For as slow as the NFL preseason took to arrive, the month-long preparation has quickly flown by. Such is the nature of this league.</span>
Alas, the San Francisco 49ers are set to close out their four-game exhibition slate against the San Diego Chargers Thursday night from Levi’s® Stadium. The Chargers are 2-1 in the preseason and coming off of a loss to the Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco will aim to go unbeaten at home during the preseason after beating the Cowboys, 23-6, two weeks ago.
The 49ers own a 23-20 all-time preseason record against San Diego in 43 meetings, and the two teams have played an exhibition game against each other every year since 1987.
With most of the starters on both teams not expected to play, or very minimally if they do, all eyes will be on the players fighting for 53-man roster spots.
Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. PT is when all 32 NFL clubs must have their rosters cut down to 53 players. That means, for a majority of the guys on the field, Thursday night will be their final shot at impressing the coaching staff and front office.
Apart from the players on the bubble, here are five more storylines to watch when the 49ers host the Chargers. 1. Gabbert's efficient preseason performance
Head coach Jim Tomsula told the media that he was a believer in Blaine Gabbert going into the 49ers first preseason game against the Houston Texans. The fifth-year quarterback not only performed well in that game, but in each of the two subsequent contests against the Cowboys and Denver Broncos as well.
In those three games, Gabbert has completed 23-of-28 pass attempts for 203 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The signal-caller’s completion percentage of 82.1 is second only to Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater amongst quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts.
In addition, Gabbert owns an impressive passer rating of 108.8.
With starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick likely to sit the entire game, Gabbert has a real chance to get the start under center for the 49ers and put the finishing touches on his impressive preseason.
- Patton, Ellington and White
Similarly with Kaepernick, the team’s top wideouts Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith will also spend most, if not all of the night on the sideline. That means Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington and DeAndrew White should see the lion’s share of snaps at wide receiver.
The trio will be competing to earn San Francisco’s No. 3 receiver role when the regular season comes around. Each pass-catcher brings a slightly different set of strengths to the table which makes Thursday’s game an important opportunity for them to standout in the eyes of the coaches.
3. The 2015 first-round pick
Arik Armstead has seen increased snaps throughout each of his first three preseason games, and he said on Tuesday that he expects to see plenty of playing time against the Chargers.
It’s important to remember that the rookie defensive lineman missed most of the offseason program due to NCAA restrictions, which makes his experience in the preseason that much more valuable.
Here’s how the 6-foot-7 Armstead qualified his last month:
“It’s gone by quick,” he said. “I think I’ve grown a lot though. I’m getting more comfortable out there. I’m just getting experience. The more and more I play, the better and better I’m going to get, just recognizing the plays and getting more comfortable on the field. It’s been good.”
Feeling comfortable is important in a league that is often described as much faster than the college game. In just a short time, Armstead said there are already a few areas of his skillset where he’s seen improvement.
“Play recognition and the feel of how guys are going to block you,” the defensive lineman said. “When you get game reps of that, it helps you a lot going forward.”
He will continue to work on his development Thursday night and will do so in front of 10 family members. The Sacramento, Calif. native and former Oregon Duck said his mom called and told him she needed tickets to the game.
Armstead, being the smart man that he is, knows that what mom says goes.
- The 49ers new starter at right guard
Tuesday’s big news out of Tomsula’s press conference was that Jordan Devey has been inserted into the team’s first-team offensive line at the right guard position. Devey, who was acquired via trade a few weeks back from the New England Patriots, will start between center Marcus Martin and right tackle Erik Pears.
Tomsula added that the entire line won’t play, but that still means that the trio listed above could see the field while left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Alex Boone get the night off. The game snaps would be invaluable for a group that will look to gel together and gain chemistry before the Week 1 home opener against the Vikings.
- Hayne's final push for the roster
Jarryd Hayne was discussed at length throughout the offseason program, and that excitement has reached a tipping point following his strong preseason play.
Hayne has carried the ball 15 times in three games for 117 yards, 53 of which came on one carry against the Texans. The Australian’s 7.8 yards-per-carry average is tops among NFL running backs with at least 10 rushes.
On special teams, Hayne has one kick return for 33 yards and six punt returns for 120 yards. The rookie has even made a few tackles on the kickoff coverage unit.
Tomsula said that Hayne is “making a case” to make the 53-man roster, and that push continues against the Chargers.