The San Francisco 49ers are back at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday to compete in their final preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers. With the third “dress rehearsal” game in the books, the fourth exhibition is typically reserved for players who are either on the roster bubble or are on the outside looking in. The vast majority of starters won’t see the field. The 49ers’ roster features competition at several position groups. Thursday is many players’ last chance to prove they belong on the team’s final 53-man roster.
Here are players to watch when the 49ers battle the Chargers in the team’s final preseason game:
Until one of them is cut or traded, the battle for the backup role between Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard is ongoing. Shanahan said this week that he planned on keeping three quarterbacks going into the season. If that’s the case, the stakes aren’t as high, with the spot behind Jimmy Garoppolo up for grabs rather than a roster spot. Mullens played the entire second half last week against the Chiefs. I’d expect we get to see a healthy amount of Beathard on Thursday.
WR Kendrick Bourne
The 49ers’ leading receiver in 2018 is in danger of losing his spot on the team. Bourne’s 487 yards last season led all wideouts, and although the numbers aren’t eye-popping, the former undrafted free agent has proven that he can contribute to an NFL offense. The 49ers’ addition of multiple receivers this offseason has put Bourne against the ropes. A solid performance on Thursday would, at the very least, give the coaching staff a reason to consider keeping Bourne for his third season.
DL Damontre Moore
The 49ers defense lacks depth at pass rusher behind starters Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, who’s still recovering from a high-ankle sprain. Moore’s emergence throughout training camp and the preseason has been a pleasant surprise, but his spot on the roster is far from guaranteed. The 49ers’ defensive line is the team’s most crowded group, led by five first-round picks. Shanahan said on Tuesday that fellow defensive end Kentavius Street is expected to undergo a knee procedure, making Moore’s likelihood of landing on the roster more plausible.
LB Azeez Al-Shaair
The 49ers on Tuesday released linebacker Malcolm Smith. Parting ways with the veteran made it clear that the coaching staff had confidence in the defense’s young group of linebackers led by Fred Warner and Kwon Alexander. Behind them, Al-Shaair has gone from undrafted free agent depth to strong consideration for a spot on the roster. The rookie out of Florida Atlantic has totaled 11 tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup and a fumble recovery through preseason games. A strong fourth would give the 49ers pause in attempted to push Al-Shaair through waivers.
TE Ross Dwelley
Dwelley has steadily improved throughout his two-year tenure with the 49ers. In 2018, the undrafted tight end was cut and landed on the team’s practice squad. Dwelley was promoted in October and spent the rest of the season on the active roster. Throughout training camp, Dwelley has capitalized on the absence of veteran Garrett Celek, who’s missed most of the offseason recovering from back surgery. Dwelley seemed like the favorite to back up George Kittle, but an inconsistent preseason has made it difficult to predict where he lands. He’ll need a strong showing on Thursday to maintain his spot over sixth-round rookie Kaden Smith.
DL Kevin Givens
Givens has been a pleasant surprise throughout the preseason. The undrafted free agent out of Penn State has been routinely disruptive along the defensive line, an impact that doesn’t appear on his modest stat line. As only he can, NFL’s Brian Baldinger broke down Givens’ standout performance against the Denver Broncos in Week 2. Like Moore, Givens is fighting a steep uphill battle to earn a spot on the roster among the 49ers’ most crowded position group. Wreaking havoc for one more game could be the performance that tips the scales in favor of Givens, who would provide quality depth behind the likes of DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas.