The End of the Beginning: Predictions for the 49ers Final Preseason Game
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The 49ers take on the Los Angeles Chargers tonight in the final preseason game for both teams. By this point of the preseason most coaching staffs have already made decisions on their starting 11s on both sides of the ball and are looking at players to fill the back ends of their rosters. Because of this, starters are typically held out of the game with most coaches seeing little risk versus reward in putting their essential personnel on the field. Instead, players who are fighting for a last roster spot have their final chance to impress the coaches and hopefully sneak onto the 53-man roster. With that in mind, here are some things to look for.
Offensive Line Play
With center Weston Richburg returning from the PUP list this week, it’s expected that the 49ers will open the regular season in Tampa Bay with their starting offensive line intact. But one of the weakest areas on the team is depth behind the starters. Ben Garland was serviceable in Richburg’s absence and can be a competent back-up for all three interior positions, but outside of Garland the rest of the group is murky. Najee Toran has played some center and guard during the preseason with mixed results, rookies Justin Skule and Ross Reynolds should see adequate playing time as Skule tries to establish himself as an option for a swing tackle position and Reynolds can play either guard spot. Surprisingly the man possibly on the outside looking in is former first-round pick Joshua Garnett, who broke his finger earlier in camp and hasn’t practiced since and has had a cast on his hand since surgery. If Garnett can’t showcase what he can do, then this might be it for him in the Red and Gold.
There are some hard decisions to make with these groups. How many running backs are they planning on keeping, especially now that it seems likely Jerick McKinnon is headed back to the IR for the second straight season? Will six or seven wide receivers be kept on the final roster? Who is backing up George Kittle at tight end? Tonight’s game will hopefully give some clarity to these questions.
Jeff Wilson Jr. has played well enough to earn a roster spot, with his play in 2018 and his preseason to this point; he should get the start versus the Chargers, but will Kyle Shanahan decide to keep four running backs and try to stash Wilson on the practice squad again?
Shanahan typically keeps six wide receivers, but a strong argument can be made to keep seven this season. Marquise Goodwin should be the only receiver in street clothes tonight, and I’d expect Richie James Jr., Kendrick Bourne, and veteran Jordan Matthews to see the majority of snaps during the game as receivers coach Wes Welker tries to trim down his group.
With the very real possibility that five running backs and seven receivers make the final 53, where does that leave the tight ends? Second year player Ross Dwelley has performed well while Kittle has been out, rookie Kaden Smith seems to be coming along slowly, and the team also added veteran Levine Toilolo. Dwelley and Smith have similar skill sets as “move” tight ends while Toilolo is known more as a blocker. Dwelley should get the start with Smith and Toilolo playing significant snaps.
Simply put: Colbert should get the start at free safety and not come off the field. The starting free safety from 2018 might be outside of the roster bubble and find himself unemployed once the roster is cut down from 90 players. After being ejected after 7 plays against the Cowboys in the preseason opener, he injured his ankle and has missed the last two games. Colbert needs to log major snaps and made the most of his opportunity if he wants to make the final 53.
No matter what happens tonight, by 1:00 pm Pacific Time on Saturday 1,184 men will find themselves out of a job. Some will be young players hoping to make a practice squad or even sign to an active roster, and some will be veterans who have unknowingly played their last game of professional football. Tonight will give us the best opportunity to get inside of Kyle Shanahan’s and John Lynch’s head as this regime prepares for their third season at the helm.
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