Tonight is a big night for the players scratching and clawing to make the roster as the preseason finale is a dress rehearsal for the players who will start or rotate in often. Here are five things to watch for tonight as the 49ers face the Chargers in their second preseason game
How Kyle Shanahan allocates the time his quarterbacks play
It’s no secret that Jimmy Garoppolo will start the game, so the real mystery is how much playing time Shanahan is willing to give Trey Lance with the first-team offense.
While Shanahan and the powers at be have been steadfast in their support of Garoppolo, the starting quarterback position is far from set in stone, and Lance has the chance to skyrocket his stock by having a strong performance with the first team.
Nate Sudfeld is having an audition of sorts, although Shanahan has said he would ideally like to keep three quarterbacks. Sudfeld will likely get the majority of reps during the second half, and he has a chance to solidify his roster spot with a strong performance.
Can the first-team defensive line flex its muscle
While it’s no secret the defensive line is the backbone of the defense; I thought the starters' performance who played against the Chiefs was lackluster at best.
I’ll be interested to see how the first team unit looks against a depleted Chargers offensive line that likely will be without both starting tackles.
For what it’s worth, the defensive line did dominate during the two joint practices this week, and players like Arik Armstead and Arden Key have a great opportunity to get into a nice rhythm heading into the season by picking on below-average opposition.
The race for the sixth wide receiver spot
I think the first five receiver spots are essentially spoken for between Aiyuk, Samuel, Sanu, Sherfield, and Jennings, but there still isn’t a clear front runner for the sixth and likely final spot.
Richie James Jr. was a player who I thought had a clear path to the spot, but he has been plagued with a serious drop problem during camp, and it feels like he is on the outside looking in at this point.
Nsimba Webster is the player to focus on the most, as he has made the strongest case for that spot, in my opinion, based on his special teams' contributions coupled with the fact he has displayed his big-play ability as a receiver a couple of times.
I believe River Cracraft and Travis Benjamin are also on the outside looking in, but both have a big chance to make a major case for why they deserve a roster spot.
During the joint practices, both players got reps with the first team, and it appears both are being given every opportunity possible to separate from the pack and claim that final wide receiver spot.
How will the cornerback depth hold up
With Emmanuel Moseley — sidelined due to a hamstring issue — the second corner spot will be under an even bigger microscope as Dontae Johnson likely ends up starting in his place.
Johnson has seemingly been on the 49ers for an eternity, so he is a bit more of a quantifiable commodity, but the rookies, on the other hand, have a great chance to stake their claims higher on the depth chart.
Deommodore Lenoir had a very strong showing in the first preseason game, and I expect he has earned a chance at more reps as a result, but fellow rookie Ambry Thomas is the one who stands to gain the most.
While Thomas has had a rough start to training camp, he has also shown off the innate physical ability he has. If he can demonstrate he is improving even slightly, it would go a long way for his chances of possibly playing a semi-significant role in the upcoming season.
Can JaMycal Hasty capitalize on an increased workload
With rookie Elijah Mitchell sitting out due to an abductor strain, Hasty stands to receive a major portion of the reps during the second half.
Hasty has a special kind of quickness in the short area that blows you away, displaying incredible burst as he jumps out of a single-cut move with the ball in his hands.
His abilities as a runner are clear, and he has been a competent receiving threat out of the backfield as well. The issue with Hasty is and always has been ball security.
Hasty needs to come out and not only impress with the ball in his hands but ultimately needs to make sure he has a clean game without turning the ball over if he wants to make the final 53 man roster.