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Recapping the rookies’ first preseason road win vs. Broncos

How did the 49ers rookies perform in their first road game?

NFL: Preseason-San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers’ first-team offense may have been the weak link of the night and will be a concern for head coach Kyle Shanahan on the team’s flight home, but the 49ers’ coaches should be impressed with the performance of their rookies in their second game.

Wide Receiver Deebo Samuel

It’s time for former Gamecock wideout Deebo Samuel to start playing with the first-team offense. Yeah, I said it. After an array of catches in the preseason opener against the Cowboys, Samuel was held catch-less — and target-less — in Monday’s game in Denver.

On his only touch of the night, Samuel’s speed, explosiveness, and home-run ability were on full display for the National TV audience to witness. Samuel took a hand-off on an end-around play for 45 yards, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run for running back Jeff Wilson Jr.

The receiver beats the defender to the edge and can cut upfield and turn on the jets to blaze past other Broncos’ defenders.

Shanahan needs to find a way to continue to incorporate Samuel into the 49ers’ offense and get him more touches. San Francisco wanted to add more playmakers this offseason and no better place to start than with the former South Carolina wideout.

Punter Mitch Wishnowsky

The 49ers’ rookie punter — or shall I say linebacker — had the most highlight-worthy play of the night during a kick-off.

Wishnowsky kicked the ball off to the Broncos and unlike most kickers, decided to sprint downfield to tackle Broncos’ return guy and used all 6-foot-2 of him to stop the returner dead in his tracks. That was easily the best tackle I’ve seen by a punter in a long time, and I look forward to more of that from the Australian rookie.

Tackling skills aside, Wishnowsky punted six times for an average of 48 yards, with two touchbacks and two punts down inside the 20. Wishnowsky will need to continue working on trying to pin teams inside the 20, but his second game in Denver was certainly highlight filled.

Tight End Kaden Smith

With the NFL’s best tight end, George Kittle, sitting out Monday’s contest as a precaution, that paved the way for rookie tight end Kaden Smith to earn more playing time.

As a result of the extra snaps, Smith was pivotal on a 3rd-and-13 catch from quarterback C.J. Beathard for 17 yards to keep the drive alive. On a Raheem Mostert touchdown run, Smith made a really good block that sealed off the edge and opened a highway-sized lane for the running back to get through and make the house call.

Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair

After not earning a shout out from me last week, back-to-back weeks of standout performances have earned a mention. Al-Shaair grabbed an interception last week and has followed that up with five tackles and a pass defended.

On a play during Monday’s preseason game, Al-Shaair found himself quickly in the backfield making a play on the Broncos’ running back, racking up a tackle for loss that had me quite impressed.

The rookie continues to have an uphill battle to make this roster and continues to chase the likes of Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander, David Mayo, and Malcolm Smith, but he can certainly end up on the practice squad with performances like Monday’s.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw

After an impressive few weeks at 49ers’ training camp, followed by a solid opening act, Greenlaw had to continue to play to his expectations as he makes his case for a starting spot alongside Fred Warner.

Greenlaw certainly didn’t hurt his stock tonight, racking up five combined tackles, including two solo tackles. The rookie might not have shined like his debut performance, but turned in a sound game.