It’s finally here! The first 49ers preseason game is only four days away. The team will travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs. We will finally get a look at the Kyle Shanahan led 49ers on the field. I will answer five burning questions 49ers' fans might have going into the first preseason game on Friday.
5. Who will be the first running back of the bench?
RB Carlos Hyde is the obvious number one running back. When he taps his helmet for a breather, who’s coming in? RB Tim Hightower is the veteran of the group; indication in camp is that he has looked like a veteran running back should look. When Shanahan talks about him, you can hear the excitement in his voice. Then there is rookie RB Joe Williams. GM John Lynch moved up in the fourth round to pick a guy he didn’t have on his draft board because Shanahan wanted him on the team. So far Williams hasn’t made a lot of noise at camp, but will defiantly have a role on this team. Reports out of camp are that RB Matt Breida has looked fantastic. He’s been explosive and has been a threat out of the backfield. Real question is will they let an undrafted rookie be the first guy off the bench over a fourth round pick and a veteran. I believe Shanahan will reward the guy who has had a better camp so far, and that’s Breida.
4. What will the defensive line rotation look like?
First guys on the field will be the last three years' first-round draft picks. DL DeForest Buckner at the 3T, DL Solomon Thomas at the 5T, and a slimmed down DL Arik Armstead at the LEO. The first-team defense will probably only be on the field for a quarter, so we won’t get to see a ton of the rotation. I would expect the first guy to spell Buckner or Thomas will be DL Quinton Dial. He has versatility and can play all the interior positions. DL Ronald Blair, who’s had a great camp so far, will also see time on the defensive line and possibly at the LEO positon. DT Earl Mitchell and rookie DT D.J. Jones will get a lot of play at the nose tackle position when they are in their base defense.
3. Who’s the second quarterback in the game after QB Brian Hoyer?
QB Brian Hoyer will be seeing all of the first team reps. He’s the entrenched number one guy, and that’s probably not changing anytime soon. There is a battle brewing for the number two spot, and it’s a sneaky good camp battle. GM John Lynch brought in veteran QB Matt Barkley to be Hoyer’s primary back up. New rookie, and third round pick, QB C.J. Beathard, has been giving him a run for his money. Reports are that Beathard has looked very good in camp and has been the second-best quarterback on the team. In this case though, I think the veteran gets the nod. It’s not just one position that they will be evaluating. The team need Barkley to run the offense properly to get a good look at the second-team offense as a whole. This may change by week two though, something we will need to keep an eye on.
2. Will first round pick LB Reuben Foster play with the first-team defense?
LB Malcolm Smith recently went on IR with a season ending injury. In the long run he was probably going to be a very well payed backup. It does hurt the linebacker depth though. Smith was :B Reuben Foster's main competition for the will backer spot next to LB NaVorro Bowman. Now that he is injured the only man standing in the way of Foster being the number one will linebacker is LB Ray-Ray Armstrong. Foster has been one of the better players in camp and has made play after play on the field. I think Shanahan will reward Foster and give him the nod with the first-team defense. His injury history will probably prevent him from seeing the field for very long. Shanahan will have him on a very short leash this preseason.
1. Will the run defense be better than it was last season?
Let’s hope so. Last season the run defense was the worst in 49ers franchise history. It’s not a very high bar to pass. I believe the front seven of this defense is vastly improved from last season and that this defense will make a large jump in 2017. The addition of Thomas and Foster in the draft, and adding a guy like Mitchell to clog up the middle will be a big help. As will Armstead’s health and Buckner's incredible size. (Still haven’t met the Mountain, but maybe one day). There is no way the run defense will be as poor as last season.