The San Francisco 49ers effectively wrapped up their preseason on Saturday with a 23-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. They do have one more preseason game to play, but most of their starters will not be playing in that game. A handful will, but for the most part, Thursday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers will feature a whole lot of second, third, and fourth string players.
With that in mind, there is plenty to take from the snap count for Saturday’s game. I’ve embedded a table below, and you can view the full gamebook PDF here.
The 49ers defense has dealt with numerous injuries in the preseason. They avoided season-ending injuries these first three weeks, but Saturday’s game was the first time we saw the entire defense healthy on the field. Arik Armstead, K’Waun Williams, and Richard Sherman all made their preseason debuts, while Solomon Thomas and Malcolm Smith made their first appearances since the opener against Dallas. The starting lineup looked as follows:
LDE Solomon Thomas
LDT Earl Mitchell
RDT DeForest Buckner
RDE Arik Armstead
LB Fred Warner
LB Malcolm Smith
CB K’Waun Williams
LCB Richard Sherman
RCB Ahkello Witherspoon
FS Adrian Colbert
SS Jaquiski Tartt
The 49ers play a 4-3 defense, but their primary looks is the nickel defense. We talked plenty about Mark Nzeocha getting first team reps as the SAM, but it took him a while to get on the field because we saw so little of the 4-3.
The first two preseason games saw Jullian Taylor playing the strong end role, and D.J. Reed playing the slot role in the nickel. The returns of Armstead and Williams made it clear what the pecking order will be heading into the season. Taylor and Reed both should make the 53-man roster, but they will be rotational defensive guys at best in their rookie seasons (barring injuries).
On offense, the right guard competition is not entirely clear. Mike Person got the start, but Joshua Garnett rotated in for a couple series with the 1s. Injuries slowed Garnett early in camp, but he seems to be building momentum for the starting job. Given the rest the starters are going to get this Thursday, it’s hard to guess where things stand between Garnett and Person.
Another interesting competition is for the third tight end role. Cole Wick was the first tight end off the bench behind Garrett Celek, but he and Cole Hikutini rotated extensively when the 49ers went with two tight end formations. Wick ended the game with 21 snaps to Hikutini’s 20 snaps. Both had drops, and I don’t know that either has firmly secured the spot at this point. I suspect we’ll see a whole lot of both of them in the preseason finale.
Richie James was a busy receiver coming off the bench. He had a punt return and a kick return, and led the team with 65 receiving yards on three receptions. He joined the team this year as a seventh round pick, and it’s growing harder and harder to keep him off the roster.
It’s always useful looking at offensive and defensive players who play strictly on special teams in a preseason game. This week, it was WR Aaron Burbridge, CB Emmanuel Moseley, S Chanceller James, WR Steven Dunbar, and DB Jimmie Ward. Ward got hurt, which is the reason he did not play on defense. But from the rest of that group, Burbridge and James seemed to be competing for a 53-man roster spot, while Moseley and Dunbar were on the wrong side of the bubble. Burbridge and James still might have a shot given that their most likely role Week 1 would be on special teams, but it is still surprising to see James in particular not get opportunities with the defense.
49ers snap count vs. Colts, Week 3 preseason