Sloppy 49ers have ‘work to do’

Losses are never good. But they’re easier to take when they don’t count in the record books.

The San Francisco 49ers turned the ball over four times in a 10-6 loss to the Denver Broncos in their preseason opener  Thursday night at Candlestick Park.

Regarding the outcome, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said:

“Could have been better. We got work to do in areas. When you turn the ball over four times offensively you have work to do.”

Here a rundown of the notables for the game.

Scoring

Phil Dawson made 2-of-3 field goal attempts, a 32-yarder on the 49ers opening drive led by Colin Kaepernick, and a 38-yarder in the fourth quarter. He missed a 44-yard attempt before halftime. Broncos linebacker Shaun Phillips returned a fumble by running back D.J. Harper in the second quarter nine yards for the games only touchdown; Matt Prater added a field goal in the fourth.

Highlight

In the third quarter, wide receiver Ricardo “Rocket” Lockette – the fastest player on the team and former NCAA champion sprinter – rocketed downfield as a punt coverage gunner and tattooed return man Trindon Holliday.

Good

The starting offense and defense were sharp during their brief appearance as Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis were recipients of three of Kaepernick’s four completions which totaled 38 yards. Kaepernick added a six-yard run and the first team defense allowed no scores.

Meanwhile Michael Wilhoite – filling in for Patrick Willis (broken hand) – captained the defense all night, notching 10 tackles and combining on a sack with Demarcus Dobbs. Former Bengals special teams ace Dan Skuta also got to the quarterback twice from his linebacker position.

In the secondary, ex-Bronco and veteran corner Perrish Cox tallied five tackles while returning a kick off 33-yards and a punt for 15 yards; first-rounder Eric Reid made five tackles, standing out among the competition at free safety with his awareness and hard hits.

Undrafted rookie Colton Schmidt drilled all of his kickoffs into the end zone and put the Broncos inside their own 20 with a 57-yard punt. He also saved a touchdown by dragging down the fleeing Holliday on a kick return.

Versatile running back Anthony Dixon bulldozed for 27 yards on seven carries while hauling in three catches for 18 yards adding one tackle on special teams.

Kassim Osgood had three receptions for 34 yards and showed his Pro Bowl special teams prowess with a sweet tackle on a kickoff.

Worth Noting

Second-round pick Vance McDonald led the team with four catches for 66 yards, but should have had much more as several catchable passes got away from him.

His upside was quite evident though as is that of  seventh rounder quarterback B.J. Daniels who lined up at halfback, special teams gunner, and kick returner on Thursday.

In the fourth quarter wearing No. 78, Lawrence Okoye made his gridiron debut at right defensive end. He registered no stats during the few plays he was on the field, yet it’s quite a feat for the gifted athlete who has been in pads just a few weeks.

Austin Collie caught two passes for 20 yards and seems good to go after missing last season with a concussion in Week One.

Frank Gore didn’t play, and the bell cow shouldn’t have to. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning only saw the field briefly during a K-Gun type drive.

Not So Good

Question marks surround the 49ers 2012 first and second-round picks.

A.J. Jenkins caught one pass then fumbled it away, and LaMichael James fumbled on third down and was lucky to recover it.

James’ inability to hang onto the ball is again a concern, as it was at Oregon where he put the ball on the ground 12 times, Last preseason, three more kept him on the shelf for much of the year — before a game-altering fumble in the Super Bowl.

Following the Broncos touchdown, Kaepernick advised Jenkins:

“You have to come out and make plays.”

Harper – who earned praise from Harbaugh just days ago – coughed one up after left tackle Patrick Omameh missed a block and both undrafted rookies could find themselves on the waiver wire soon.

Injuries

Colt McCoy exited with a shoulder stinger after being hit and throwing an interception in the second quarter. He will have an MRI, but felt okay and it was deemed not serious. Safety Bubba Ventrone left with a hamstring issue, and rookie linebacker Nick Moody was carted off the field with a suspected knee injury, but was okay post game.

Closing Thoughts

McCoy and Scott Tolzien were each intercepted after the second unit offensive line broke down, but neither signal caller was overtly impressive.

Tolzien does have the upper hand as he enters his third year in Greg Roman’s offense, but seeing Daniels at the helm will offer a clearer picture of what the quarterback depth will be behind Kaepernick.

In the meantime, the 49ers begin preparing to face last year’s demoted starter/backup Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Friday, Aug. 16.