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Five 49ers with the most to prove in the second half of the season

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Carolina Panthers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are unbeaten yet still have plenty to accomplish this season. There have been plenty of inspiring performances, especially with the injuries on the Niners. Some players will need to take their game to another level if the 49ers are to become NFC West champions. Let’s talk about those players.

Mike McGlinchey

We will find out more about the 49ers getting healthy later this afternoon, but expectations are that McGlinchey will return to the lineup Monday night against Seattle. Before the injury, McGlinchey wasn’t exactly lighting it up. Daniel Brunskill has filled in nicely in his absence.

The two have played the same snaps, yet McGlinchey has missed a significantly more amount of blocks in the run game. Brunskill has been superior as a pass blocker as well, though he has had more help. One of the differences is being penalized. McGlinchey had three penalties, while Brunskill hasn’t been flagged at all.

Despite the talk of how difficult the 49ers schedule will be moving forward, opposing defenses left on the schedule don’t have that dominant pass rusher. I expect McGlinchey to improve over the second half. The offense will need him to.

Dre Greenlaw

The defense was never going replace Kwon Alexander, and it’s not fair to put that expectation on Greenlaw. The rookie out of Arkansas won’t come off the field these next eight games if all goes well. Greenlaw showed promise in the preseason, but offenses were vanilla in August. That won’t be the case anymore. Greenlaw will see screens, misdirection, zone reads; you name it.

One thing to keep an eye on is how Greenlaw is reading plays and reacting to what he sees. Alexander’s trigger was superb, and that allowed him to make all kinds of plays around the line of scrimmage. Greenlaw runs fast, but that doesn’t matter if you play slow. If he is a sure-tackler that plays fast, Greenlaw will be fine.

Robbie Gould

Gould has made 13 kicks this season. He’s missed seven. Historically, Gould has been one of the best kickers in NFL history. His missed kicks haven’t cost the Niners so far this season because the team has been up big when those misses have happened. I don’t foresee blowouts over the next eight games. We know Gould has and is capable of delivering, but by the way, he’s kicked the ball in 2019, it’s easy to worry how they’ll hold up in the cold weather and playoffs. Gould may be the player with the most to prove on this list.

Deebo Samuel

The second-year wideout out of Washington is too easy. We need to see consistency and growth from Deebo Samuel in the second half of the season. Arizona is a good example. Samuel will make the difficult catches in traffic, and bounce off defenders trying to tackle him. Then there are the extreme plays where he drops a touchdown or the less obvious plays where Samuel is the intended target but slips out of his break.

We’re halfway through the season, and outside of Emmanuel Sanders, there isn’t a receiver with a role locked in. If there’s any player that will carve out a role, it’ll be Samuel. Keep an eye on how Shanahan chooses to get Deebo involved.

The safeties

I didn’t feel like the secondary was tested in the first half of the season. That will change with the offenses on the schedule for the final eight games. Seattle has the fourth-most explosive passing plays in the NFL. Arizona is 11th, the Rams are fifth, Green Bay is seventh, and Atlanta is tenth. The Saints were without their quarterback, so they’re low on the list, but we all know Drew Brees is going to throw the ball all over the place.

With the injuries suffered over their career, this is unfamiliar territory for the Niners starting safeties. Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmie Ward will both be playing meaningful games in the second half of the season for the first time in their careers. Tartt started the season hot, but his play has cooled the past two weeks. Ward made some impressive plays against the Rams, but he’s been quiet since. Nobody expects these two to turn into Merton Hanks and Ronnie Lott, but they will need to make plays these next two months, as I expect offenses to target the 49ers’ safeties.