The 49ers wrap up the preseason with their oft-repeated preseason opponent, the San Diego Chargers. I guess this is the preseason NorCal/SoCal rivalry matchup we all crave (and by we all, I'm pretty sure I mean nobody).
Each week I have taken a look at the five non-starters to watch in a given game. The preseason features a lot of playing time for the backup, and since we enjoy watching the 49ers, it makes sense to have an idea of who we should be watching when the starters leave. Some of the backups are auditioning for jobs elsewhere, others are hoping to score a spot on the 49ers practice squad, and a select few are in a battle for those final few 53-man roster spots.
The 49ers current depth chart gives us a pretty good idea of many of the roster cuts, but it leaves some question marks as to position battles. For example, Perrish Cox is listed behind Tramaine Brock, but it would seem Cox is ahead of Brock. But we could be wrong in our assessments I suppose.
Rather than break down five specific players, I thought I'd combine this and a position battle preview for the five non-starter positions to watch.
1. Third string tight end
This may have become Konrad Reuland's job to lose to start the season. It is entirely possible he is not around by the end of the season, but with Demarcus Dobbs' injury and Nate Byham getting waive/injured, Reuland's primary competition might just be Garrett Celek and Kyle Nelson. The 49ers could very well decide to go with just two tight ends and stick with their jumbo sets, but I have a feeling Reuland has a great shot to claim a roster spot with this role.
2. Outside Linebacker No. 4
This may not even be a job to take for the regular season roster. Due to injuries. Eric Bakhtiari and Parys Haralson are out tonight. Demarcus Dobbs had gotten some nickel defensive end work with this group, but he could be out tonight as well. That leaves Ikaika Alama-Francis, Kenny Rowe and seventh round draft pick Cam Johnson with a whole lot of playing time behind Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. IAF seemed like a long-shot entering camp, but if injuries are a concern at outside linebacker, he could very well play his way into a job.
3. Practice Squad Wide Receiver
Odds are pretty high that Nathan Palmer and Chris Owusu will be roster cuts tomorrow. The 49ers wide receiver position likely has too many moving parts to fit in undrafted free agents. They're not locks to get released, but odds are not good. Instead, they could be battling for a spot on the 49ers practice squad, or at least looking to impress another team to snag them off waivers for their own 53-man roster.
4. Backup Safeties
The backup safeties are a big question mark. After Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, the 49ers lack considerable depth. C.J. Spillman will be in the mix, but beyond that, Colin Jones, Trenton Robinson, Darcel McBath and Michael Thomas are all trying to impress. Furthermore, those four could be battling for one roster spot. Jones has strong 2011 special teams experience in his favor, but if the team keeps an extra running back like Anthony Dixon or Rock Cartwright, that potentially closes the door elsewhere. They are battling for their roster lives tonight.
5. Fourth Cornerback
Perrish Cox and Tramaine Brock have been linked together all month behind Chris Culliver. Heading into camp, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver were the top three, with everybody else fighting for scraps. Those three remain on top, but you could make the argument that Cox has battled his way to potentially significant playing time.
If the 49ers keep all five cornerbacks, they could actually keep four active on game days. It is possible when they go to their six DB package, that the 49ers will use Cox instead of a safety. That's no guarantee, but it is one of a few ways around the question marks at safety depth. Tramaine Brock has had his share of struggles this preseason and will look to finish strong and garner some additional playing time.