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49ers-Packers: Players to watch

While it'sonly the second preseason game of the season, it's also already the second game of the preseason.  The first team offense and defense will get a half of play under the belt.  The Packers finished last season 17th against the pass and 8th against the run.  Not spectacular against the pass, but Al Harris and Charles Woodson are definitely nothing to sneeze at.  Suffice to say, the 49ers offense will face a stiff challenge by ground and by air. 

On the other hand, the Packers offense was 5th in the air and 9th on the ground.  I'm not sure how the passing game will translate under Aaron Rodgers, but Ryan Grant is back running the ball, looking to build on an impressive 2007.  After getting thrashed by the Raiders running game, the 49ers will be looking to bounce back and put up a slightly stiffer front (that's what she said).  Although, I just checked Acme Packing Company, and it looks like Grant might be out.  If so, even more reason to do a better job against the run.

August 26 is the first cut-down date (to 75 players) and some positional battles are heating up, both for roster spots and for depth chart rotation.

Josh Morgan - We've talked plenty about the rookie receiver from Virginia Tech.  However, this is a particularly interesting matchup because of the corners he'll be facing.  Due to injuries, Morgan will be in the starting lineup.  This means a chance to square off against Charles Woodson or Al Harris.  This will be a big test for the rookie (as well as J.T. O'Sullivan).  You never want to get too excited after just one good performance in the preseason.  However, if Morgan can put up a second good performance against a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback, I think it's safe to say Fooch will be getting more excited (first ever reference to myself in the 3rd person I think).

Louis Holmes - Holmes has been getting more and more press as he seems to be impressing during practice, even getting some first team reps.  However, he now finds himself in a potential numbers crunch, competing with Tully Banta-Cain, Roderick Green and Jay Moore.  Barrows had some interesting comments about the four players:

Holmes, who has shown real promise as a pass rusher, is an obvious practice-squad candidate, but the 49ers would risk him being plucked off it by a team with room on its active roster. Banta-Cain disappointed last year with just 3.5 sacks, but he is the most versatile of the bunch and there's a sense that he'll be more effective in a reserve role just as he was in New England. Green has been perhaps the best pass rusher of this latter group. But his versatility is limited and the 49ers know (from history) there's little risk in cutting him and bringing him back midseason if need be. Moore, meanwhile, hasn't shown much of a pass rush and is still very much in learning mode when it comes to coverage duties. He is practice-squad eligible.

I would like to see Jay Moore make the roster, but I'm feeling more and more like he will end up on the practice squad.  Holmes sounds motivated to make the roster, but the numbers crunch might get in the way.  If he can make some noise against the Packers, maybe he can force the situation.

Keith Lewis - Up to this point I considered Lewis pretty secure in his roster spot.  Barrows mentioned today that he thinks one of the final defensive backs could come down to either Lewis or Marcus Hudson.  In comparing the two, Barrows said Lewis's strengths being special teams place and solid backup play at strong safety, while his main weakness is a lack of speed and versatility.  Hudson, on the other hand, has less experience but more versatility in the secondary and is showing some special teams spark.  I'm not sure how strong a performance Lewis would need to secure his spot, but it'd be interesting to see which way the 49ers go.  Lewis has always been an under the radar guy, but considering he led the team in special teams tackles in 2007, he might be worth keeping around.

The team still has the Packers game and next Thursday's matchup at Chicago (along with several more practices) before the 75-man cut down date.  The third preseason game is usually where the starters go upwards of 3 quarters, so backups need to make things happen sooner rather than later.