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The fourth week of the preseason in the NFL is tryout week. Not in the sense that you show up to the field and the coach picks his team at the end of the tryout; most 53-man rosters are more or less set at this point. No, these players spending the majority of the time on the field this week are auditioning to other teams’ scouts to try and get picked up on someone else’s 53-man roster or someone’s practice squad. They are just screaming, “Somebody notice me!”
A quality roster doesn’t need much from the fourth preseason game. If a NFL team is looking for their diamond in the rough during Week 4 of the preseason, they haven’t done their job the rest of the year. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t players on the bubble who teams want to see just a little bit more out of. Team executives don’t come out and say, “well so-and-so wasn’t going to make the roster until that game four of the preseason,” so fans will never really know how many roster spots are saved or stolen these next five days, but luckily for the 49ers, there isn’t a ton of drama going into the final week of the preseason.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan stated that he intends on keeping three quarterbacks on the roster – whether he intends to or he is trying to drive up trade value, we’ll have to wait and see- but don’t expect a big last game boxing match between Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard. If Shanahan spoke the truth, then both of their roster spots are safe.
There is a bit of a debate at other positions, though. It is still clear as mud as to who will be manning the wide receiver positions this year in Santa Clara. Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd, and Trent Taylor were thought to be safe, leaving a street fight between Jordan Matthews, Richie James Jr. and Kendrick Bourne for the sixth spot on the WR depth chart. Shanahan dropped some quotes this past week that has made many believe that Matthews is now also safe. Add that to the fantastic preseason that James and Bourne have had and negative comments about Pettis from the head coach leaves everyone wondering how many and how shocking is this WR group going to be. Maybe James can make a final point that he deserves to be left on the squad, pushing someone like Taylor off of it.
The offensive line is agroup where beyond the starters, who-knows-what is going to happen. Fill-in center Ben Garland has had a great preseason, but besides that, few of the backup offensive linemen have shown that they will be pushing for a starting spot or will even be that serviceable should one of the starters go down midseason. This fourth game could be key for players like Garland, Najee Toran, Ross Reynolds, and Justin Skule to show that they deserve to be on this team.
The linebacker group has been underwhelming since the days of Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman. Fred Warner Jr. and Kwon Alexander look to change that up and the fourth game might give the fans a better idea of who is going to be suiting up next to them. David Mayo, Dre Greenlaw, and Azeez Al-Shaair have been having a solid preseason and training camp, with all three looking like they could make the 53 man roster. That leaves Mark Nzeocha, a special-teams ace, plus Elijah Lee and Malcolm Smith possibly looking in from the outside of the final roster. All of these six players need to show the coaches what they are capable of, not just in the run defense game but in coverage as well.
The strongest group on the roster is easily the defensive line. Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner, and Nick Bosa are locks to make the 53-man roster. Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas will also be on the 53-man roster should general manager John Lynch decide to not pull the trigger and trade one of the two former first round picks. After that, the team has a ton of talent. I mean two-thousand pounds of it in athletic behemoth defensive linemen. Jeremiah Valoaga, Ronald Blair III, Damontre Moore, Kentavius Street, Sheldon Day, Kevin Givens, D.J. Jones, and Jullian Taylor have all shown they deserve a spot in the NFL. If those first five guys -- Buckner, Ford, Bosa, Armstead, and Thomas -- are still on the roster, then that means only four or five of that second group make it. The fourth game is their last chance to show it.
One last player to pick out individually is Dontae Johnson. San Francisco 49er fans are very aware of Johnson, considering he was a starter for the team at one time. When he was signed this past offseason it was thought that he was just a camp body and had no chance in making the final 53 man roster. With rookie cornerback Tim Harris going to the IR, and Jason Verrett not holding a clean bill of health, it’s possible that the door has been cracked open for Johnson. He had a solid game against the Broncos, recording a hustle interception and breaking up two more passes. He came up with another pass break up and three tackles against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 of the preseason. Johnson may be playing for his career at this point, and this week he will have to.
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