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3 things to watch in the 49ers preseason finale

There are still a few positional battles going on

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

The 49ers square off against the Texans tonight in their final tune-up before the regular season starts in a couple of weeks. Here’s a look at three things to keep an eye on during tonight’s game.

Battle for the backup QB spot

Coming into camp, I didn’t think there would be much competition for the backup spot behind Trey Lance. Nate Sudfeld had experience in the system, and the 49ers were willing to guarantee him two million dollars this past offseason, which is a noteworthy sum for a backup QB when we are talking about guaranteed dollars.

However, rookie 7th-round pick Brock Purdy has made a strong case for Kyle Shanahan to at least consider Purdy for a position that felt like a slam dunk for Sudfeld not too long ago. Purdy has demonstrated impressive poise and control for a rookie and appears to have a strong feel for where to go with the football in this offense.

Purdy reminds me so much of Nick Mullens, a former 49ers quarterback who may not have had eye-popping physical traits but was a tough football player who made up for their lack of athleticism by consistently knowing where to go with the football in Shanahan’s scheme.

I still think Sudfeld has the edge, and in an ideal world, you carry Sudfeld as the backup this year with Purdy on the practice squad. This gives Purdy a chance to develop around the team while also forcing the 49ers not to eat the two million in guarantees currently owed to Sudfeld.

A strong performance from Purdy in the final preseason game might push the 49ers brass to go all in on the rookie as QB2. Something to keep an eye on.

How does the running back room shake out?
Kyle Shanahan typically keeps five running backs on the final 53-man roster, with one of those spots reserved for fullback/offensive weapon Kyle Juszczyk. I think four of those spots are locked up by Juice, Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson Jr., and Tyrion Davis Price.

That leaves one, maybe two spots for Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty, and undrafted rookie Jordan Mason. Here is how that group has looked on the ground so far during the preseason.

Trey Sermon - 11 carries, 19 yards, 1.7 yards per carry

JaMycal Hasty - 8 carries, 51 yards, 6.4 yards per carry

Jordan Mason - 15 carries, 87 yards, 5.8 yards per carry

While I believe the numbers are somewhat deceptive regarding Sermon, there also hasn’t been much to be excited about. As of now, the biggest thing Sermon has to support his case to make the roster is the fact the 49ers invested a third-round pick into him just a year ago.

The 49ers saw something they liked with Sermon when they selected him. Still, it’s fair to wonder at this point if that’s enough to justify a roster spot for Sermon when he has been objectively outplayed by multiple players who find themselves on the roster bubble.

That includes Hasty and Mason, who both had strong showings in Minnesota. Hasty has experience in the system, and Mason has racked up an impressive 4.07 yards after contact per carry during the preseason. Both have made strong cases for why they are deserving of a spot, and a strong performance to close out the preseason could be what drives the final decision to round out the backfield heading into the regular season.

The state of the offensive line

After a rough start to training camp, the offensive line has begun to gel the farther into the preseason we get. Arguably the biggest question mark on a loaded 49ers roster, it will be interesting to see how the starters look together with the reps they get.

Having a reliable offensive line is important regardless of who you have at quarterback, but the significance is amplified when you have a young signal-caller under center. I’d also keep an eye on how the offensive line does paving the way in the run game, something the first team line has struggled with in limited action so far during the preseason.

Will Spencer Burford continue to impress? Does Jason Poe stake a claim to a roster spot on the final-53? These are just a couple of the questions that will get some more clarity as the 49ers take the field for game action for the last time before they kick the season off against the Bears in week one in Chicago.