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49ers position battles: RB, WR, TE and OL all have things to look for in Week 3

The San Francisco 49ers position battles are still a little unclear as we head into the second half of the preseason schedule. We take a look at the offensive side of the ball as game three approaches.

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The San Francisco 49ers face off against the Denver Broncos on Saturday in their third preseason game of the 2015 preseason schedule. The third game is the big "dress rehearsal" type game, so we can likely expect a little bit more playing time from the starters. Some of the reserves have impressed and could see themselves move up into more significant opportunities with the 2s or 1s.

The first round of roster cuts happen this coming Tuesday when the 49ers have to cut down to 75 players. With only two players currently eligible for the NFI and PUP lists, the team will need to make as many as 12 cuts on Tuesday. The top of these competitions likely won't be affected, but trades could make this a little more interesting. We'll be back with the defense and special teams on Saturday, but for now, we start with the offense.

Backup running backs

Competitors: Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, Mike Davis, Jarryd Hayne, Kendall Gaskins
Week 2 performance: Hayne (8 att, 54 yards), Davis (8 att, 34 yards, 1 rec, 7 yards), Gaskins (10 att, 20 yards)
DNP: Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter

We saw a heavy dose of the ground game this past with only 17 passing attempts to the 38 rushing attempts. Kendall Hunter and Reggie Bush sat out again, leaving plenty of work for Jarryd Hayne, Mike Davis and Kendall Gaskins. Gaskins is the long shot of this group, and he did not help his cause on Sunday. I still think he survives the first round of roster cuts, given the need to a workhorse in the fourth quarter, but if he does get to the final preseason game, that will likely be his last with the team.

Jarryd Hayne had another strong performance. He had another long run, and continues to look solid. His pad level remains a concern, and he has acknowledged needing to improve his pass protection and knowing how to follow his blockers. But we can't ask for much more than what we've seen the last two weeks.

This week, Jim Tomsula has said we might see Hunter and Bush play on Saturday against the Broncos. He did reserve the right to change his mind, so it is entirely possible that does change. I do think Hunter is a stronger candidate to play, which would further squeeze Gaskins.

What to look for in Week 3: Do Hunter and Bush play? Can Hayne build on two strong games? How much time does Carlos Hyde get in the "dress rehearsal" game?

Wide receiver

Competitors: Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson, DeAndrew White, DiAndre Campbell, Nigel King, Issac Blakeney, Chuck Jacobs, Dres Anderson, Mario Hull
Week 2 performance: Simpson (1 rec on 1 targets, 9 yards), Patton (3 rec on 3 targets, 2 yards), King (1 target)
DNP: Bruce Ellington, Dres Anderson

Week 2 was not an ideal game for assessing the wide receivers. The team heavily emphasized the run game, and when they did pass, it was primarily to tight ends. The 49ers roster decisions at wide receiver will likely be as much to do with practice performance as game performance.

If that is the case, it would potentially be a bigger benefit to Quinton Patton. He was the most targeted receiver, but he had the lowlight of the day when he lost 12 yards on a reception. He made up for it with a blocked punt, but from a game perspective, he has not impressed in his quest for the third wide receiver role. But if he is showing up in practice, then maybe it's enough to secure that role.

One of his primary competitors for a role in this offense is Bruce Ellington. He has dealt with a muscle strain for a sizable chunk of training camp, but is back on the practice field. An appearance on Saturday would be big for his chances of developing his role on offense.

The lack of targets to the wide receivers has meant little showing from the undrafted rookies that impressed in training camp. DeAndrew White has had the most notable practices, but has been quiet on game day. Dres Anderson had some strong early work, but has been dealing with a leg strain. It sounds like he was back at practice this week. I wonder if the team is content just trying to stash Anderson on the practice squad?

What to look for in Week 3: Will the 49ers throw more, and if so, will the WRs get more looks than the TEs? Can someone emerge as a third threat among the wide receivers? Will Bruce Ellington and Dres Anderson play?

Tight end

Competitors: Vance McDonald, Blake Bell, Garrett Celek, Xavier Grimble, Busta Anderson
Week 2 performance: Anderson (2 rec, 32 yards), McDonald (1 rec, 7 yards), Bell (1 rec, 5 yards), Grimble (1 rec, 3 yards)

The tight ends remain busy after two were traded away. The most notable news from Sunday was Vance McDonald suffered an ankle injury. He has been in a walking boot this week, which likely means we will not see him on Saturday against the Broncos.

Busta Anderson had a nice 29-yard reception. I don't know if that is enough to get him some more work, but McDonald's absence likely means more work up and down the depth chart. The team still has six tight ends, so it's not like they are hurting for numbers there.

The tight ends have gotten more work in the passing game than anybody else. Blaine Gabbert is the primary reason for this given his shorter pass attempts, but Colin Kaepernick and Dylan Thompson had their share of short passes as well this past week. With Kap expected to get more playing time on Saturday, we'll see if the tight ends continue to get the bulk of the targets.

What to look for in Week 3: Does McDonald play? If not, who gets the No. 2 spot behind Davis? Does the team try and hide Anderson, or does he get a bump for more playing time?

Offensive line

Competitors: Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas, Joe Looney, Daniel Kilgore, Jordan Devey, Dillon Farrell, Ian Silberman, Trenton Brown, Andrew Tiller
DNP: Daniel Kilgore

Joe Staley (LT), Alex Boone (LG) and Erik Pears (RT) seem to remain locked into their three spots. After that, I am not entirely sure what happens next. Marcus Martin, Brandon Thomas and Joe Looney all seem like locks to make the roster, leaving one or two roster spots for the rest of the group above (assuming Daniel Kilgore opens the season on the PUP list).

Beyond that, the center and right guard roles seem to be in a bit of flux. Looney and Martin were handling those roles, respectively, to start the preseason, but practice this past week has seen Martin and Ian Silberman handling the two roles, respectively. Brandon Thomas was a reserve at right guard to start training camp, but recently has done more work at left guard behind Boone. Andrew Tiller has impressed, while Dillon Farrell likely brings the most versatility. There is a lot still to be settled in this group.

What to look for in Week 3: Who starts at center and right guard with the first string offense? What does the second team offensive line look like? How does the first team line gel with a bit more playing time in Week 3?