It’s game day and from what Kyle Shanahan has reported, the starting lineup for the 49ers will be on the field for at least a little while in their first preseason game. After Jimmy Garoppolo and other veterans have left the field, who should you keep your eye on? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a list of players who you should focus on.
With both Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams sidelined with injuries, rookie D.J. Reed is going to see the field quite a bit against Dallas. The fifth round pick from Kansas State will likely be seen at both nickel and at free safety. The young defensive back has already received some high praise from his defensive coordinator Robert Saleh:
He’s coming along well. He fights his tail off. He’s got a great mindset, a great mentality. He’s fighting. We’re asking him a lot for a rookie to learn free safety and nickel. He’s doing a good job with it. He’s one of the guys, and there’s a lot of guys that I could speak of, that we could all speak of for this, but he’s taking this opportunity and he’s absolutely running with it. Excited about where he is. Actually, excited to see him play. That’s where everything is going to kind of come to fruition, hopefully.
The second year running back from Utah could really be considered a rookie given that he hasn’t played since the 2017 preseason. Williams was someone that head coach Kyle Shanahan fought hard for the 49ers to draft after general manager John Lynch had taken him off the draft board. Williams had quit football, which was an instant “no” for the GM. However, it came due to the mental stress of losing his sister at a young age, and Lynch was open to reconsidering his stance.
Williams not only has to prove he is worthy in his performance on the field but he has to show his commitment off of it as well. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida have the first two spots locked down, which means Williams is in a battle with special teams contributor Raheem Mostert for the third spot. The preseason is very important for Williams, and it will be interesting to see how he does facing the Cowboys.
Here’s what Shanahan had to say about Williams during training camp:
I do believe in Joe’s ability and his talent. That’s why we wanted him here. But, lots of guys have ability and talent in this league. It’s hard and it’s not for everyone. You don’t fall into playing in the NFL. You’ve got to be talented and it’s got to mean a lot to you. I think it does to Joe. But, I think it’s taken him time to see the difference and the urgency that it takes to succeed at this level. When you’re talking about the running back position, that’s a real position where if you’re not locked in, if you hesitate at all, if you’re not expecting to get drilled every single play, I know I wouldn’t want to play running back in the NFL or college or probably even high school. It’s just different. So, guys learn that. Joe wasn’t quite as ready last year and that does make you wonder, because you can’t succeed if you don’t have that mindset. But, I’ve seen it this year. I saw it in the way he worked and I feel that he fixed his body, got a lot more muscle and got in better shape. But, you really never know until you put the pads on because he showed it in OTAs and we’ve had the pads on for a while now and it’s been what we were hoping to see. Hopefully it will continue over to games.”
They moved up in the draft to get him. You’ve heard about his performance in training camp. Dante Pettis is fun to watch, not to mention the wide receiver competition to make the 53 man roster is heated. Don’t forget Pettis holds the NCAA record with NINE career punt returns for a touchdown.
He’s also goose some praise from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo:
He moves differently than most guys. He has some long limbs, long arms, long legs and it helps him create space with defenders. He has a unique ability, I call it wiggle, whatever you want to call it though, of just his body moves a certain way and he explodes out of the break and separates a foot from a guy. That’s all you need. As a quarterback, you love to see that. He’s young, he’s learning, just like all of these young guys are. It’s their first training camp. So, we all have a long way to go. But, he’s working hard every day and it’s good to see that.
Fred Warner (if he plays)
The 49ers third round pick from BYU has been known for his coverage ability. While he has been limited in practice with some minor bumps and bruises, he is one to watch in the preseason. He could be the player who steps up during Reuben Foster’s two game suspension, especially if Brock Coyle is still nursing an injury himself. Here’s what Saleh had to say about the rookie linebacker:
...He’s shown physicality. He’s got the right mindset. So, he’s checking off all the concerns. For him, now it’s time to go show it in preseason games and continue to grow and become more consistent in understanding the scheme and getting people lined up and doing all of those things. Again, he’s got a long way to go but he’s doing a good job checking off every box.”
Bourne has flashed in training camp and whether it’s on the field or off of it, the second year receiver is fun to watch. If he’s not dancing with Marquise Goodwin or Reuben Foster on the sidelines, he’s making plays on the field. While he struggled with inconsistencies in his first year, Bourne has come back stronger this season knowing that the competition for a spot on the 53 is very tight. Here’s what Shanahan recently said about his young receiver:
I think he was never late again after that. It worked for that case. He probably wouldn’t be here if he kept being late, so he definitely got better in that aspect. Sometimes people need to fail once or twice to really wake up and realize, ‘Alright, I know what everyone is talking about now. I won’t make that mistake again.’ Some people aren’t afforded that opportunity. He was fortunate of the situation we had on our team last year, gave him a couple of chances and then he proved us right in terms of how he responded. He was great. He responded to everything and really grew up a lot throughout the year and I think that’s why everyone saw his play improve as the year went.
The seventh round pick from Temple has had a chance to show what he has to offer with Arik Armstead sidelined due to a hamstring injury. Taylor has shined in one on ones as well as getting some time with the first string. He has gotten quite a bit of praise from his teammates as well as his defensive coordinator. Here’s what Saleh had to say about him:
You know, he brings an awesome mindset of physicality, violence and effort. The guy’s got unbelievable strain in his game. He’s got a very, very long way to go. I know there’s a lot of love out there for him. He’s doing a great job, but he’s got a long way to go to learn how to use his hands, to keep separation while maintaining his violence. He does a very good job playing with that relentlessness that we look for. He embodies the style of play that we’re trying to represent. Big men who play as relentless as he does and as violent as he does, they’re hard to block no matter what their technique is. We’re excited to see him grow from a technique standpoint because when he can piece together the technique along with the tenacity and the violence that he plays with, we’re excited about what it could be. Until he gets to that level of technique, it’s still a work in progress. But, we’re excited about where it’s going.
Someone to keep an eye on in #DALvsSF is @JuTaylor8— Jennifer Lee Chan (@jenniferleechan) August 7, 2018
DeForest Buckner: Jullian’s gonna be a great player. He’s working on technique and using his hands. I think once he gets better with his hands he’s going to be a problem.
Here he is facing Jonathan Cooper and Andrew Lauderdale pic.twitter.com/qf5vkf6csO