Harbaugh, Luck lead 49ers-Colts storylines

Several storylines swirling with intrigue surround Sunday’s 49ers-Colts game at Candlestick Park.

When the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) take on the Indianapolis Colts (1-1), head coach Jim Harbaugh will face Stanford protégée turned Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck for the first time since they beat Virginia Tech in the 2011 Orange Bowl.

That triumph capped a 20-6 record for the Harbaugh-Luck combination that began in 2009 — let’s not forget coordinators Greg Roman (offense), Vic Fangio (2010 defense) and Pep Hamilton (2010 wide receivers).

Luck even put in a good word to Harbaugh about Colin Kaepernick who he’d seen at the Manning Passing Academy in 2010. The 49ers of course drafted the Nevada product in the second round.

Harbaugh talked about Luck and their upcoming meeting at Wednesday’s press conference:

“… he’s one of the top players in the league, which is no surprise. He does so many things extremely well and it’s going to be quite a bit of a reunion this week with some of the guys that played at Stanford that we know well. Not necessarily a good thing.”

Other contributors to Harbaugh’s Cardinal teams in uniform for the Colts Sunday: tight end Coby Fleener, wide receiver Griff Whalen and safety Delano Howell.

Newly signed fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic — Harbaugh’s vaunted “perfect football player” — and safety Michael Thomas will suit up for the 49ers with fullback Alex Debniak on injured reserve.

And yes, Harbaugh shined as “Captain Comeback” for the Colts from 1994-1997 and was inducted into their ring of honor.

What to make of all this?

A good coaching staff and players who’ve found success in their post-Stanford days will meet in the NFL Game of the Week. That’s it.

A non-Stanford related matchup to watch is tight end Vernon Davis — especially if he’s lining up at wide receiver — playing against his younger brother cornerback Vontae Davis for the first time.

No. 85 might also have to block former teammate Ricky Jean-Francois, now the Colts starting right-defensive end, yet this all hinges on Davis (hamstring/game-time decision) being active on Sunday.

Also starting on Indy’s defensive line is nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin who played for the 49ers from 2007-2010.

The other familiar face to look for on the Colts sideline is outside linebacker Cam Johnson who made the 49ers 53-man roster after recording two sacks, a blocked a punt and recovery for a touchdown in the preseason finale at San Diego, but was traded prior to Week 1 to make room to sign H-back Chris Harper.

Look for Johnson in a ball cap and t-shirt as he’s been inactive for the first two games and likely a third.

Beyond the storylines many questions remain for the 49ers:

When will the bell cow get going?

Frank Gore needs a beastly game and help from the offensive line to shake off the age induced rough patch talk. The 30-year-old has 30 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown through two games.

Can any receiver beat one-on-one coverage consistently?

Anquan Boldin did it in Week 1. Kyle Williams is doing it, yet the ball has to get into his hands at a relevant time. Help in the form of Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham isn’t coming at this position until later in the year — if at all.

Is Glenn Dorsey an efficient replacement for nose tackle Ian Williams who is out for the season with a broken ankle?

The team worked out defensive tackle Kyle Love on Tuesday and reached an injury settlement with fullback/defensive end Will Tukuafu, who was waived injured last week.

Tukuafu could be brought back later this season, but for now Tony Jerod-Eddie is Dorsey’s backup while rookie Mike Purcell is on the practice squad and fifth-rounder Quinton Dial is eligible to return after Week 6.

How will the defense contain newly acquired running back Trent Richardson and the Luck-led offense?

No assumption here. The game will tell that story, but history says the Colts are destined to lose this one no matter how Richardson or Luck perform.

Losing isn’t a habit for Harbaugh. A Harbaugh coached team hasn’t lost back-to-back games since 2009 when Stanford lost two straight road games to Oregon State and Arizona with Luck at the helm.

So while the aforementioned connections are intriguing, they’re nothing more than an appetizer for gameday where the 49ers have serious questions to answer in pursuit of a win.


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