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49ers position battles: DL, OLB, ILB, CB 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 defensive side of the ball as game three approaches. On Friday, we broke down the offensive side of the ball.

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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. On Friday we looked at the offensive side of the ball, and today we look at the defensive side of the ball.

Reserve linemen

Competitors: Tank Carradine, Mike Purcell, Tony Jerod-Eddie, Lawrence Okoye, Arik Armstead, Garrison Smith, Kaleb Ramsey, Darnell Dockett
Week 2 DNP: Glenn Dorsey

Mike Purcell, Arik Armstead and Lawrence Okoye all showed some things in Week 2, providing them with strong momentum heading into arguably the most important preseason game of the year. Purcell consistently gets into the backfield, and is getting some nickel reps, which bodes well for hist roster chances. Okoye is showing some great strength, opening things up for pass rushers to get in. I still think he is on the outside looking in for a roster spot, but he is considerably improved from a year ago. And Armstead showed significant improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. He got pressure and was key to the Mike Purcell pick-6

Darnell Dockett got some work this past week, following a DNP in Week 1. Glenn Dorsey sat out the game with a strain, but I imagine we will see him back out there this week. We know what Dockett can do, so I would not expect a ton of work, but we should see him nonetheless.

What to look for in Week 3: Does Purcell get some first team nickel work? Where do Armstead and Okoye fit on the depth chart for this game?

Outside linebacker

Competitors: Eli Harold, Corey Lemonier, Marcus Rush, Shawn Lemon
Week 2 DNP: N/A

I decided to remove Aaron Lynch from this competition. His Week 1 absence left things a little up in the air, but upon returning, he moved right back into the starting lineup. Add in Ahmad Brooks's legal issues, and he will be starting. The question now becomes who starts opposite him, and what kind of rotation do we see. This group could be getting really young, really quickly.

The big performer from Week 2 was Marcus Rush. The UDFA got a sack, and has generally looked solid in the pass rush this preseason. He is playing at the back end of the rotation, but I suspect we see a little more of him this week. Part of that is due to Brooks's absence, but even if Brooks was playing, I could see Rush getting some more play just to see if he's worth a spot on the 53-man roster.

What to look for in Week 3: Who starts opposite Lynch? How much rotation do we see? How early do we see Rush?

Inside linebacker

Competitors: Nick Moody, Shayne Skov, Steve Beauharnais, Michael Wilhoite, Philip Wheeler
Week 2 DNP: Philip Wheeler, Michael Wilhoite

The ILB position is in transition following the second preseason game. Michael Wilhoite returned from the NFI list, and quickly moved back into the starting lineup. I leave him on this list, just in case we see something random in Saturday's game. I suspect next week he will be off the list.

I removed Desmond Bishop from the list due to his hand injury. He had surgery, which likely means his preseason is finished. Shayne Skov continues to get a ton of work, and remains in the mix. Nick Moody suffered a knee injury in practice this week, but Jim Tomsula described it as a tweak and he should be good to go.

What to look for in Week 3: Who starts opposite NaVorro Bowman? Does Skov lead the team in snaps again?


Competitors: Shareece Wright, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, Kenneth Acker, Marcus Cromartie, Leon McFadden
Week 2 DNP: N/A

The rotation continues here. Keith Reaser and Kenneth Acker got a lot of playing time, with Reaser starting opposite Tramaine Brock. However, we saw more rotation in practice, with Dontae Johnson getting starting time. Brock injured his hamstring, and while he is expected to be ready for Week 1, there is zero chance he plays against the Broncos. The one upside to that is that we will see plenty of playing time for the rest of the depth chart.

What to look for in Week 3: Who are the starters? How does the rotation work? Who handles slot work with Brock unlikely to play?

Reserve safeties

Competitors: Craig Dahl, Jimmie Ward, L.J. McCray, Jaquiski Tartt
Week 2 DNP: Jimmie Ward

Jaquiski Tartt is having himself a strong preseason. He got some significant opportunities as part of the 49ers nickel defense, appearing to play in what would be a linebacker role. There was talk of using him in the pass defense, and this makes sense given his big hitting ways. His coverage is an area where he needs to continue working, but the 49ers defensive scheme could put him in a strong position to succeed.

Jimmie Ward started practicing last week, but did not play against the Dallas Cowboys. There is no word on his status for Saturday, but hopefully we get a chance to see him out there. He has been getting safety work in practice, so we could see him focusing on that role. Of course, with Brock dealing with the hamstring issue, do we see Ward back getting some slot work?

What to look for in Week 3: Does Ward play? Who are the first reserves off the bench? Do we see more Tartt nickel linebacker work?