Mario Haggan doesn’t care how many wins and losses litter San Francisco’s schedule. The 49ers are 1-6 coming into the game this weekend, but five of those games were decided by seven points or less.
“The record doesn’t say what this team is,” Haggan said. “They have a great defense. Some things have been a little inconsistent, but they have a lot of explosive players.”
From the linebacker’s point of view, he’ll be matching up with a player in the backfield as talented as anyone in the NFL.
“(They have) probably the best running back in football in Frank Gore,” Haggan said. “He is a great running back and we have our hands full once again, as it is each and every week in the NFL.”
So far this season, Denver’s defense already tackled three of the top 10 rushers from 2009 in Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew and game planned against the active leader in career rushing yards in LaDainian Tomlinson.
Gore finished just below Rice as the ninth most productive runner last year, and Champ Bailey regards him as highly as any of the backs he’s faced.
“Every week, it seems like we have a big test with running backs and it seems like that’s the way our schedule is,” Bailey said. “Gore doesn’t get all the (same) accolades as these other guys, but he’s one of my top-five backs in this league.”
Head Coach Josh McDaniels echoed Bailey and Haggan’s respect for the back in red-and-gold. He’s not sleeping on a roster that sent five players to the Pro Bowl in February.
“We think it’s a very, very talented roster with quite possibly the best (running back) we’ll play all year,” McDaniels said. “Frank Gore has great vision and great patience. He’s a very explosive guy — he touches the ball a bunch, I think it’s 40 percent of their offensive plays so far this year that he’s been a part of. He’s gained more yards from scrimmage than any other player since 2006.”
When Gore isn’t touching the ball, it’s a good bet it’s headed in the vicinity of Vernon Davis, the former first-round pick that scored more touchdowns than any other tight end last year.
Haggan said Davis is a “threat on every down,” and McDaniels said Davis has more speed at his position than anyone the Broncos will face this season.
“We know who their most explosive player is, and that’s No. 85,” Bailey said. “(He) is one of the best. He’s shown it every week and he’s already scored four times. The guy is explosive and we need to be ready for it.”
Similar to last week, the Broncos are preparing for skill players they respect without knowing who will be delivering the opposing playmakers the ball.
Alex Smith left last week’s loss to Carolina with a shoulder injury, but the team hasn’t ruled him out for Sunday. So Haggan, Bailey and the rest of the defense could see second-stringer David Carr or Troy Smith taking snaps.
With Gore and Davis leading the offense, Bailey said the team has plenty to focus on before it knows who will line up under center for San Francisco.
“We just have to go out there and prepare to play San Francisco’s offense,” Bailey said. “We’ll worry about who’s the quarterback later.”
-Gabe Hiatt, DenverBroncos.com
Below are photos from today’s practice: