Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis (85) catches a pass during training camp at the 49ers practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-US
49ers training camp completed its first week without major issues or significant injuries. However, red zone inefficiency on offense continued and a clear option at backup quarterback failed to emerge.
The 49ers scored points in the red zone on 50 of their 54 drives inside the opponents' 20 last season, but only 22 of those scores were touchdowns. The 40.7 touchdown conversion rate ranked third worst in the league.
While practicing red zone offense intensely one day last week, the 49ers rarely scored. Converted defensive end Will Tukuafu scored on a short pass from Alex Smith, running back Frank Gore squirted in from about 2 yards away and Vernon Davis caught a 15-yard touchdown pass. But that was it.
Also during that same practice, 49ers quarterbacks threw seven interceptions, three by Scott Tolzien, two by Alex Smith and one each by Colin Kaepernick and Josh Johnson.
"We scored a lot of field goals, and that's nice, but we're leaving four points on the table," center Jonathan Goodwin said.
Part of the issue is defensive dominance. The defense is far ahead of the offense and, at times, quarterbacks, particularly Tolzien, had no time to function. Additionally, none of the quarterbacks have connected with red zone stable Randy Moss. Smith fired a pass toward the back of the end zone for Moss, but the pass was overthrown.
Moss says his chemistry with Smith is still a work in progress, and the collective passing of Tolzien, Kaepernick and Johnson needs work.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said preseason games will likely determine the quarterback ranking. The team will need exhibitions, because so far in training camp none of the quarterbacks has emerged.
Tolzien again looked to be held back by his physical limitations. He doesn't run nearly as well as the other three and his arm strength can look pedestrian, particularly when under duress. While he throws a tight spiral with more velocity, Tolzien reminds observers of former 49ers quarterback Shaun Hill.
Kaepernick and Johnson, meanwhile, have trouble staying in the pocket. Both seem to make one read and then flee.
What the 49ers might have to do going forward is to dial back their defense so the offense can breathe. The defense is so stifling, quarterbacks are having trouble even setting their feet. The 49ers can only hope the talents of their retooled offense will emerge when they face less onerous defenses.