San Francisco 49ers took on the Los Angeles Chargers last night at Levi's Stadium. The 49ers came away with a 23-13 win. The 49ers sat 29 players in this game, mostly starters. So we were able to get a good look at a lot of roster bubble players.
A good amount of the final 53 man roster has already been decided. Last night’s game was important for about four or five of the roster spots that are up in the air. We will get answers to a lot of the questions we have on the back end of the roster in the upcoming days leading into the season opener on September 10th at Levis Stadium.
FS Jimmie Ward was one of those players that was in street clothes on the sidelines. He was one of the starters I was hoping to see in uniform and taking snaps. Ward has been dealing with a hamstring injury for all of preseason. Ward was set to play that all important free safety roll in this new 4-3 cover-3 defense. Now he will be going into week 1 with limited reps. He is the biggest question mark going into the season on the team.
Veteran RB Tim Hightower got the start last night at running back. Hightower struggled in the first drive, and missed a blitz pickup getting QB C.J. Beathard hit on his blind side in the process. Hightower did have a 2nd quarter 1 yard rushing TD. Rookie RB Joe Williams was the 2nd running back off the bench. RB Joe Williams I think is a lock to make the roster, he was a 4th round pick, and a favorite of HC Kyle Shanahan. Williams was in the game late and had a 4th quarter fumble. The team can’t be happy with his performance so far this preseason, but they defiantly won’t give up on him. Real question is how many backs will the team keep. RB Carlos Hyde, RB Joe Williams, and RB Matt Breida I believe are locks to make the team. Will they hang on to veteran Hightower or RB Raheem Mostert? In week 3, Mostert had a great game in Minnesota. He really gave himself a great chance to make the team.
Third-round pick QB C.J. Beathard got the start under center. Beathard had a 62 yard run for a touchdown, it was the play of the night. Other than the long TD run, Beathard struggled. He had issues with accuracy and avoiding the rush. He was erratic with the ball and had a tough time reading the defense, Beathard played like a rookie. Beathard is obviously a lock to make the team, being a 3rd round pick, but the real question is will the team keep 2 or 3 QBs. QB Nick Mullens was surprisingly the 2nd QB in the game. Not veteran QB Matt Barkley. This can’t be a good sign for Barkley. Mullens is most likely going to be headed to the practice squad. Beathard seems primed to be headed into the season as the number 2 QB, even after his up and down preseason.
Rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon and CB Keith Reaser got the start at corners last night. CB Asa Jackson was also in the game as the first nickel corner off the bench and had 2 interceptions in the game. He will have a real chance at making the final roster. Cornerback is one of the thinnest groups on the team. CB Rashard Robinson and CB Dontae Johnson are cemented as the starting corners. Corners have a tough job in this DC Robert Saleh’s 4-3 defense, and depth at the position is a concern. Reaser and Witherspoon seem like locks to be the 2 primary backups.
WR Victor Bolden Jr. had a 92 yard punt return for a TD. He also had a long kick return for a TD early on in the preseason. Bolden is making a serious case for himself to make the roster. He’s clearly the best guy for the job at kick returner, but will that be enough for him to make the team. He’s made a great case for himself and has created a difficult decision for the 49ers. With guys like Trent Taylor and Jeremy Kerley who can both return punts, Bolden Jr doesn’t have the versatility as the previous two players mentioned. Game changing plays like kick and punt returns can’t be overlooked. Bolden Jr could even make the team over Jeremy Kerley, who got a new deal in the offseason. Lynch could even look for a trade partner for Kerley (Hello New England).
The offensive line is the weak point on the offensive side of the ball. Especially the guard position. The 49ers made a trade for Lions G Laken Tomlinson, which could spell the end for G Zane Beadles. Beadles has been awful, especially in the run game, this preseason. If the 49ers are going to have success this season, they are going to need to run the ball. They will have to get more out of the guard position. Undrafted Rookie G Erik Magnuson has had a good camp and could potentially make the team as the backup guard and Center. The other option would be journeyman OL Tim Barnes. I would like to see the team to go with the younger player in positions like this.
As expected this preseason game was filled with mistakes and sloppy play. Most of the players on the field are either backups, or won’t even make an NFL team. The real fun begins today, we get to see the roster finally take shape and what the team will look like going into week 1 of the regular season. The Carolina Panthers are coming into town on September 10 at Levi's Stadium to open up the season.