I know for me, at least, that I always have some sort of player I really want to watch going into a pre-season game. More often than not, given the whole QB situation the last few years, Alex Smith was the guy - if not the occasional Shaun Hill. Well, for this game, my player to watch is on the defensive side of ball.
Much was made this off-season (for good reason, mind you) about the fact that the 49ers have all 11 starters on defense returing for this season. With how dominate they played last year, you can't deny the fact that having all these guys back will be huge.
But the thing about a successful defense is that it should work like a machine. Every piece needs to be in the right place, or else the machine will fail. As such, each player needs to know his role in the machine. Each player is a cog, contributing to the overall success of the defense. An OLB, for example, ought not to willy-nilly chase after a run play to the opposite side of the field. He needs to "stay at home" in case of a reverse or some sort of doubling back. If he fails in this responsibility, then the defense can be gashed for huge losses. Maybe the best real-game example of this is Patrick Willis' injury last year. The defense is absolutely better when he is in. No doubt. That said, when Larry Grant came in and did his job, the defense didn't cripple without its best player.
So for this pre-season game, I am eager to see how well Aldon Smith can step into the starting OLB role. His pass-rush skills are obvious - and I doubt they need much more attestation. What I want to see his how far along he is in terms of run defense and basic coverage abilities. More than likely, on passing downs, the guy is going after the QB, so coverage is probably less important. But still, Aldon needs to prove that he is a well-rounded player before we can fully expect him to hold the starting position perfectly.
Can he do it? Absolutely. I believe that with this athelticism and the coaching on this team that he can be fully prepared for this role. I believe in Aldon Smith.
I'm also interested in whom you guys and gals want to watch on an individual level this Friday. So give a player and a few reasons. You really can't go wrong with a team this talented.