Niners defense looks strong despite pass rushers sitting out

Niners notebook: San Francisco tallies five sacks against Denver in second preseason game

The San Francisco 49ers did not dress the majority of their core pass rushers in Monday’s preseason win over the Denver Broncos.

DeForest Buckner, Dee Ford, Joey Bosa, Ronald Blair, a healthy Kwon Alexander and the nose tackle pair of DJ Jones and Julian Taylor all took in the game from a suite. Without Jones and Taylor, the 49ers didn’t dress a single nose tackle.

While San Francisco didn’t get much pressure early on either Joe Flacco or Drew Lock, they finished the night with six sacks, held Denver to three first-half field goals and then pitched a shutout until, with 2:15 left, former Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan ran for a 24-yard touchdown.

Even with bad field position before halftime, San Francisco gave up just nine points — one field goal on the drive subsequent to Garoppolo’s pick, one after the strip sack of Beathard and the final one on a two-minute drive by Lock.

With Damontre Moore going down with a dislocated thumb midway through the second quarter, Solomon Thomas — who scored a TFL in the first quarter — to get more reps at defensive end. While he was slowed by the heat and humidity, he was still effective.

The Broncos rushed for just 113 yards on 27 carries (4.2 ypc), and completed 19 of 38 passes for just 139 yards.

Richard Sherman played the first quarter, and said he felt “lightyears” better than he did a year ago, when he was fresh off a recovery from a torn Achilles. He didn’t have any balls thrown his way, but was active and vocal on the sidelines, particularly in the second half.

The defensive backfield, though, didn’t fare well, health-wise. While safety Jaquiski Tartt returned from a second-quarter injury (concussion evaluation — cleared) to participate in a two-minute drill, the 49ers got even thinner at safety, as Adrian Colbert’s rough preseason continued.

Colbert, trying to prove himself after missing the back half of last season with injury, went down with a hamstring in the second quarter and did not return. Colbert is fighting for the starting safety spot, but he played just seven snaps in the preseason opener against Dallas before getting ejected for a late hit.

Tavarius Moore — who the 49ers were hoping would take charge — went down early in the third quarter and did not return.

Beathard looks comfortable: C.J. Beathard — who head coach Kyle Shanahan said last week would be the first off the bench as he battles for the No. 2 spot with Nick Mullens — went 5-of-11 for 81 yards, playing the second and third quarters before Nick Mullens took over in the fourth.

Beathard drove for a 42-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with 2:36 to go before halftime, and started the second half with Kendrick Bourne and Deebo Samuel as the wideouts. After San Francisco went 0-for-5 on third down, he hit third-round rookie tight end Kaden Smith for 17 yards with 12:30 to go in the third.

After that, Smith threw a solid block to seal the end on a cut-back by Raheem Mostert on a 30-yard touchdown that put San Francisco up 10-9.

The run game: The offensive line’s blocking was particularly sharp, despite pass blocking difficulties. Midway through the third quarter, still without big-money running back Jerick McKinnon (working his way back from an ACL) the 49ers had 87 yards rushing yards on 11 carries (7.9 average) against mostly starters and backups in what’s expected to be a stingy Vic Fangio defense.

Deebo still a bully: Samuel showed off the speed that’s going to make him a weapon in the slot. Late in the third quarter, he took a jet sweep around the left edge and nearly scored on a 45-yard run. After Samuel got down to the one-yard line, the 49ers — who were last in the NFL in red zone efficiency last season — punched it in on a run by Jeff Wilson Jr., despite a botched handoff.

Samuel is now averaging 30 yards per touch, with two catches for 59 yards and two rushes for 61.

Big Mitch Energy: Fourth-round draft pick Mitch Wishnowsky was very at-home at altitude. His punts averaged 48 yards with two inside the 20, and had four kickoffs go for touchbacks. The 6-foot-2,220-pound Aussie Rules footballer even made a special teams tackle in the third quarter, when, on his fourth kickoff, he rocked Devontae Jackson coming down the middle of the field. A penalty put the ball back at the Denver 9-yard line.

Odds and Ends: During the end-of-half two-minute drill by Lock, DJ Reed burst through the middle of the line for a hit on the rookie, and then had a near pick on second-and-10. The drive ended on another Broncos field goal … Reed would later go down with a shoulder injury … Linebacker Tim Harris went down with a groin injury … Receiver Shawn Poindexter landed hard on his knee making a tackle on punt coverage in the final 20 seconds of the third quarter. He did not return … Linebacker and game captain Mark Nzeocha got an A-gap sack with nine minutes to go in the third, against Hogan … Kentavius Street, coming off an ACL injury, looked dodgey early in camp, but after improving in recent practices, teamed up with Jeremiah Valoaga for a sack of Hogan less than 30 seconds into the fourth quarter. He could be a strong candidate for the 10th defensive line spot … Dante Johnson dove for an interception after a Hogan out route that bounced off the hands and chest plate of Dave Williams with 6:46 to go in the game. That led to a 26-yard Bourne touchdown, making up for dropping a deep ball from Beathard in the third quarter.


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