Our staff writers break down the San Francisco 49ers preseason finale, a home game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Let's dive into the keys to the game in this "Four Downs" preview of the 49ers exhibition contest, presented by SunPower.1st Down:What is the position group to watch?@Joe_Fann: Defensive Line
It's a crowded room, and not everyone can make the roster. There isn't much to say here, but I'll provide three names to watch: Quinton Dial, Chris Jones and Sen'Derrick Marks. Those three may be battling for just one roster spot. If Ronald Blair III plays, he's another player I'd keep an eye on.
Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson appear to be locks to start at corner. Behind those two, it's an opportunity for the taking. Cornerback may be one of the thinnest positions on the 49ers roster. Thursday night, John Lynch and Co. will get a final opportunity to further assess the talent of Keith Reaser, Ahkello Witherspoon and others in the mix. San Francisco has major decisions to make this week at corner.2nd Down: What player are you excited to watch?
@Joe_Fann: C.J. Beathard
I'd guess that the rookie starts against the Chargers. Who knows how long he'll play, but Beathard is probably the biggest storyline of the 49ers preseason. He didn't have his best game last week against the Minnesota Vikings and will look to rebound on Thursday. Beathard has 370 yards, four touchdowns and one interception thus far, and a strong performance against the Chargers could lock up the 49ers backup job (if it's not already).
It has been an uphill battle for playing time at the running back position, and hopefully Thursday provides some clarity. We've seen modest glimpses of Joe Williams in the preseason. His best performance came against the Kansas City Chiefs where he ran the ball seven times for 60 yards, including a pair of 17-yard runs. But it's been quiet for the fourth-round pick since. Last week, the Chargers defense allowed more than 100 yards rushing. Thursday night should host a great opportunity for Williams to gain some traction with an increased number of snaps.3rd Down: Which defender will force a turnover?
@Joe_Fann: Ahkello Witherspoon
Don't be surprised if the 49ers third-round pick starts and plays a majority of the game. He's had an up and down preseason, but could end exhibition play on a strong note with an interception. Witherspoon had one pick during camp. Robert Saleh said this week that the rookie needs to trust his technique when making plays downfield. Witherspoon should get several chances on Thursday.
Jerome's physicality and knack for finding the ball has translated well in the 49ers secondary. He's been a regular at breaking up passes and coming down with interceptions at practice. Jerome also nearly came down with pick on a pass intended for Demaryius Thomas in Week 2 of the preseason. Thursday night is a great opportunity for Jerome to get a jumpstart heading into Week 1 of the regular season.4th Down: What is your bold prediction?
@Joe_Fann: Nick Mullens throws a game-winning touchdown
We haven't seen the 49ers fourth quarterback thus far through three games. With Pierre Garçon sitting vs. the Chargers, it could mean that Mullens finally gets a chance. Last year, we saw Christian Ponder lead a comeback against the Chargers. Last week, we saw Taylor Heinicke engineer a last-minute comeback against the 49ers. Maybe Thursday night is Mullens' turn to be the unsung hero.
@KeianaMartinTV:C.J. Beathard throws for 150 yards 2 touchdowns
Last week, I named Beathard as the player who needed to perform well. This week, he still has much to prove. I spoke with Beathard this week, and he said he's feeling comfortable heading into his fourth exhibition game. In his last push for the 49ers backup quarterback job, he'll have to prove he's deserving of that role. With extended playing time on Thursday, I'm predicting the Iowa product to pass for more than 150 yards and two touchdowns.