We’ve reached the midway point of the preseason and the San Francisco 49ers have some big roster decisions ahead in the coming weeks. Kyle Shanahan has tinkered with the lineup over the course of the first two exhibition games. There’s been some parts of the team that have looked good, and other areas that have been underwhelming thus far. What do we make of what’s happened so far?
Let’s dive into some of the hot topics surrounding the 49ers in this week’s mailbag.
I think it’s important not to overreact positively or negatively to anything that happens during the preseason. Everything should be taken with a grain of salt. That approach also means that your opinions of the team shouldn’t waver much during the month of August. So if you entered training camp concerned about the pass rush, it would make sense that those worries still exist.
Kyle Shanahan has been steadfast that if there’s an opportunity to acquire a player that would improve the team, the 49ers won’t hesitate to do so. That includes pass rushers. Every option will be explored. In the mean time, I’d encourage everyone to stay the course and stay away from the panic button. I’m a firm believer that we won’t really know much about this team until Week 1 rolls around.
This is a perfect example why it’s important not to get too high or too low on anyone. Joshua Garnett and Jonathan Cooper are both back healthy and will be given every opportunity to win the starting job. I think it’s pretty simple. The best player will start for the 49ers at right guard – whether that’s Cooper, Garnett or Mike Person. My guess is that as long as he can stay healthy, it’s Garnett’s job to lose, but it certainly won’t be given to him.
I’m not sure it qualifies as “stealing snaps,” but it appears evident that Dante Pettis will have a role on offense immediately. Pettis has position versatility which will allow him to spell Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor when needed. Shanahan is likely to have a specific plan in mind for the rookie wideout. On special teams, Fred Warner, D.J. Reed and Tarvarius Moore should be impact players out of the gate as well. Jullian Taylor is another name to watch, but more on him in a second.
Alfred Morris needs to make the team before we can consider what his role on gameday will be like. Jerick Mckinnon (calf) should be ready to go by Week 1. The same goes for Matt Breida (shoulder). Should Morris make the roster, he’d likely be used as a change-of-pace, short-yardage back. It would take an injury to McKinnon or Breida for any other 49ers running back to assume a featured role on Sundays.
Arik Armstead (hamstring) will have every opportunity to start at the big end spot. He should be eased back into practice this week, and it doesn’t appear that he’s in any danger of missing Week 1. Taylor has been impressive, though, and could work into the rotation immediately. The rookie has shown to have some pass rush capability which could make him a viable option in sub packages.
I’d agree that the running game has been subpar to this point. The 49ers averaged just 3.1 yards per carry against the Houston Texans. Shanahan expressed some frustration in regards to the running game, but it goes beyond simply “blocking better.” The running back is also responsible for finding the right hole and making the proper cut. The run game will likely be a collective point of emphasis in practice this week.
“It isn’t one guy in particular,” Shanahan said during his conference call on Sunday. “It’s just missing a block here. (Then) when we do get the block, it’s the back missing the right cut and just not staying out there long enough to have a chance to overcome that and to get back into a rhythm.”
The 49ers have no shortage of quality interior defensive linemen. The strong play of a young player like D.J. Jones makes it easy to take a veteran like Earl Mitchell for granted. I expect Jones, Taylor and Sheldon Day to all be in the mix, but Mitchell and Armstead are still the likely starters in Week 1.