The 49ers have made it halfway through the preseason. Throughout practices and the two preseason games, we have learned a few things about the team and we have also failed to learn other things. Hopefully the next two games, facing the Colts and the Chargers will put to rest a few questions, but for now, here is what we don’t know:
Who will carry the rock?
Yes, Jerick McKinnon (calf strain) is the number one running back and he will be complemented by Matt Breida (separated shoulder). Yes, they both should be ready for week one, but what if they aren’t? Soft tissue injuries recovery dates are always best case/worst case scenarios.
Neither Joe Williams or Jeremy McNichols truly impressed in Houston. Williams carried the ball eight times for 18 yards giving him and average of 2.3 YPC. He caught two of the three passes sent his way but also coughed up the third as he was hit from behind, McNichols had a few more chances with 10 carries for 28 yards giving him 2.8 YPC and he caught three of his four targets. Jeff Wilson actually had a better average with 4.0 YPC running the ball five times for 20 yards going against the threes and caught both passes thrown to him, Clearly the run game as a whole struggled.
Raheem Mostert seems like the guy to make the 53 with his special teams contributions but he didn't carry the ball once facing the Texans. Mostert’s only snaps came on special teams. After the game, when asked if he knew he wouldn't be in at running back, he replied he didn’t know ahead of time that that would be the case. As of now the status of the third running back position is very murky
How many wideouts can the 49ers keep?
The deepest position on the team seems to be wide receiver. There are several players that have been productive throughout the last two games with the passing game flourishing much more than the run game. Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon are interchangeable as the one and two. Trent Taylor is nearly back to being his old self after a back procedure during the offseason. The team moved up to draft Dante Pettis who has shown how dynamic he can be and Richie James Jr. flashed in the first preseason game and during training camp.
The remaining wide receivers are:
Victor Bolden Jr.
McCaffrey did not play because of a foot injury and the remaining five receivers caught three passes total (Burbridge, Bourne and Bolden). The team may be able to stash the tallest of the group, 6’3 Dunbar, on the practice squad, but after the first preseason game it’s doubtful that they could do that to James who is now on many scout’s radar. Burbridge is a special teams contributor as is Bolden. Which makes it more likely that Robinson and Bourne might be the odd men out. Robinson has been great in training camp making ridiculous plays but he wasn’t targeted once in Houston. Bourne could end up on the practice squad after a somewhat inconsistent training camp, but at this point, it’s still unclear who will remain.
When will the pass rush get into full swing?
There were a few defensive line highlights that included Sheldon Day and D.J. Jones both forcing fumbles but overall the pass rush has still yet to materialize. There were no sacks recorded of any Texans quarterbacks and only one tackle for a loss. There were three quarterback hits, two made by Jerry Attaochu and one by Dekoda Watson and a few hurries, but overall there wasn’t much pressure on the opposing quarterbacks.
For arguments sake you could say that once Arik Armstead (hamstring) and Solomon Thomas (concussion) return to the mix things could change for the better. This could be more of a factor if the coaching staff continues to experiment with moving DeForest Buckner to the outside which allows Thomas to play on the inside where he flourished at Stanford.
What is a legal hit?
After the matchup in Houston, none of us really know what is legal; not the referees, not the players and definitely not us spectators. The 49ers have now been penalized three times in two games for the new lowering and leading with the head penalty and the latest two seem to be the most egregious of the calls.
Slow motion replay of Mostert’s hit shows him moving his head to the side and initiating contact with his shoulder, yet he was still flagged. The second on Attaochu was equally as confusing. The defensive end was already locked up with and offensive lineman and then proceeded to lower his head. Yes, his helmet made contact with the other player but initial contact was made with his hands. Isn’t it all about initial contact and leading with your head/helmet? Clearly Attaochu led with his hands since they were already on the opposing player. Confused? We all are.
Richard Sherman even went to Twitter to express his displeasure with the calls:
There is no “make adjustment” to the way you tackle. Even in a perfect form tackle the body is led by the head. The rule is idiotic And should be dismissed immediately. When you watch rugby players tackle they are still lead by their head. Will be flag football soon.— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) August 19, 2018