5 49ers to Watch in Preseason Opener vs. Cowboys

The San Francisco 49ers will kick off their slate of exhibition contests as they host the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's® Stadium on Saturday. This will be the 49ers first opportunity to go head-to-head against a team not wearing its own colors. There have been a number of storylines and highlights to follow over the last two weeks of 49ers training camp. In preparation for the preseason opener, here are five 49ers to keep your eyes on as the team begins to shape its 53-man roster.

(For details on where you can catch San Francisco's preseason opener, click here.)

*1. WR Kendrick Bourne *

If you’re wondering which receiver led the 49ers in targets, receptions and receiving yards in 2018, look no further than undrafted free agent Bourne. Despite being the team’s most productive wideout, Bourne entered camp with a heightened competition at the position. Dante Pettis showed flashes towards the end of last season. This offseason, San Francisco drafted rookies Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, and added veteran talent in Jordan Matthews through free agency. Undeterred by the added competition, Bourne has stood out through the first two weeks of camp and earned the praise of Kyle Shanahan. It will be interesting to see Bourne’s production throughout camp translate in the preseason.

“KB always works, but you can tell it was different this time,” Shanahan said. “He didn’t leave at all in his 40 days away. I can see he’s stronger. I can see he’s in better shape. I can see he’s more locked in. I always like to see how much room they gain on the other people while they are gone and KB made big jumps compared to some other guys and it’s showing on the field and he deserves it.”

*2. LB Dre Greenlaw *

Greenlaw has been one of the standouts so far in training camp. The rookie has seen first-team reps at SAM linebacker and appears to be earning the trust of his teammates and coaches. An encouraging preseason performance could set the linebacker up to see starting snaps during the regular season.

“(Dre is a) good learner,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He’s playing SAM, he’s playing WILL, so he’s going back and forth with regards to base and nickel. He’s doing a very good job understanding what his issues are within the scheme. Understanding the alignment part, that’s not completely clean, but it’s very close for a rookie. At this point in camp, you have your entire system that we can call anything at any time and he’s got to be on it. Where in a game plan, it’s much more specific, so it would be easier for him to align and do all those things once the season starts. But, for him with what we’re asking him to do, I think he’s doing a really nice job from a learning aspect.”

*3. TE Ross Dwelley *

With veteran tight end Garrett Celek expected to miss considerable time due to offseason back surgery, it begs the question, "who will back up George Kittle in 2019?" The 49ers selected Kaden Smith in the sixth round of the draft and signed 6-foot-8 tight end Levine Toilolo this offseason. But it's second year undrafted tight end Dwelley who has emerged as a primary backup candidate. Dwelley, who played in 11 games for San Francisco in 2018, has had a strong camp and has earned praise from his coaches and teammates in Year 2.

“He is light-years ahead of where he was his rookie year,” Kittle said. “Whether that’s just the understanding of the game or figuring out the speed of the game. He does a lot of things similar to me. He’s consistent. He’s always the same persona and he’s always hungry for more opportunities… undrafted free agent or not, he’s balling for us and he’s going to make a big push this preseason”

*4. DB Tarvarius Moore *

The second year defensive back will get his first look at his former position on Saturday. The 49ers transitioned the college safety to cornerback in 2018. Injuries in the secondary during San Francisco’s OTAs moved the Southern Mississippi product back to his natural position. Moore has seen first team reps at free safety with Jimmie Ward working his way back to the field since being activated from the physically unable to perform list. Moore has fared well throughout camp and will battle with Ward, Adrian Colbert and Antone Exum Jr. for the starting safety spot.

“Each day he’s gotten better,” Shanahan told the media on Tuesday. “We’re throwing a lot at him, and we moved him there in the middle, I think, of OTAs and he’s come back on his 40 days away ready to attack it. He’s gotten better each day and he’s earned more reps. We’ve been rotating a lot of those guys back there trying to see who can try to take that job, especially with Jimmie Ward out, and there’s some stiff competition there, but Tarvarius is getting better.”

*5. DL Kentavius Street *

With the recent slew of injuries along the defensive line, Street appears to be one of the key beneficiaries of preseason snaps. San Francisco announced Nick Bosa will miss several weeks with an ankle injury. Dee Ford, who is dealing with knee tendinitis, isn’t likely to see much preseason action. Fourth year defensive lineman Ronald Blair III also isn’t likely to play in the preseason opener while dealing with a groin injury. That leaves opportunity for Street to see significant playing time off the edge and help boost his stock among a deep defensive line competition.

“You’re going to see (the defensive line) all over the place,” Saleh said. “The philosophy of our system is to throw four guys out there and wherever they land, they play. (Solomon Thomas) Solly has great versatility to go inside, outside, (Arik) Armstead can go inside, outside. Street can go inside and outside, (DeForest Buckner) Buck can play three and nose, so can Jullian (Taylor). I mean, they’re going to be everywhere. The design of it is to make sure that we are rolling and coming at it in waves and trying to create and utilize the versatility that our defensive line has.”

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