Three things: 49ers-Saints

August, 12, 2011
8/12/11
2:30
PM ET
Three things to watch for in the San Francisco 49ers' exhibition opener against the New Orleans Saints on Friday night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Colin Kaepernick's debut: Coach Jim Harbaugh said he plans for the rookie second-round draft choice to play extensively. Alex Smith will start at quarterback and command some attention as well, but we know what he can do. Kaepernick has the mobility and overall athletic skills to shine in a setting as unorganized (relatively speaking) as an NFL exhibition game. I suspect the 49ers would be more impressed seeing Kaepernick do the conventional things well. They'll want to see him operate efficiently in the huddle, getting plays called with time to spare on the clock. They'll want to see him successfully execute center-quarterback exchanges, a problem for the teams I've seen practice this summer. They'll want to see Kaepernick throw the ball on rhythm. They know he's a sensational athlete and they'll welcome seeing that side of him as well. But they also want to see him master the basics.

Aldon Smith as a pass-rusher: Let's count how many times the 49ers' first-round draft choice matches up in one-on-one rushing situations. The 49ers drafted him to do more than that, but Smith must rush the passer effectively to justify his status as the seventh overall choice. Let's also remember that Smith doesn't need to justify his draft status in his first exhibition game. DeMarcus Ware had one tackle and no sacks in his exhibition debut for the Dallas Cowboys back in 2005. He turned out OK. We'll wait until at least Smith's second exhibition game before passing judgment. I kid, but Ware did have one sack, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception in his second exhibition game.

Tempo and overall efficiency. Harbaugh has emphasized tempo in everything the 49ers do. The previous coaching staff too frequently had trouble getting offensive plays into the huddle on time. Smith has had only one week of practices under Harbaugh's watch. Harbaugh has been accustomed to using hand signals, not headset communications, for relaying play calls. There's no sense in expecting a finished product at such an early stage. This game stands as a good trial run for logistics. A realistic goal: no penalties for delay of game.

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