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What injury returns, absences mean for 49ers depth chart vs. Colts

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The San Francisco 49ers square off with the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday in the “dress rehearsal” game of the preseason. The third game of August is when teams play their starters the most snaps, and considering they don’t play many starters in the fourth game, it’s the last chance for most of the starters to get game time before the regular season.

The 49ers unveiled their latest depth chart on Monday, but things have changed since then. On Wednesday, defensive tackle Cedric Thornton retired, and the team signed Chris Jones to fill his spot. On Thursday, the team announced they had traded linebacker Eli Harold to the Detroit Lions for a conditional seventh round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. I’ve updated the depth chart info in the tables below to reflect these moves.

While we know who is on the roster, the depth chart does not reflect injuries that will impact playing time. The team will be without offensive tackle Garry Gilliam, and might be without cornerback K’Waun Williams. However, they will welcome back cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive linemen Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, and linebacker Malcolm Smith. I thought I’d offer up a few thoughts on how these various players impact Saturday’s depth chart.

OT Garry Gilliam

Last week, Darrell Williams, Andrew Lauderdale, and Pace Murphy were the three offensive tackles getting playing time after Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey left the game. Lauderdale played left tackle and Williams played right tackle with the second unit. The third unit saw Lauderdale move to the right side and Murphy come in on the left side.

The previous week, Garry Gilliam replaced Staley, while McGlinchey got extra work with the second team. Williams came on for Gilliam after he suffered his concussion. Later in the game, Lauderdale replaced McGlinchey, and he and Williams finished out the game at tackle.

Williams seemed to have the edge over Gilliam on the depth chart, but it was interesting to see Lauderdale getting left tackle work last week while Williams got the right tackle work. I don’t know what that means for roster competition, although both would seem to have work to do to supplant Gilliam. We should also keep note of Pace Murphy. He can play guard and tackle, and with Erik Magnuson likely headed to short term IR, maybe Murphy’s versatility gets him a roster spot.

CB K’Waun Williams

D.J. Reed has been the clear “winner” coming out of Williams’ injury. Reed is getting both safety and nickel work, and that combined with his kick return skills likely means a big opportunity this year. I don’t think it will be enough to supplant Williams, but it does mean Reed will probably be the dime back out of the gate.

I am hoping Williams does play so we can see what it means for the depth chart behind him. Somebody will get less work if that happens, but I am not entirely sure who at this point.

RB Joe Williams

Williams was the fourth running back on the field in Week 1 behind Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, and Raheem Mostert, and one spot ahead of Jeremy McNichols. Last week, he was No. 2 behind Jeremy McNichols, and ahead of Jeff Wilson. This week, Alfred Morris gets the start, and we will likely see plenty of McNichols, Mostert, and Wilson while Williams is out with McKinnon and Breida. Williams has a chance of returning next week for the preseason finale, but we’ll know more when the team hits the practice field next Monday.

CB Richard Sherman

Sherman has been pushing to get back, and finally got the OK from the training staff. The starters are expected to play the entire first half, give or take, but I would be surprised if Sherman got all those reps. His return to the lineup bumps Jimmie Ward down the depth chart, but also means the rest of the cornerbacks get bumped Greg Mabin, Tarvarius Moore, Tyvis Powell and the other cornerbacks get bumped down. I suspect we see Mabin out there with Jimmie Ward, and then Powell and Moore working together with the third unit.

DL Arik Armstead

It’s been a long wait to see Armstead back out there since his early training camp hamstring injury. The big question is what this means for Jullien Taylor. One of two seventh round picks this year, Taylor has exceeded expectations. He benefited from Armstead’s injury, but he took hold of his opportunity and ran with it. Armstead’s return and ability to play both outside and inside most notably impacts Taylor, Ronald Blair, and Sheldon Day.

DL Solomon Thomas

The 49ers LEO suffered a concussion against the Dallas Cowboys, and resulted in Cassius Marsh moving into the starting looks, and Dekoda Watson and Ronald Blair getting some additional edge work earlier in the depth chart. Watson is still working on the edge even after the Eli Harold trade. Thomas will handle the starting LEO work, but the team does a lot of rotating, with Thomas also getting work inside. Like Armstead, it impacts Day on the inside.

LB Malcolm Smith

Brock Coyle moved into the starting lineup after Smith went down. Fred Warner got a bump in his playing time, while Elijah Lee has been the preseason workhorse. Smith will pair with Reuben Foster this week, but then will likely be paired with Coyle during Foster’s suspension.

49ers offensive depth chart, preseason Week 3 2018

Position First Second Third Fourth Other
Position First Second Third Fourth Other
WR Pierre Garçon Aaron Burbridge Dante Pettis Kendrick Bourne Max McCaffrey/Steven Dunbar
LT Joe Staley Pace Murphy Darrell Williams
LG Laken Tomlinson Mike Person JP Flynn Chris Gonzalez
C Weston Richburg Erik Magnuson
RG Joshua Garnett Jonathan Cooper Coleman Shelton Najee Toran
RT Mike McGlinchey Garry Gilliam Andrew Lauderdale
TE Garrett Celek George Kittle Cole Hikutini Cole Wick Ross Dwelley/Wes Saxton
WR Marquise Goodwin Trent Taylor Aldrick Robinson Victor Bolden Richie James
RB Jerick McKinnon Matt Breida Raheem Mostert Joe Williams/Alfred Morris Jeremy McNichols/Jeff Wilson
FB Kyle Juszczyk Malcolm Johnson
QB Jimmy Garoppolo C.J. Beathard Nick Mullens Jack Heneghan

49ers defensive depth chart, preseason Week 3 2018

Position First Second Third Fourth Other
Position First Second Third Fourth Other
LDE Solomon Thomas Cassius Marsh Jeremiah Attaochu Dekoda Watson
LDT Earl Mitchell D.J. Jones Chris Jones
RDT DeForest Buckner Sheldon Day Will Sutton Niles Scott
RDE Arik Armstead Ronald Blair Jullian Taylor
SAM Mark Nzeocha Pita Taumoepenu
MIKE Reuben Foster Brock Coyle Fred Warner
WILL Malcolm Smith Korey Toomer Elijah Lee
LCB Richard Sherman Jimmie Ward Tyvis Powell Emmanuel Moseley
RCB Ahkello Witherspoon Greg Mabin Tarvarius Moore Tarvarus McFadden
NB K'Waun Williams
FS Adrian Colbert D.J. Reed Marcell Harris Dexter McCoil
SS Jaquiski Tartt Antone Exum, Jr. Chanceller James

49ers special teams depth chart, preseason Week 3 2018

Position First Second Third
Position First Second Third
Position Bradley Pinion Jeff Locke
K Robbie Gould
H Bradley Pinion
PR Trent Taylor Dante Pettis D.J. Reed
KOR Victor Bolden Matt Breida D.J. Reed
LS Kyle Nelson