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49ers rookie storylines heading into their second preseason game against the Chargers

We take a look at what to expect from the first-year players headed into their second preseason game

Kansas City Chiefs v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The 49ers will begin their first of two joint practices against the Los Angeles Chargers Thursday morning. We’ll be sure to bring you everything that happened as Jordan Elliott, and I will be there to recap both practices.

As for the game on Sunday, the Niners rookie draft class made a great first impression last Saturday against the Chiefs and will look to build on those performances against the Chargers. Here are some rookie storylines to follow.

Will we see Trey Lance run/make the same rookie mistakes?

Lance deserves more than one question, given the team’s investment in him and everything surrounding the much-discussed rookie.

First, will there be any designed carries for Lance? The beat writers at practice on Monday and Tuesday said he had a couple of reps with the first team, but those were zone reads.

Against the Chiefs last Saturday, Lance was a “traditional” quarterback. So it was inevitable that the 49ers would use him as a runner the second they selected Lance No. 3 overall. The only question is, how soon in a game does it happen?

On the one hand, you don’t want to expose your future to unnecessary hits as the quarterback isn’t protected once he becomes a runner. But, on the other hand, it’s the preseason, and you have nothing to gain by seeing Lance carry the ball when there’s nothing on the line.

On the other hand, the Lions would have to spend a portion of practice every day leading up to Week 1 if you run one zone-read with Lance during the preseason. So every minute your opponent practices stopping a designed QB run, they’re taking away from preparation to stop other aspects of your offense.

Is Jaylon Moore close enough?

Unfortunately, Aaron Banks will miss the next couple of weeks as he recovers from a shoulder injury. Banks' training camp hasn’t gotten off to the strongest start, but it’s important to remember that offensive line is one of the most difficult positions for rookies to adjust to.

We will see the second lineman the 49ers drafted in Jaylon Moore. Asking the 155th overall selection to start at left tackle Week 1 was the last thing John Lynch and the Niners had in mind when they took Moore.

Injuries to Trent Williams and Shon Coleman forced San Francisco’s hand to insert Moore in with the starters. The drop-off from your starting left tackle to your backup is probably the second biggest drop-off of any position other than quarterback.

Let’s set realistic expectations for Moore. The next three times he puts on his shoulder pads Moore will go against Joey Bosa. Moore struggled with speed against the Chiefs. He’ll have to worry about power and technique against Bosa. This week is about progression for all of the rookies. I want to see if Moore is close enough to where you’d feel comfortable with him as your swing tackle.

If he gets beaten by Bosa a couple of times in a 50-snap span, then that’s a big deal. But, if it’s to the point where Moore can’t keep pace, then he’s no lock to make the roster. So, let’s see how he handles the star edge rusher.

Singing Sermon’s praises

Last week, Sermon caught the ball out of the backfield and was aggressive in pass protection. That’s what you want to see in your rookie running back. Instead, however, he put the ball on the ground, which is a no-no anywhere, especially for Kyle Shanahan.

The Niners head coach had this to say about Sermon after Saturday’s preseason game:

“I’d like to see a little bit more from him. I mean, putting the ball on the ground. You know, I’ve got a lot of confidence in Trey, and I think when he watches the game tape, he’ll see that he can do a little bit more. And I don’t know if he got as clean of looks as everyone else, but putting that ball on the ground in that situation can’t happen. And I expect him to do a little bit better as we get going forward.”

Twenty-six rushing yards on nine attempts isn’t going to move the needle. A fumble during the first quarter of your NFL debut doesn’t leave a great first impression. Context, as always, is key here. Sermon’s patience was on display, and he always finds a way to fall forward.

My semi-bold statement is that from a talent standpoint, Sermon is one of the most talented backs Shanahan has coached. It'll be easy to see once we see him running behind the first-team offensive line when all of the starters are healthy.

After this week, I expect the buzz for Sermon to pick up, and we’ll start singing his praises. He had 11 touches in his first preseason game. Sermon is going to get the ball this season. As for this week, the storyline is whether Sermon can turn those two and three-yard gains into six and seven and possibly longer runs.

Encore, defensive backs

With Emmanuel Moseley sidelined, that means we’ll get a long look at Demmodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas. For as much hype as Lance had coming in, Lenoir was the best rookie for the 49ers. He was targeted five times and allowed one interception. Lenoir was in position on seemingly every route, whether guarding Tyreek Hill or a tight end.

Lenoir could give the coaching staff a huge confidence boost with a similar performance to last week. He doesn’t have to play out of his mind. Not giving up big plays and being opportunistic is more than enough.

Thomas played behind Lenoir — which wasn’t a surprise based on how training camp had gone up to Week 1 — and I want to see if that changes this week much like the third-string quarterback and right guard positions have gone, or if Thomas is indeed the No. 4 CB behind Lenoir and Dontae Johnson.

As for Talanoa, Hufanga Shanahan felt like his energy helped him play better, and it showed up on defense and special teams. Hufanga is active. His two mistakes came against the best receiver in the NFL.

Hufanga’s energy is palpable. Can he outplay Tavon Wilson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix? For that to happen, he’ll have to make that play coming downhill against a jet sweep. Or that play in coverage over the middle of the field.

With a player like Hufanga, his energy rubs off on his teammates. It sounds simple, but I want to see how the rookie safeties energy rubs off on the players around him. He’s going to make plays because Hufanga has all of his life. It’s the intangibles that may help get him on the field with the starters.