The San Francisco 49ers officially concluded training camp on Thursday which shifts the focus squarely on the final three preseason games. Saturday's contest against the Denver Broncos should provide a more extended look at the starters than we saw last week in Kansas City.
Here is this week's mailbag ahead of the 49ers preseason opener.
It's entirely possible that this won't be a decision Kyle Shanahan makes until the 49ers get into the flow of the game. It could likely be Tim Hightower, who was held out of last week's game while nursing a minor injury. I'd expect the veteran to make his preseason debut against the Broncos. Don't be surprised if either Joe Williams or Matt Breida get their name called first after Pierre Garçon's night is done.
I expect Hyde to be the starter unless something unforeseen happens over the next three weeks. You should also expect to see more from him against the Broncos after only carrying the ball twice against the Chiefs.
As for the three running backs you alluded to, I'm curious which names you have in your mind. The 49ers entered camp with four ball-carriers that had various amounts of buzz: Hyde, Hightower, Williams and Breida. Then, last week, Raheem Mostert had a, "Hey, don't forget about me" performance with a team-high 15 carries for 89 yards. That's five names who have all played well. Roster cuts at this position will be more intriguing than maybe previously perceived.
That's certainly an option. John Lynch said this week that the 49ers are looking for a franchise quarterback and that Pierre Garçon will get the first crack at being that guy. Who knows if that will happen or not, but the 49ers will always keep all options open. There's no sense in counting a guy out before the regular season even starts. It's not like the team is on any sort of time crunch in regards to long-term decisions.
Hoyer has been very impressive thus far. Let's see how things go in the regular season before looking down the road to 2018.
Shayne Skov might be a busy man on Saturday as the 49ers are thin at inside linebacker. He's an option to play with the second-team defense and is almost guaranteed to run with the threes. I wouldn't be surprised if Skov plays a majority of the second half despite just being signed on Thursday.
The health and snap count of Brock Coyle (rib) will also be a factor in Skov's playing time.
I'd say that the tight end competition is status quo. Garrett Celek has been the most consistent. Shanahan has remained steady that the position battle is one of the best on the roster. However, the coach hasn't tipped his hand as to how the six tight ends stack up.
I know that Cole Hikutini is an intriguing name to many. He's had his moments, but the undrafted rookie hasn't been consistent enough to pencil him onto the roster. It might be weeks before we have any clarity on the situation.
These are both interesting questions because it's hard to define who's "on the bubble". With a new regime and more than half the roster turned over, very few players have guaranteed roster spots.
I'll look to wide receiver. All 12 receivers have had their moments in practice, but Saturday provides an opportunity to translate that play into a game. Last week it was Kendrick Bourne who stood out against the Chiefs. His 46-yard touchdown was followed by a two-point conversion that tied the game at 17.
Preseason performances will never be the end-all be-all, but they don't hurt when the coaches are splitting hairs during roster cuts.
I think they were expected. Like Lynch said on Wednesday, there aren't many joint practices without a few scuffles. The positive is that no one got hurt. I wouldn't try to draw much more out of the situations beyond that.
Lynch said on KNBR on Friday that Ward is progressing nicely. He's close to 100 percent, but the team wants to be safe which is why they're giving him another week. It appears that Ward may be pulled off of PUP before the 49ers visit the Minnesota Vikings.