The San Francisco 49ers are entering their third preseason game having only scored 3 points total in the previous two preseason games. Not a big deal. The 49ers are the only team (through preseason week 2) to not score a touchdown. I know it’s only preseason, and it shouldn’t be a big deal, but the lack of production has to change against the San Diego Chargers and I’m sure it will change.
You hear players call the third preseason game a “dress rehearsal”. Usually the starting groups play the first quarter, sometimes the entire first half. It will be interesting to see 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh’s approach with the first team offense, who has shown promise and the first team defense that allowed both the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos first string offense to drive down the field with little resistance.
There are still a few roster spot battles going on, so here’s what to watch for against the San Diego Chargers.
I expect Colin Kaepernick to go into the second quarter with the first string, but not for too long. Kap has looked decent in his first two starts and seems to be comfortable throwing to anyone in a 49ers jersey. I am hoping for a better performance from Blaine Gabbert, but there’s little to support that thought. I would like to see more of Josh Johnson. I doubt we will see much more from McLeod Bethel-Thompson who hasn’t looked good at all.
(RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS)
We may see the Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde 1-2 punch this game for a quarter of action, and so far it has looked impressive. LaMichael James is expected back from an elbow injury but may be limited to only returning kicks or certain offensive packages. Jewel Hampton has received a majority of the workload but has been ineffective so don’t be surprised if Alfonso Smith gets a good number of carries in the second half. FB Bruce Miller looks like he is back and ready to go.
(WIDE RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS)
Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin have been very limited in the previous games but expect the duo to open things up with Stevie Johnson and Vernon Davis. The 49ers have been running the spread offense with the first team and this would be the most likely group in passing situations. Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington are fighting for depth chart positioning with Lloyd being the possible expendable receiver. Kassim Osgood should find room on special teams again. Vance McDonald has also looked good this preseason, expect him to be a threat in double TE packages.
The stating O-Line looked better against Denver but the reserve group again failed to respond. Joe Staley and Mike Iupati have been solid. There have been questions with the right side of Joe Looney and Jonathan Martin, but Martin was lined up against DeMarcus Ware of the Broncos last week and didn’t allow a sack. Dan Kilgore has been decent but rookie Marcus Martin made a strong impact on the coaching staff following the Broncos game. Expect the rookie Martin to see a majority of the work in the second half at center. The 49ers may get desperate enough to begin negotiating with Alex Boone and end his holdout.
The D-Line has been a bright spot this preseason with Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine both playing well thus far. Tony Jerod-Eddie should get plenty of reps along with Denarcus Dobbs who has been ineffective during his time on the field. Justin Smith, Ian Williams and Ray McDonald may see very limited action, if any at all, against the Chargers.
There’s a battle between Michael Wilhoite and rookie Chris Borland for the starting inside job next to Patrick Willis but it would seem Wilhoite has the upper hand. Keep an eye on this roster battle as both will get plenty of reps. Nick Moody, Aaron Lynch and Shayne Skov are all fighting for the final LB spot.
The cornerback situation doesn’t look good for the 49ers. Chris Culliver and Chris Cook have not be impressive but we have yet to see Tremaine Brock. Rookies Donte Johnson and Kenneth Acker have shown some positives and are much more likely to make final cut over Perrish Cox. Antoine Bethea won’t be in action against the Chargers for precautionary measures as he recovers from his concussion so expect to see some Jimmie Ward at the safety spot. Craig Dahl, who has had some so-so moments, will also get a lot of action at safety against the Chargers.
Phil Dawson has been a model of consistency for the 49ers over the past two seasons. The 49ers will need Dawson to be at his best again this season. Watching Dawson miss two rather routine FG attempts just adds to the 49ers preseason woes. Let’s see if Phil can get his first 32-yard extra point attempt. Bruce Ellington has looked promising returning kicks but LaMichael James may get some of those returns vs the Chargers. Look for many players on the bubble to be fighting for roster spots on special teams.