The San Francisco 49ers have a busy week ahead of them. The team arrived in Houston on Monday evening and will practice against the Texans on Wednesday and Thursday. Joint practices always feature an extra layer of competitiveness and physicality, which will provide the 49ers with a good litmus test.
The week will conclude with a preseason contest between the two teams on Saturday night from NRG Stadium. With that, it's time for a mailbag to preview what's to come against the Texans.
I can't wait to see Mike McGlinchey go against J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. That matchup alone is a perfect illustration of why joint practices can be so beneficial. McGlinchey will get to face two of the NFL's best pass rushers in a setting that allows him to try different moves and techniques. What works? What needs improvement? This is a big opportunity for the 49ers first-round pick as he'll face some standout defensive lines to open his rookie season.
I'm also eager to see how San Francisco's corners hold up against DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. The 49ers know Hopkins all too well, as the superstar receiver put up 149 yards and two touchdowns against San Francisco last year. Hopkins is the prototype. Fuller provides a different challenge with his Marquise Goodwin-esque speed.
Lastly, I want to see San Francisco's pass rush against Houston's offensive line. Robert Saleh is confident that his defensive line can create consistent pressure. This will give him a good understanding of where that group stands at the midway point of the preseason.
Thankfully, Jerick McKinnon just has a calf strain. Kyle Shanahan told reporters yesterday that it's more discomfort for McKinnon than true pain. Still, the 49ers will be very cautious with their starting running back. McKinnon will be out this entire week before being reevaluated next week.
Special teams will play a huge role in determining roster spots at the back end of every position group – running back and wide receiver included. That said, it won't be the be-all-end-all. There are several factors that go into the equation when evaluating a player. Each team goes about it differently, and we don't know how John Lynch and Shanahan construct their roster. They may take the best pure position players and then leave a few roster spots at the end for the best special teams players on the roster. Who knows.
Jullian Taylor has been very impressive, but it's too soon to pencil him into the Week 1 starting lineup. Arik Armstead still has plenty of time to get his hamstring healthy and reclaim his spot on the depth chart. Taylor could certainly be an immediate rotational piece, though, and his strong play through camp is very promising.
I expect Shanahan to stick with the natural progression of the preseason that most teams abide by. That means the starters on both sides of the football are likely to see two-to-three series. The length and quality of those drives will determine whether it's two or three. However, if the offense marches down the field and scores a touchdown on its first drive, Shanahan may decide he's seen enough and call it a day for those guys. All of this is to say that it will be a fluid situation.
I'm all for nicknames, whether it's for an individual player or for a position group. There's no shortage of memorable monikers in NFL history. So I want to get that out there before I turn into the "get off my lawn" buzz kill.
Quite frankly, the 49ers secondary hasn't done anything yet. It's loaded with potential, sure, but until they prove to be a formidable group, any nickname would be premature. When the time comes that Richard Sherman returns to form and Ahkello Witherspoon, Adrian Colbert and Jaquiski Tartt all become studs, then we can revisit this discussion.
Cassius Marsh has been getting more reps with the first-team defense. But Jeremiah Attaochu has flashed consistently as well. The problem is that Attaochu is still nursing a sore groin and has been in and out of the lineup. This is a big week for both players to test themselves against another team's offensive line. As it stands right now, I'd expect both players to play significant roles in the 49ers rotation at defensive line.
I believe it would take an injury to K'Waun Williams in order for D.J. Reed to supplant him at nickel. I recently asked Witherspoon and Colbert to name the 49ers defensive back who they felt was the most underrated. Both chose Williams. I think that speaks volume to the respect Williams commands in the locker room and how much his teammates value his ability. San Francisco didn't extend Williams last year for nothing. He was solid all year long for the 49ers in 2017, and I expect the same from him this season as long as he stays healthy.
My guess is that Jimmy Garoppolo knows the entire playbook. However, there are going to be nuances and week-to-week game-planning details that Garoppolo will grow more comfortable with over time.
I think Matt Breida's role is safe. A preseason injury isn't going to negate his impressive rookie season in 2017. Behind McKinnon and Breida, San Francisco's crowded running backs room just added another body. Alfred Morris immediately becomes the most accomplished running back on the roster. There's an inherent trust between Shanahan and Morris given their two seasons together with the Washington Redskins.
Still, it's not a given that Morris will make the roster. He'll still be competing with Joe Williams, Jeremy McNichols, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. Morris should see reps immediately during Wednesday's practice with McKinnon and Breida out due to injury.