Twas the lead-up to Week 1, when all through the league;
No starter was playing, to stave off fatigue;
The backups are playing, to show what they got;
In hopes that they can earn a roster spot.
Opening day for the 2018 NFL season is just a week away, and fans are already putting together their game day plans. Fantasy teams are being drafted, bars are being researched on Yelp, and watch parties are being set up. To most fans, the preseason is already over. All that’s left to do is wait.
Some people might not find the appeal of watching a bunch of backups play a meaningless football game, but there’s a lot more going on. The San Francisco 49ers are finishing up the exhibition at home against the Los Angeles Chargers. Sure, the starters might not be playing, but there’s still plenty of reasons to tune into this one.
Can C.J. be trusted with the keys?
C.J. Beathard will be starting Thursday night's game at quarterback. A year ago, Beathard had this gem of a run against the Chargers, and finished the game 5-of-9 for 31 yards in the air.
Although head coach Kyle Shanahan already confirmed Beathard will be the No. 2 QB this year, there’s still a lot that he can show. The second-year passer hasn’t exactly wowed this preseason, and he needs to do enough Thursday to give the staff the confidence that he can be a legitimate stopgap if something happens to Jimmy Garoppolo.
The fight to start at right guard
Shanahan announced on Tuesday that the starting right guard spot is “Mike Person’s job to lose.” That’s not to say that it’s set in stone. Shanahan went on to say that Josh Garnett can still earn the starting spot by playing well this week against the Chargers.
Logjam at wide receiver
Despite not having any big names at WR, the 49ers have a pretty solid corps of receivers. No one knows how many receivers the they will keep on the roster, but most predictions have six at most. Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis, and Trent Taylor are the only locks to make the roster, so everyone else is fighting for those last two spots.
There's a handful of talented receivers who bring different things to the table competing to make the team. Second-year player Kendrick Bourne is familiar with the system and the squad. Aaron Burbridge may not see the field on offense a lot, but he's a great special teams gunner. Rookie Richie James is a very talented slot receiver that can help the offense. And Victor Bolden is a playmaker that is a big play threat every time he touches the ball.
SAM I Am?
We still don’t know for sure who will be starting at SAM come opening day. As of now, Mark Nzeocha is the favorite to win the spot, and he made some nice plays last week against the Colts. But Nzeocha shouldn’t be eating green eggs and ham just yet, because guys like Pita Taumoepenu are still battling hard for that spot. Thursday's game against the Bolts is another opportunity for one of these players to state their case.
Special Teams: More than a bathroom break
Many earn their spot by what they can do on special teams. Guys like Raheem Mostert and Burbridge don’t see many offensive snaps, but their skills as S/T gunners are extremely valuable. Shanahan says a lot of guys are competing on special teams to lock up a spot on the roster.
So pay close attention to kicks and punts, because they just might give a hint to who is making the final 53.
Media courtesy USA Today Sports Images, NFL