The wait is almost over. This Sunday, the Packers finally return to the field for a meaningful game against the last team they played in a meaningful game, the San Francisco 49ers. Packer fans hope this week's matchup plays out a bit differently. To help prepare for the game, we exchanged some questions with David Fucillo of SB Nation's 49ers blog, Niners Nation. Hop on over to NN to see our responses to Fooch's questions.
APC: Some Packers fans have been concerned about Aaron Rodgers only receiving 45 preseason snaps, yet Colin Kaepernick took even fewer. Why did the 49ers give Kaepernick so few reps this preseason, and how well does he look entering the regular season?
NN: The 49ers did not want to see Kaepernick get hurt in a meaningless preseason game. Arguably just as important, they were happy with what they saw in practice, and felt they knew what they had with him. There were enough questions at the backup spot that the 49ers wanted to get some extra snaps in for Colt McCoy, Scott Tolzien, and B.J. Daniels to get that figured out. I'm sure I can come up with a few more reasons as well!
Kap has looked fine in the preseason. He had some poor drives, but he generally preceded or followed them with impressive drives. The only thing that really matters in my mind is that he is healthy. Preseason can be helpful, but I'm fine with the 49ers not exposing him to pointless hits where possible. He has been working hard all offseason, and spent a ton of time working with Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and the wide receivers. If he's not ready, a few more preseason snaps would not change that in my mind.
APC: With top receiver Michael Crabtree set to miss most of the season, what adjustments have the 49ers made to prepare for his absence? Is a bigger role in store for tight end Vernon Davis?
NN: The 49ers brought in a host of wide receivers to provide some alternatives, but I do think Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin will be the guys who most need to step up. Davis could very well see some additional time split out wide, but it won't be some attempt to turn him into a wide receiver. The 49ers have used him in the slot before, as he has the size and athleticism to deal with potentially faster cornerbacks. He will be a key part of replacing Crabtree's production.
The 49ers will start a committee of wide receivers opposite Anquan Boldin. This group will include Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore, Quinton Patton, and potentially Jon Baldwin. They all have their share of question marks so it's hard to know what to expect of anything at this point.
That being said, the most interesting players in the passing game, at least in my opinion, will be rookies TE Vance McDonald and WR Quinton Patton. McDonald will handle the second tight end role, which in the 49ers offense means a lot of work. He is a big guy with a ton of athleticism, having played in Rice's spread offense. Look for a lot of him early. Patton missed the first two preseason games with a finger issue, but had touchdowns in each of the final two games. It is tough to tell what his role will be, but I recommend Packers fans keep an eye out for him on Sunday.
APC: In each of the past three drafts, the 49ers have made significant investments in their ground game by selecting Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, and Marcus Lattimore. Is there a chance San Francisco moves away from Frank Gore this season, and if so, which running back should fans keep an eye out for?
NN: Gore is definitely running out of time in San Francisco, but it's hard to tell how far away that potential change is. He seems to still have the skills, but this year will tell us a lot. I wish I could say the 49ers will make X decision, but it's impossible to tell. For this year, Kendall Hunter is the guy to keep an eye on. He has been Gore's most effective backup since Gore took over the starting role in 2006. Additionally, LaMichael James is out 3-4 weeks with an MCL sprain. Hunter is recovered from his torn Achilles, and looked sharp late in the preseason. If Gore gets hurt, Hunter takes over.
That being said, the most interesting player on the 49ers roster might be Marcus Lattimore. The team is basically giving him a "medical redshirt" this season. There is talk they could consider activating him from the NFI list this season, but the odds of that are pretty slim. He should be 100% for the offseason workout program next year, at which point the competition for running back snaps could get really intense. If Lattimore appears back to 100%, that could make the decision on Gore a little "easier" if you will.
APC: Aldon Smith spent most of the 2012 season in opponent's backfields, but once Justin Smith suffered a triceps injury the production wasn't the same. How has Justin Smith looked so far this year, and are the 49ers prepared should he suffer another injury?
NN: Aldon Smith struggled without Justin Smith, but he also had a torn labrum, which didn't help matters in the playoffs. The 49ers have invested on the defensive side of the ball this offseason, particularly in the pass rush and defensive line. The 49ers drafted OLB Corey Lemonier in the third round. He has looked solid in the preseason, and will give them a potentially solid third option after Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. The team did not have this last year, so they had to play Smith and Brooks a vast majority of the snaps.
On the defensive line, the 49ers drafted Tank Carradine. He is on the NFI list, but he is a potential mid-season insertion that could shore up a tired defensive line. Additionally, the team swapped out Ricky Jean Francois with Glenn Dorsey as the primary backup defensive lineman. RJF was a solid utility guy, but Dorsey is more talented. This should allow the 49ers to swap out bodies a little bit more frequently.
Thus far, Justin Smith has looked like he is back in great shape. He absolutely mauled 230-pound running back Toby Gerhart in Week 3 of the preseason, and looks ready to do his business. 49ers fans are operating as though he is 100% good to go.
APC: Finally, innumerable NFL pundits have concluded that the read option is merely a fad and will fade away soon. What do you think of its long term potential and of the quarterbacks who run it?
NN: I think the biggest issue is a misconception of the teams that use the read option. The 49ers, Seahawks and Redskins are arguably the three most prominent users of it, but none of them uses it as frequently as pundits seem to think. It is merely one part of their offensive "toolbox". Using the 49ers as an example, the 49ers offense is actually built around the power rushing attack. They have Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter behind what I think is the best run-blocking offensive line in the NFL.
While Kap runs some read option plays behind that line, it is a complementary aspect of the offense. It is worth noting that in the 49ers-Packers playoff game, Kap had just as much success on scrambles from designed pass plays. His legs make him dangerous not just because of potential misdirection plays.
I think the read option can continue to exist because teams use it as part of their overall offensive strategy. And for those comparing it to the Wildcat as a fad, they are nothing alike. The wildcat involved a player with little to no ability as a quarterback taking the snap, and basically giving away the play. How frequently did a Wildcat "QB" not run? In the read option, the QB presents a defense with three options. He can hand it off, he can run it himself, or he can pass it. And the 49ers can run it from the pistol or the shotgun, which means the 49ers are not giving anything away when they line up in their formation.
We'd like to thank David and Niners Nation for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there as well as their fantastic coverage of the 49ers. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Sunday for gameday coverage.
Jason Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Co. He has previously written for Lombardi Ave, College Hoops Net, LiveBall Sports, and the List Universe. He is also currently a senior writer for Beats Per Minute, an indie-music webzine. Follow him on Twitter: @JBHirschhorn
More from Acme Packing Company:
- Teach Me How to Acme: A Guide to the APC Community
- Packers Practice Report 9/5: Pads On, Full Steam Ahead for San Francisco
- Week 1 NFL Picks: APC Writers Aren't Optimistic about the Packers
- Casey Hayward Injury: Packers' Cornerback Ruled Out for Season Opener