When 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke about the roster earlier this week, he said he had a pretty good idea of who would be on the final 53. In tonight’s game against the Houston Texans, we’ll see the starters for a few drives on offense. Depending on how things go, they could play into the second quarter. I imagine the same goes for the defense. Those aren’t players fighting for a roster spot.
Here are three players who can secure a spot on the final 53 tonight.
OL Jason Poe
Poe was always going to be a fan favorite during the preseason. His athleticism and tenacity help compensate for being undersized. Poe had a couple of eye-opening blocks last week against the Vikings, but he also missed a defender when asked to pull and was bull-rushed on a run play that led to a stop.
Poe reportedly received reps with the first team this week at practice, although Shanahan tried to downplay those. Those reps were split at left guard with Aaron Banks. Poe played 45 snaps at left guard in the second preseason game, while he played on the right side for 32 snaps in Week 1 against the Packers.
Jaylon Moore has been injured, which has opened the door for another player to step up and seize control of one of the backup spots. Poe could cement himself on the roster with a strong, consistent performance tonight.
Poe must beat out sixth-round draft pick Nick Zakelj, Moore if he’s healthy, and potentially Daniel Brunskill if the team believes in Poe’s upside over Brunskill’s experience.
RB Trey Sermon
Jeff Wilson is starting, according to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows. Wilson, who was banged up last year and fought through injuries, should be closer to an emergency option. San Francisco has invested third-round picks in consecutive years at running back. Elijah Mitchell won’t play as he deals with a hamstring injury, but you’d think Ty Davis-Price or Trey Sermon would have leaped Wilson after a month. That hasn’t been the case.
TDP is a rookie, so we’ll cut him some slack. Sermon is running out of excuses, and we’re not even to the start of the regular season. Sermon is averaging 1.7 yards per carry on 11 attempts during the preseason.
You won’t get an argument from me if you think the offensive line hasn’t done Sermon any favors, but he’s not the only running back running behind the line. Sermon averages 1.5 yards after contact, while Jordan Mason averages 4.07, JaMycal Hasty 4.88, and Davis—Price 3.15.
Sermon has to prove that he can create for himself. He also needs to show he can follow his blockers and catch the ball. Last week wasn’t pretty for Sermon, but he has a chance at a clean slate and must take advantage of what could be his final opportunity to earn the trust of the coaching staff.
Safety opposite of Talanoa Hufanga
Hufanga has nothing to prove. He’ll play, but he’ll start. The same cannot be said for whoever lines up next to Hufanga in the defensive backfield. Newly signed safety Tashaun Gipson will play as the team wants to see how he looks in a game.
I'm looking over my shoulder if I’m Tarvarius Moore or George Odum. The 49ers have given both a couple of weeks to show they’re worthy of starting, but both have left a lot to be desired.
Odum had an interception during joint practices against the Vikings but turned around and gave up plays the next series. Odum caught an errant pass in the game from Vikings QB Kellen Mond, but the ball was thrown right to him after the defensive line forced Mond into a bad throw. Drake Jackson should get credit for that interception.
Above all, both Moore and Odum have struggled to fit the run and wrap up as tacklers. That’s an area Jaquiski Tartt, and Jimmie Ward excelled at. It’s a small sample size, but both players have a missed tackle percentage of 33%. As the last line of defense, that’s a no-no. Missed tackles from safeties lead to big plays.
Odum and Moore might top the list of players with the most to prove, considering the lack of depth behind them and how the starter is already out. If a team goes out and signs the position you play the Monday after a game, it’s probably a sign you’re not getting the job done.