• Geoff Castaneda

49ers Who Need to Show More in the Final Preseason Game

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With an 18-week regular season, 2021 marks the first year of a three-game preseason. The 49ers are 1-1 through the first two games. More importantly, they have a number of personnel and depth decisions to make after the final exhibition on August 29. Which players have something to prove in the desert this weekend?

Richie James Jr.

Image Credit: Nhat Meyer/Bay Area News Group

I fear the bell has tolled for the 2018 seventh-round draft pick from Middle Tennessee. The acrobatic wideout has struggled to impress throughout training camp and the preseason. Per Fox Sports, James has only caught two of his five targets for a total of 16 yards. On the special-teams side, No. 13 is averaging 16.0 yards per kick return. By comparison, James’ most imminent competition, Nsimba Webster, has posted an average of 22.3 yards per return. It may be too late, but if James wants to flip the script and secure another year in the Bay, he’ll need to exhibit the potential he flashed in Week 9 of the 2020 regular season.

Kevin Givens

Image Credit: Getty Images

This is not to call Givens’ spot on the roster into question. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans offered support for the third-year defensive tackle during the offseason training program. The defensive line is the most talented position group on the roster. Nonetheless, Givens has yet to make an impact through two exhibition games.Without a solid performance against the Raiders, he could surrender regular season snaps to the likes of Zach Kerr and Kentavious Street. The 49ers believe in Givens’ physical abilities and upside. But as experience has shown, only production guarantees continued opportunities.

Wayne GallmanJr.

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Gallman joined the 49ers this offseason on a one-year contract after four years with the New York Giants.His addition was seen as a remedy for the lack of depth and veteran presence. The running backs room has been afflicted by injuries. Jeff Wilson Jr. is recovering from a torn meniscus and will start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Rookies Trey Sermon and Elijah Mitchell were inactive for the 49ers preseason contest against the Chargers. In their absence, Gallman rushed 15 times for 72 yards. His 4.8 yards per carry average was an improvement from the previous week’s 3.5 yards per carry. The importance of those numbers can be disputed based on the second- and third- team lineman leading the way. Fellow reserve JaMycal Hasty has posted similar numbers through two games. Gallman has one game to convince the front office that he is $210,000 better than Hasty.

Tavon Wilson

Image Credit: Stan Szeto/USA Today

Talanoa Hufanga looks like another fifth-round gem courtesy of John Lynch and the scouting department. The safety from USC set out to be a special teams standout with no mention of overtaking the 49ers’ starting strong safety role. The 49ers expected Jaquiski Tartt and Tavarius Moore to compete for the slot opposite Jimmie Ward. Injuries sidelined those plans. Wilson, a nine-year veteran, soon climbed to the top of the depth chart. Hufanga’s game and practice reps have increased, and the rookie has capitalized. The combination of Hufanga’s rising stock and the addition of HaHa Clinton-Dix have deemed Wilson less essential. The 49ers expect to play their healthy starters this week and Wilson could use a solid showcase before the regular season begins. Otherwise, the 49ers may not have room for the veteran.

Traditionally, the third preseason game has been a dress rehearsal for starters. Without a fourth exhibition, game reps for reserve players are at a premium. Some fates have likely already been decided in practice. For the above players, Sunday’s game could define their role or place on the roster.

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