Praise be! The San Francisco 49ers return to action against longtime rival Dallas Cowboys Thursday evening. The starters, including Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, will see limited action allowing for less seasoned players to show their stuff in game action. Here are some of those younger guys who may stand out.
D.J. Reed, Cornerback/Safety
With Nickel CB K’waun Williams week-to-week nursing a low-ankle sprain, it is reasonable to assume that D.J. Reed will step in as the starting nickel corner. A fifth-round selection from Kansas State, Reed has flashed very good coverage ability from both the slot corner and as a backup free safety. He has been putting up solid reps in practice against Trent Taylor and Richie James, who are no slouches as slot wide receivers. The Cowboys’ WR corps is not a strength of their offense so how Reed plays could be a good indicator of where he is in his development.
Jullian Taylor, Defensive End
Another late-round rookie, Jullian Taylor has seen snaps with the first-team defense in training camp. Incumbent starter Arik Armstead went down with a hamstring injury and Taylor earned first-team reps over the more experienced Ronald Blair. “[Taylor] brings an awesome mindset of physicality, violence, and effort,” Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh said in praise of Taylor’s play thus far through camp. As opposed to the Dallas WR group, their offensive line is viewed as one of the best in the league. Solid play against such a good group could help the seventh-round pick entrench himself on the 53-man roster.
Joe Williams, Running Back
Joe Williams was hand-picked by Head Coach Kyle Shanahan in last year’s draft despite hesitation from GM John Lynch, however, he posted a poor showing in training camp and landed himself on injured reserve. Williams has taken that time to get his mind and body right for this season. He dropped 11 pounds and appears faster, showcasing that speed with multiple long touchdown runs during practice.He has taken snaps as a gunner on special teams and it will be interesting to see if the coaching staff deploys him in that role against the Cowboys. Williams is firmly on the bubble and a strong showing throughout the course of the preseason is necessary to land him a spot on the final roster.
Cassius Marsh/Jeremiah Attaochu, EDGE
Pass rush was without a doubt the weakest part of the 49ers defense last year. Take away a six sack performance against the Arizona Cardinals and the team only managed 24 sacks in 15 games. Cassius Marsh was a midseason addition after being waived by the Patriots and saw game action as a pass rushing specialist. Jeremiah Attaochu, on the other hand, was buried behind Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the Chargers depth chart and signed as a free agent this off-season. The coaching staff has shown great confidence in both players as the position was not addressed during the draft. Both are close to the top of the depth chart so it is uncertain as to how many snaps they will see, therefore, success will be measured by how much impact they can have in limited roles. Attaochu, specifically, has had a strong training camp thus far and will look to build on that.
Richie James, Wide Receiver
Yet another seventh-round rookie who has flashed at practice, Richie James is looking to earn a roster spot among a deep and talented WR corps. Ideally suited for the slot, James has flashed crisp route running and dependable hands. He should see significant playing time as the team is probably looking to ease Trent Taylor into game action after beginning training camp on the sideline following off-season back surgery. James has a chance to showcase his skillset in Shanahan’s offensive scheme which maximizes wide receivers that other teams overlooked. Originally viewed as a practice squad candidate, James may prove too talented to stash.
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