The San Francisco 49ers host the Green Bay Packers this Sunday, and given that it is the season opener, both teams will have players flying under the radar heading into the game. We have rookies hitting the field for their first NFL action ever. We have free agents making their regular season debut with their new teams. It is one reason bookies have a tough time setting proper odds early in the season. There are still a lot of question marks!
During the preseason, we put together some fun interaction with other sites that I wanted to carry over into the regular season. Although we have the "Ask a Packers Fan" FanPost for general discussion, we can put together some more specific discussion between the sites by placing different content in the corresponding site layout.
We start today with a look at under-the-radar players on each side of the ball. I asked Tex from Acme Packing Company for his thoughts on Packers players that are flying under the radar to some extent heading into this game. He provided a look at one player on offense and one player on defense. He will be dropping this post in the layout at APC, so we can get some additional insight from his readers. Thanks to Tex for this thoughts.
One player to watch will be fullback John Kuhn. He's not your prototypical bulldozer when lead blocking in the run game, but he is the Packers' most trusted option as a pass blocker, and he's adequate at worst as a receiving back. As such, Kuhn likely will not have the ball in his hands on short-yardage situations with Eddie Lacy's arrival, but he will likely be flanking Aaron Rodgers when the team is in third and long situations. In a game where the opposing defense is likely to bring a lot of pressure on the Packers' young offensive line, Kuhn's contributions in pass-blocking alone will be worth monitoring and could buy Rodgers just enough time to find a second or third read.
I would keep an eye on inside linebacker Brad Jones. After transitioning from the outside, Jones has become reliable on the inside, especially in coverage where former Packer Desmond Bishop and fellow starter A.J. Hawk struggle. Jones is also solid in run support, and although he had an ugly game against the 49ers in the playoffs, he was hardly alone in that and he has better support around him to start this year. When the Packers go to a dime package, it's Hawk coming off the field instead of Jones.
The 49ers have their own "under-the-radar" players that will likely impact this game. Here are my thoughts on one such player on each side of the ball. Feel free to offer up your own suggestions.
The 49ers offense returns much of the lineup intact, but the wide receiver position has quite a few changes. One new guy who could surprise is wide receiver Marlon Moore. The 49ers signed Moore after the Miami Dolphins chose not to tender him as a restricted free agent. The 49ers signed Moore before Michael Crabtree was lost to a torn Achilles. Moore is entering his fourth year in the league with career totals of 12 receptions, 244 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
And this guy could be starting opposite Anquan Boldin Week 1! Moore saw little preseason playing time, as he got the same reps as the top of the line starters. We don't really know why the 49ers like Moore, but they do, and he is getting a huge opportunity. He looked solid in limited preseason playing time, but I don't think any of us know what to expect from Moore when the season gets going. I'd say that qualifies as truly under the radar!
The 49ers return numerous high profile players to their defense. The most high profile additions are rookie free safety Eric Reid and veteran cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. However, the under-the-radar defensive player to keep an eye on will be rookie outside linebacker Corey Lemonier. His name is pronounced Lemon-yay, and when he does something good, it requires this:
The 49ers drafted Lemonier in the third round, with hopes he could provide some depth behind Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Lemonier was a force in the preseason, prompting the 49ers to eventually trade veteran Parys Haralson and second year OLB Cam Johnson.
Smith and Brooks remain the primary starters, but expect Lemonier to make numerous appearances in pass rushing situations as the 49ers look for ways to keep their defense fresh late in games.