49ers Ready for Final Tuneup

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When Antwan Applewhite lines up on defense Thursday night in San Diego for the 49ers' preseason finale, he'll see plenty of familiar faces.

For the initial three-plus seasons of his career, Applewhite's helmet bore the lightning bolt of the Chargers. But for the last few weeks, Applewhite's been busy trying to absorb the new scheme of 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Admittedly, Applewhite and his teammates still have some groundwork to lay before the season opener on Sept. 11, when the 49ers will host the Seattle Seahawks. With three preseason contests under his belt, Applewhite said he's looking forward to showing a more developed grasp of the system.

"We're all just trying to learn the defense together," Applewhite said. "We'll get there."

Whereas many teams use the final preseason game to rest their starters and get a final taste of player evaluation, the 49ers coaching staff has been keeping its game plans close to the chest. But this contest could be viewed as valuable time to throw more responsibilities on the first-teamers, defense included.

"We're still obviously behind from a mental standpoint as far as the whole package being implemented just because of the lost time," Fangio said. "But we all knew that coming in so that was just something that we had to accept both as coaches and players. We had to learn the whole package in a timely process and we may never get to the whole package this year because of that."

Within Fangio's system, Applewhite said he's enjoyed a more focused role than the one he had in San Diego. With the Chargers, Applewhite shuffled around at each of the four linebacker positions, but now he's solely getting reps at outside linebacker.

Applewhite, who has lived in San Diego the past eight years, played in 16 games (13 starts) for the Chargers last season and said he still keeps in contact with some of his ex-teammates. The San Diego State alum also said he's looking forward to playing near his hometown of Los Angeles, as his family will be able to make the trip down to see the game.

If Applewhite has his way, the 49ers will be forcing San Diego into many third-and-long situations on Thursday.

"It's fun for me, I love getting after the quarterback," Applewhite said. "Third-and-long, it's pass rush time."

Another player with something to prove is 49ers wideout Kyle Williams, who is hoping to maintain his streak of solid preseason performances. Through the first three contests, Williams is tied with Lance Long for the team lead with five catches, while Williams' 74 receiving yards are tops on the team.

Despite making the team as a reserve last year, Williams said he doesn't feel like he's earned a spot on the final 53-man roster just yet.

"I feel like I've had a strong camp and got a lot better with the coaching I've received," Williams said. "You take it for what it's worth and I'm happy that every target I've really had, I've caught it. … But I'm still fighting for my life, fighting for my job."

Perhaps Williams and others will enter Thursday's tilt with a good idea of what to expect out of San Diego's defense, which is now coached by former 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

Like Williams, sixth-round pick Colin Jones views the matchup as one last chance to show the coaching staff he's worth keeping around. Jones has been a consistent force on special teams this preseason, becoming an easy target to spot during punt coverage. He's the one wearing No. 43 and is usually the first one down on the other side of the field.

Jones, who has gained the nickname "White Lightning" from teammates because of his speed, also stopped a punt from rolling in the end zone last week, pinning the Houston Texans at their own 2-yard line.

"It's a mindset," Jones said. "Special teams is speed, toughness and want-to. If you want it bad enough you can get it, and I really enjoy that. I was blessed with speed, so I got to use it."

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