The San Francisco 49ers welcome the Dallas Cowboys to town on Sunday for the second game of their 2015 preseason schedule. The third game is the big "dress rehearsal" type game, but the second game will provide a quality look at things. I don't think we would expect more than a half of playing time, but we will see more from the starters than in Week 1.
The 49ers first preseason game saw the bulk of the offense only play for one series. Many of the starters are already set, so this was a valuable opportunity to see what some of the backups would be able to do. Roster competition is still on-going, but we got a little context for the various position battles. I thought I'd take a look at the offense, defense and special teams in three separate posts. Today, we start off with the offense.
Backup running backs
Competitors: Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, Mike Davis, Jarryd Hayne, Kendall Gaskins
Week 1 performance: Hayne (5 att, 63 yards, 1 passing target), Davis (3 att, 18 yards, 1 passing target), Gaskins (5 att, 12 yards)
DNP: Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter
Carlos Hyde is expected to be the 49ers starting running back in 2015, but the team is looking for complementary options that can provide other skill-sets, and lessen Hyde's workload. Reggie Bush is healthy and practicing, but did not play in the preseason opener. Jim Tomsula has repeatedly said he knows what Bush can do, which seemingly indicates he is a lock to make the roster.
Kendall Hunter on the other hand, is coming off an ACL injury and the team is working him slowly back in. If Hunter gets back on the field this weekend, that will be huge for him. He can still make do if he has to wait until the third preseason game, but if Jarryd Hayne has another big performance, things get a little more interesting.
Hayne had a great first game, both on special teams and in the ground game. He understands there is more work to be done, but he has momentum on his side. Whether it's enough to actually give the 49ers reason to cut Hunter remains to be seen. When healthy, Hunter has been a very solid running back. But of course, that's the rub. And if he is slow getting back into action, it very well could cost him his roster spot.
What to look for in Week 2: Does Hunter get back on the field? How does Hayne build on his solid debut? What kind of work does Davis get in (even though he is a lock to make this team)? Does Bush play?
Competitors: Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson, DeAndrew White, DiAndre Campbell, Nigel King, Issac Blakeney, Chuck Jacobs, Dres Anderson, Mario Hull
Week 1 performance: Simpson (2 rec on 3 targets, 31 yards), White (1 rec on 2 targets, 3 yards), King (1 target)
DNP: Bruce Ellington, Dres Anderson
The first game was not a great opportunity for the wide receivers. Blaine Gabbert got the bulk of the snaps, and he was focused on the tight ends. Dylan Thompson got some decent work, but he spent much of his time just trying not to get killed. Colin Kaepernick should get more work than last week, but will it be primarily with Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, or will he get work with the other receivers?
Jerome Simpson had the best game of the group, leading the team with 31 receiving yards. He will sit the first six games of the year, and I am kind of curious if the suspension gives him an attitude of wanting to show even more. This group has a lot to show after a meh first game. Simpson's suspension and Ellington's muscle strain open up some significant opportunities if someone can actually go out and grab them.
What to look for in Week 2: Can White build on his strong practices? Does Simpson build on a couple nice catches from the first game, with the suspension looming? Who comes on after Boldin and Smith leave the field? Do we see Ellington or Anderson on the field (unlikely)?
Competitors: Vance McDonald, Blake Bell, Derek Carrier, Garrett Celek, Xavier Grimble, Busta Anderson
Week 1 performance: Celek (2 rec, 29 yards, 1 TD), Bell (2 rec, 15 yards), McDonald (1 rec, 8 yards), Carrier (1 rec, 5 yards)
It was a fairly busy day last Saturday for the tight ends. Gabbert kept his passes fairly short, targeting guys close to the line of scrimmage. It got the 49ers moving down the field, and into the end zone. The starters should get more snaps in Week 2, but will the 49ers mix up their tight ends a bit? Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald are the starters, but Blake Bell and Derek Carrier could be active as part of this group.
I don't think anybody emerged out of this group to much degree last week. They all did some solid work, and have something to build on in Week 2. Bell looked solid catching the ball, and the next step for him is building on his blocking work.
What to look for in Week 2: Does Anderson get more work following the Asante Cleveland trade, or is the team going to continue to hide him in hopes of getting him to the practice squad? How do McDonald, Bell, Carrier and Celek all rotate in the depth chart throughout the game?
Competitors: Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas, Joe Looney, Daniel Kilgore
DNP: Daniel Kilgore
At this point it seems fairly apparent that Joe Staley (LT), Alex Boone (LG) and Erik Pears (RT) are locked in the offensive line starting lineup. Some aspects of that very well could change, but all the chatter has focused instead on center and right guard. Joe Looney and Marcus Martin have been starting at those two positions, with Brandon Thomas handling second team right guard work.
There has been talk that Thomas will eventually get into the starting lineup. I think plenty of us would support him proving his worth, but for now he continues to do a lot of second team work. If he does get into the lineup, the question then is whether Looney or Martin handles center duties. In a perfect world, Martin is at center and Thomas is at right guard. Thomas is coming off a strong game last week, so if he can build on it this week, that could be what puts him over the top for a starting job.
What to look for in Week 2: Can Thomas build on a strong Week 1? Does Martin continue to rotate in as the second string center behind Looney? Can Trent Brown show improvement from an up and down Week 1?