Every year around this time, when the start of preseason comes into play, coaches are tasked with answering this question: How do we evaluate players in exhibition action?
After all, a wide receiver can catch a 50-yard touchdown – by sprinting past an off-the-street free agent. A backup linebacker fresh off the bench can track and record a tackle-for-loss on a running back – who is carrying the ball for the 15th time of the game.
Ask 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and there's no simple answer when it comes to gauging talent before trimming down a roster.
"It's based on individuals – each individual will be looked at through a separate lens, and different units will be looked at through a separate lens," Roman told 49ers.com in advance of his team's preseason opener Thursday night against the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park. "The offensive line, for example: How was our communication?"
The answer to that question should be easier to pin down. San Francisco is fortunate to return its entire starting offensive line. From left to right – tackle Joe Staley, guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin, guard Alex Boone and tackle Anthony Davis – the unit's five members knows each other well.
Davis called it the most cohesive group he's been a part of, and his coach agreed.
"It's great to have continuity," said Roman, whose offense has faced a scout team defense to vary looks at times in practice this week. "Really, when you look at the five offensive lineman plus the three or four more that you have (on the bench), you can't really do anything on offense if your offensive line can't function.
"They have a great relationship. Each one kind of has his own personality… I can't give you any specific stories from the offseason or what not, but they've been known to go out and throw down a lot of beef together."
Only Goodwin's status isn't crystal clear for Thursday night. The elder statesman on the line returned to practice, sporting a blue, non-contact jersey on Monday after missing time with an undisclosed injury. Backup Daniel Kilgore, entering his third season, is a strong candidate to fill in and may even start.
"He's taken a ton of reps and really coming a long way in the system," Roman said. "So Dan's a guy that's been a pretty multi-dimensional guy for us. We've used him as an extra tight end and what not in the past. But he's coming along and I'm sure he'll get a bunch of playing time."
Roman was asked whether he could recall Kilgore had any errant snaps in training camp. The 49ers signal-caller had to stop to think.
"Any bad snaps?" Roman asked himself. "I don't want to let him completely off the hook here, so I'll say, 'Probably.' But none come to mind."