22 yet). Check out the smash route below to open a one-on-one for the final blur to the border.
This is just one example of a concept Kyle Shanahan can now easily implement to open the field for his offense. Now that Shanahan has the pieces to pull off these looks, expect a lot more shots in the field and a much more aggressive attack from the back of the defense through the air this year.
2. Spencer Burford looks like a polished veteran
It was certainly a surprise that Burford was given the job of start guard to start the camp, but the more I could see Burford, the more I understood why that move was being made. The physical characteristics are present, long arms, firm base and good ability to pull and move in space.
But the thing that impressed me most about Burford was the poise and composure with which he played in his first NFL-level game action. Even when initially defeated, Burford showed a tremendous ability to recover and find a way to win the rep.
The resilience Burford showed on some of these reps was that of a longtime NFL starter, not a rookie playing in his first NFL game. The physical attributes Burford possesses are phenomenal (more on that later), but the resilience he displayed was more impressive than anything else.
Back to the physical properties, which were also fully expressed in this game. Ignore the outcome of this game and instead focus on Burford’s individual rep from the right guard. See what he does with the 2 technique in this piece.
Burford is the kind of player who can squeeze into a phone booth while also having the agility to reach second tier in an aggressive out-of-zone scheme. I was more than impressed with the attitude he showed to the Packers, and I look forward to seeing him follow up on that next week in Minnesota.
3. Kemoko Turay is going to be the bargain of the low season
When the 49ers signed Turay to a 1-year deal worth 1.7 million, it was clear it was going to be some kind of proof deal. The former second round pick has exceptional athleticism and a consistent engine that never stops.
Turay had five sacks in 11 out of 11 in Wednesday’s practice and his ability to terrorize opponents’ attacks as a pass rusher should never have been compromised. What really stood out to me in the preseason opener was the way Turay disrupted the Packers’ ground play.
I counted four separate reps in this game where a hasty attempt from the Packers attack was stopped within a yard of the line of scrimmage, with Turay being the main reason.
Watch Turay explode through the C-gap to take down Packers taking Tyler Goodson back for a loss of one on 3rd & 2.
Here’s a better view that offers a different angle to the game.
Turay is the next in the long line of defensive linemen to have a career revival under Kris Kocurek, and the fact that Turay is the third or fourth option at the fringe position speaks volumes about how deep the group is as a whole.
4. Samuel Womack is the corner of the future, but also the present
Rookie cornerback Samuel Womack had about as impressive a debut as you can imagine. Womack recorded two interceptions and was a staunch cover all night. Womack had 15 strides during his last season with Toledo, so it’s no surprise he looked comfortable making a difference against the Packers air strike.
What was most impressive to me about Womack was his ability to fill his run attacks effectively and handle his responsibilities in the run game. The fact that Womack wasn’t outright liability in the run game was probably all we needed to see to verify that he’s ready to contribute right away and potentially be the starter in the slot when week one rolls around.
Womack has the physical tools, including a much longer wingspan than his stated height of 5’10 would lead you to believe. More importantly, though, Womack appears to have the intangibles needed to be a starter in the position from day one, setting him up for a present and long-term role.
5. This grid is as deep as it was projected
The most impressive thing about the 49ers’ win at Green Bay was how strong they looked, even with a good number of their starters watching from the sidelines in plain clothes. It was telling how they came out and played early with a unit made up of a few starters but with a majority of the players from the second unit.
Whether it was Drake Jackson putting pressure on the quarterback, Ray-Ray McCloud dropping a defender to the ground with a double move, or Marcelino McCrary-Ball taking an interception and completely navigating the device over a 56-yard return , the players behind the projected starters made their presence felt in an important way.
Colton McKivitz had a strong day, Tyrion Davis-Price walked with conviction and Oren Burks was a tackling machine. In a game where Robbie Gould was the only one of the 49ers All-Pro players to adapt, the 49ers still looked like a well-curated unit capable of playing at a relatively high level.
This is a very good football team from head to toe. One of the only downsides to that is that there are a lot of talented players who will flash during the preseason but have little to no chance of making it to the last 53 due to a block on their position.