The third exhibition game is usually considered the “dry run” before the regular season and gives coaches and players somewhat of a barometer as to where things stand. The starters will play more than in previous weeks, but make no mistake, this game is still much more about getting the roster figured out.
Here are the key items to know for today’s match-up against the Green Bay Packers.
10. When and Where?
Friday August 26, 2016 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA at 7:00 PM PT
9. Players to watch – Defensive Line
This will be the first game where the last two 1st Round draft picks, defensive ends Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, also known as “The Twin Towers”, will play and show what they can do. Both are 6’7 and 290 lbs and face a test against offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga, David Bakhtiari, and rookie Jason Spriggs.
The defensive line should be much improved in 2016 and it will be good to face one of the deeper lines in the NFL tonight, as well as Aaron Rodgers.
8. Players to watch – Gerald Hodges – Inside Linebacker
It wasn’t long ago that the 49ers boasted of the best pair of inside linebackers in the NFL, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Now that Willis and 2014 draft pick Chris Borland are retired, San Francisco has been looking for the next great linebacker to complement NaVorro Bowman. Hodges, acquired via trade from Minnesota, looks poised to claim the starting spot and faces a good running back tandem in Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
His biggest competition at this point are Michael Wilhoite and Ray-Ray Armstrong. Armstrong is making a strong case with his effective pass coverage skills.
7. Who will emerge at Wide Receiver?
Torrey Smith is the split end and it’s likely that Bruce Ellington will be the primary slot receiver. The big question mark is who rises up and takes over the flanker position?
The leading candidates are Dres Anderson, Quinton Patton, 2016 Draft Pick Aaron Burbridge, Jerome Simpson, and DeAndre Smelter. Burbridge hasn’t been very active but the most unfortunate situation is that of Smelter. He was poised to show what he can do in preseason, but an injury has kept him off the field. It is unknown whether or not he plays tonight.
Patton and Anderson have made the most contributions, most notably Anderson’s 30 yard game-winning touchdown last week against Denver. Patton is the favorite, but Anderson has at least real good chance to make the roster.
The Packers have one of the better and deeper secondaries in the NFL making tonight’s game very important for the young 49ers receivers.
6. Will Marcus Rush make the team?
Rush is leader in quarterback pressures from a 3-4 outside linebacker this preseason and given Aaron Lynch’s four-game suspension, he has a fantastic chance to make the team, but needs to show more tonight.
Tank Carradine is also fighting for a roster spot and is second in the NFL in the same category as Rush. Both had sacks last week and against Green Bay’s offensive line, they would each have a chance to show they can produce against quality competition.
5. Will the 49ers avoid putting the ball on the ground?
Mike Davis and DuJuan Harris have both shown that they’re ready to be called upon to provide relief to Carlos Hyde in the ground game. Davis had a fantastic game against Houston a couple of weeks ago, but coughed up the ball twice last week.
Expect aggressive play from Green Bay’s young inside linebackers Sam Barrington, Jake Ryan and the emerging Blake Martinez, who are all fighting for either a roster spot or a starting role.
4. Who will be the primary Nickel Cornerback?
Tremaine Brock and Jimmie Ward are all but locks to be the starters on the outside, but the Nickel position is still up for grabs.
Dontae Johnson, who had a good 2014 rookie season, is on the bubble, but he may have the inside track due to his good size. Keith Reaser has improved over last year and rookies Rashard Robinson and Chris Davis are also having very good camps and preseasons.
The good news is, the 49ers are loaded with talent in the secondary, more so than the last two seasons. The bad news: there are only so many roster spots.
Tonight will be a great test as the Packers are full of good receivers in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, DaVante Adams, and also rookie Geronimo Allison. If one of the corners can pull off a great game tonight, it could go a long way into securing a roster spot.
3. Is Vance McDonald finally coming into his own?
To say Vance McDonald has had a rough three seasons up to this point would be an understatement. McDonald has had consistent bouts of drops, fumbles and difficulties getting open, but this preseason has been different. He is the leading 49ers receiver and looks much more like the player that Trent Baalke moved up eight spots for in the 2013 Draft.
The Packers have plenty of capable players that can cover the tight end, so we’ll see how well he does tonight.
2. How much time will Blaine Gabbert see tonight?
With the return of Colin Kaepernick and how well Christian Ponder played last week, it is unlikely Gabbert plays for more than a series or two.
Tonight is all about seeing what Kaepernick can do and the 49ers also want to get rookie Jeff Driskel some reps.
1. How effective will Colin Kaepernick be tonight?
Kaepernick is back and all eyes will be on him as he tries to make the case that he can still lead this team. He will have to show that his arm is now healthy and a couple sizable scrambles would go a long way to showing the coaches that he fits into Chip Kelly’s system.
The offensive line should be able to protect him as this unit is much improved with surprising move of shifting Anthony Davis to right guard.
If Kaepernick plays well, it will be anyone’s guess as to who the opening day starter will be. If not, he could end up on the PUP list as the 49ers could then keep Ponder on the roster and use six weeks to evaluate Gabbert.
Check out Niners Nation’s interview with Tex at Acme Packing Company on what the Packers will be looking to do against the 49ers tonight. (both Niners Nation and Acme Packing Company are each team’s web site in the SB Nation network)
Updated Depth Chart is HERE