The San Francisco 49ers close out the 2013 preseason with a Thursday night matchup with the San Diego Chargers. The standout performances in the preseason finale will have a large say in San Francisco’s announcement of the 53-man roster on Saturday.
Here are the top 10 storylines to track when the 49ers and Chargers meet.1. Starters’ Playing Time
– Veterans on the roster aren’t sure how long they’ll play this week. Safety Donte Whitner
didn’t sound too confident
he would play in the preseason finale. Jim Harbaugh wouldn’t provide any details on the subject. The 49ers have been focused on using a select number of snaps for starters. Harbaugh has used preseason practice to evaluate his first-team units. It’s also a place to avoid unnecessary hazards. To steal a baseball term, the 49ers are expected to use a low “pitch count” with the starters. The preseason finale will be used to evaluate the close-call position battles.2. No. 3 Cornerback Battle
– Carlos Rogers
and Tarell Brown
remain as San Francisco’s starting cornerbacks. The No. 3 corner spot, however, remains up for grabs. According to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Nnamdi Asomugha
has taken a slight lead over fourth-year pro Tramaine Brock
. Both have been “working through something” as of late. Brock was hampered over the past two preseason games; Asomugha has been in a blue, non-contact jersey this week. San Diego’s matchup will provide more game tape for Fangio’s staff to evaluate. If the coaches haven’t made up their minds, a good showing in San Diego could finalize the decision to make Asomugha or Brock the third cornerback.
3. Roster Cuts Looming
– With one game left to play it’s now or never for the players looking to move up San Francisco’s depth chart. Two high-profile competitors, Austin Collie
and Lavelle Hawkins
, continue to impress despite only being with the team since Aug. 2. Hawkins showed special teams value with an eye-catching, 105-yard kick return
for a touchdown last week. Hawkins will look to provide more splash plays in the preseason finale. He won’t be alone. The long list of the 49ers wideouts will have 60 minutes to prove their value in the final preseason contest.MORE: ROSTER TRIMMED TO 74 | HAWKINS IN FOCUS
4. Vance's Progress
– The 49ers second-round pick missed the team’s Week 2 road win in Kansas City, but he has still produced in the games in which he’s play. McDonald shares the team’s lead in preseason receptions (six) and has sole possession of the most receiving yards (90). McDonald was heavily involved in last week’s win over Minnesota and will likely be utilized frequently in the preseason finale. McDonald is using the opportunity to master his technique, both in pass-catching and in pass-blocking.
SEE: VANCE JUMPS OUT5. Outside Linebackers Stepping Up
– The Parys Haralson trade this week was a bittersweet moment
for members of the 49ers locker room. Teammates and coaches didn’t want to see him go, but they were happy he would be given an opportunity to start. With the eight-year veteran not with the team, the 49ers have another preseason opportunity to evaluate the depth of the position. Rookie Corey Lemonier
has shown potential in the preseason. The same goes for veteran Dan Skuta
and second-year pro Cam Johnson
.6. Quarterback Battle
– Jim Harbaugh has named his No. 2 quarterback
, Colt McCoy
. Now the third-string job looks to be decided in San Diego. Seventh-round draft pick B.J. Daniels
will likely enter the game before recent veteran addition Seneca Wallace
. With Colin Kaepernick
’s reps presumed to be low and McCoy’s status appearing to be set, the two mobile quarterbacks will be evaluated in San Diego. It’s worth noting that the 49ers have not kept more than three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in two seasons with Harbaugh at the helm.
7. New Wideout Progress
– Jon Baldwin
enjoyed a strong debut in the 49ers win over the Vikings. Despite being with the team for less than a week, the third-year pro caught two passes in his first game with a new team. Baldwin has settled into his new surroundings and will likely be given more opportunities to build on his knowledge of San Francisco’s offensive system. He’ll also face a familiar foe. The former Chiefs first-round pick will square-off against an AFC West team he’s often faced, the Chargers. 8. Oh Snap
– Quietly the long-snapper competition has been one of the most even battles in 49ers camp. That was the assessment offered by Harbaugh on Aug. 23
. Both 14-year veteran Brian Jennings
and rookie snapper Kevin McDermott
have enjoyed solid preseasons. Harbaugh considers the rookie to be high-caliber.
9. Pressuring The Rookie
– The 49ers will look to pressure Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Blocking for the 10-year veteran is rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker. If the 49ers defensive unit starts the game like they did against the Vikings, Ahmad Brooks
will be the one rushing against the rookie. Brooks forced a fumble on Minnesota’s opening drive last week, beating his man to strip quarterback Christian Ponder. The 49ers starting defense has been causing havoc all preseason and will look to continue the trend against a rookie. If it’s the second-team getting the start, emerging outside rushers like Lemonier, Johnson and Skuta will have their chances against Fluker, a first-round pick.
10. Rookie Showing
– If the 49ers are unable to keep talented rookies on the roster, the final exhibition game stands as a showcase game for young players looking to catch on with other teams. Already this offseason, rookie punter Colton Schmidt was claimed by the Cleveland Browns. So while Eric Reid has claimed a starting job
in the secondary, the other NFL newcomers could stand to use Thursday night as their own showcase game of sorts. Several rookies have been impressive in the preseason and will have one last chance to make their case to stick around.