Kyle Shanahan, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, is not a fan of the preseason. Ahead of last week’s preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys he stated that he would “rather have zero (games) than four.” But he did backtrack and acknowledge that there is a function of these games, and it is to evaluate your talent. The 49ers have a good problem this season that hasn’t been seen in quite some time: they are going to have to cut actual talented players to make it to their final 53-man roster. And while their Week 1 preseason battle with the Cowboys left a lot to be desired, it gave everyone involved a taste of the talent that is on the roster. Let’s take a look at some winners and losers from the 49ers squad from this past Saturday.
Rookie wide receiver Jalen Hurd took the opportunities he was given on Saturday and ran with them…literally. Although he only had 3 receptions for 31 yards, the 67th-overall pick converted two of those catches into touchdowns. His first came on a crossing route in which he caught the ball around the 7-yard line and charged into the end zone. His downhill running skills were on full display as he trucked right through a defender to cross the goal line. His second touchdown came on a fade route in the end zone, in which he used his size and strength to go and up and get the ball. After a somewhat quiet first few days of camp it was refreshing to see Hurd really ball-out and bring some hype for the home fans. Look for him to have an even bigger role in his second preseason game.
Another stand out from the first preseason game was rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw. The fifth-round pick was excellent in stopping the run and great in pass coverage as well. Not only that, but he just seemed to move well on the field and was always swarming to the ball. With injuries to linebackers Malcolm Smith and Elijah Lee, Greenlaw could find himself slipping into the starting Sam spot. It also helps that he has a great attitude with potential to be a future leader on this team!
The Defensive Line
After a 2018 season in which the pass rush was fairly nonexistent, the 49ers front office went to work to bolster the defensive line in the offseason. With 28 players sitting out of the game against the Cowboys, many of them returning defensive lineman, it gave some of the newcomers a chance to strut their stuff. As a whole, they did not disappoint. Although they were playing against the Cowboys backup offensive line, they showed toughness and physicality. Veteran edge rusher Damontre’ Moore, who was signed just prior to the start of camp, had three QB hits. And the other edge rusher, Jeremiah Valoaga, recorded two sacks. Valoaga, who is entering his third season in the league, was signed just days prior to the game. Those two may have shown some tangible results in their performances, but the d-line as a whole deserves much credit for getting that pressure up front. The last few roster battles along the d-line will be intriguing as we get closer to the end of the preseason.
With the collarbone injury to Jimmie Ward at OTAs, free safety Adrian Colbert was looking to possibly regain his position that was lost last season due to injury. However, after not making much noise during training camp and his performance in last week’s game against the Cowboys, all bets might be off for the moment. Colbert only played in seven snaps this past weekend due to the fact that he was ejected for an unnecessary roughness penalty. Although it was a questionable call, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for Colbert.
Colbert was replaced during camp at free safety by Tarvarius Moore, who is now taking most of the reps with the first team. After Colbert’s ejection from the game, Moore played a whopping 70 snaps, the most of any defensive player that game. All signs point to Moore being the starting free safety come Week 1, if Ward is not ready to go. But all hope is not lost for Colbert. If he can make some waves at camp and make the most of the next three preseason games, his position on the team may not completely be in jeopardy.
As mentioned earlier, 28 players were rested during Saturday night’s game. Most of those players have already solidified a roster spot on the team, if not a starting role. One player whom most expected to be a shoo-in for the number-one wide receiver spot is second year guy Dante Pettis. However, Shanahan wanted to see more out of him and played him against the Cowboys. Pettis only had one target and was held without a reception. And when speaking with the media after the game regarding the wide receiver group Shanahan stated, “I want someone to take the job and make it to where it’s extremely obvious.” While he was referring to the group as a whole, Hurd and fellow rookie receiver Deebo Samuel both made big plays in that first game. Pettis did not.
While many were expecting Pettis to take a huge leap in production from year one to year two, it might be a slightly trickier transition than expected. But teammates such as veteran cornerback Richard Sherman see the extreme potential in Pettis and continue to push him in practices. He has shown flashes of greatness, but now more than ever in these next preseason games, he needs to execute.
The 49ers next head to Denver to have joint practices with the Denver Broncos ahead of their Monday night game against them. Even with their 17-9 victory over the Cowboys, there are still many question marks going into the next game. What will we see out of Colbert? Out of Pettis? And which youngster or veteran will be the next stand-out for the team and earn a surprise roster spot?
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