This is. The preseason finale for the San Francisco 49ers, and perhaps the last time 37 players ever put on a Niners jersey in their life. Here are five things to watch during Thursday night’s game.
1. Goodbye, Garnett?
One of the toughest things to do with projecting the 53-man roster was figuring out a final couple of spots on the offensive line. Once you get past the starters and Ben Garland, you’re reaching for an NFL body. Josh Garnett isn’t without talent, but he has yet to show that he can stay healthy. Oddly, a 2016 first-round pick will need a preseason game in 2019 to prove himself, but that’s where we are.
Weston Richburg is fresh off an injury, and Mike Person has been dinged up this preseason. If one of them were to go down, who would you want to go in first? That might be enough to keep Garnett on the roster. The other side of the coin is if Garnett gets banged up during Thursday night’s game, that’ll be all she wrote.
2. Looking at the linebackers
Malcolm Smith was released on Tuesday, and Dre Greenlaw played a big part in that. Fred Warner, Kwon Alexander, and Greenlaw are looks. From there, you can make an argument for whoever the other two or three linebackers the 49ers decide to keep will be.
Elijah Lee hasn’t played since the first week of the preseason, but he played over 475 snaps at linebacker for the defense in 2018. The team knows what they have in Lee, and given his experience on special teams, and I believe he will be on the roster. From there? Good luck. Azeez Al-Shaair was next in rotation after the starters last Saturday, so that could be good news for him. Mark Nzeocha, David Mayo, and LaRoy Reynolds will duke it out for that final spot.
3. What’s going on with the wideouts?
We won’t see Dante Pettis, Marquise Goodwin, Jalen Hurd, or Trent Taylor, and that leaves the floor for the three players fighting for two spots. Deebo Samuel should play, so he gets live reps. But Kendrick Bourne, Richie James, and Jordan Matthews will have the floor.
James has done enough to make the roster in my eyes. He’s made plays when the ball has been in his hands. Whether that’s as a kick returner or a receiver. With Hurd dealing with a back injury, that may have opened the door to keep an extra receiver. The pressure is on, will the receivers rise to the occasion?
4. Giving Givens a chance?
With Kentavius Street likely headed for the IR, the door is open for a relatively unknown defensive lineman to make the roster. Quietly, Jay Bromley has played very well this preseason. You’re not going to replace a versatile defensive lineman with a nose tackle, though. That leaves Jullian Taylor, Damontre Moore, and Kevin Givens, realistically. Jeremiah Valoaga couldn’t afford to be a “no-show” against Kansas City.
Robert Saleh has praised Taylor for being one of the strongest players on the team. Taylor hasn’t played since the first preseason game, where he played 29 of his 39 snaps at defensive tackle. That leaves Moore and Givens. Moore, a preseason standout, is far from a new name in the league. Givens, a quick, undersized interior pass-rusher, has plenty of upside but is likely a year away from producing. I don’t envy the 49ers front office in this situation. Multiple quality players are going to be left off the roster.
5. Oh, C.J.
Shanahan can act like it’s a competition, but we know. He knows. The backup quarterback is Nick Mullens. What’s fascinating about C.J. Beathard is that we know that teams are interested. Will Shanahan do everything he can to pad Beathard’s stats Thursday night? He’s on record saying, “every time C.J. is in there, you have a chance for a big play.” If Beathard plays well, his audition could earn him a job, but for a team other than San Francisco.