- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Thoughts and observations after watching the San Francisco 49ers' backups help them grab a 20-10 halftime lead against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2010 exhibition opener for both teams:
Linebacker Diyral Briggs enjoyed a monster first half even without the pass he picked off. Briggs forced another interception with pressure. Briggs has enjoyed a strong training camp and it transferred to this game. That's what coaches want to see.
Rookie Kyle Williams shined on returns, posting a 36-yard punt return and a 28-yard kickoff return. Ted Ginn Jr. gained 11 yards on his lone punt return. Both players have had strong camps to this point (in the relative sense, with expectations being higher for Ginn, a veteran).
Alex Smith's accuracy appeared poor, including when he threw a couple yards behind a wide-open Vernon Davis over the middle. Smith had plenty of room in the pocket to make this throw. It can be risky to assume the quarterback is wrong because receivers sometimes run routes incorrectly. The pass to Davis wasn't the only one that seemed off, however. Update: Accuracy wasn't the primary issue here. More to come.
Rookie left guard Mike Iupati appeared to fare well when I focused on him. He looked like a veteran in pass protection on one play, first helping the center with a double team, then peeling off to block another defender. Smith again enjoyed an expansive pocket on this play, although the Colts picked off his pass for tight end Delanie Walker. I initially thought Walker might have dropped this pass, but the defender was right there. Not sure if Smith should have led Walker a little more here.
Officials flagged rookie right tackle Anthony Davis for a false start early in the game. The defender he was blocking also pressured Smith on a third-and-1 incompletion. Smith held the ball while trying to find an open receiver, however, and that might have put additional pressure on Davis.
Strong safety Michael Lewis absorbed a hit to the head/neck area on the final play before the 49ers subbed out their starters on defense. Lewis seemed to be OK.
Peyton Manning was still the Colts' quarterback when Taylor Mays and the No. 2 defense took over for the 49ers. Manning completed a 16-yard pass into Mays' area. Mays' speed and hitting potential were apparent at times, as when he made an open-field tackle on Colts running back Donald Brown for a 3-yard loss on a third-and-13 pass play late in the first quarter.
Reggie Smith's 91-yard interception return for a touchdown against Colts backup quarterback Curtis Painter wasn't the safety's only impressive play. Smith also broke up Manning's pass to Anthony Gonzalez in the back of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 3.
Nose tackle Ricky Jean-Francois caught my attention by blowing up a Colts running play in the backfield. Jean-Francois has become more important to the 49ers with franchise player Aubrayo Franklin still unsigned.
The 49ers' starting defense played only about half a quarter. Cornerback Nate Clements said he was happy to be back on the field after an injury kept him from playing late in 2009. Clements might have been rusty. He missed a tackle after a Manning pass to Joseph Addai.
Frank Gore did not play for the 49ers and backup Glen Coffee announced his retirement Friday, putting more pressure on rookie running back Anthony Dixon. I didn't see enough of Dixon in pass protection to know how he fared in that area -- David Carr was under pressure frequently -- but he made impressive runs. Dixon had a 17-yard run in the first half and a 23-yarder in the third quarter. Dixon also caught the ball out of the backfield.
We're midway through the third quarter of this game. I'll post again after heading down to the locker room after the game. Then it's back on the road to Rams camp just up the street (OK, about 240 miles up the street).