The 49ers see action Thursday night against the rival Cowboys, and we'll have an opportunity to gauge how far this team has come along in Kyle Shanahan's second year as head coach. They've added another layer of quality talent, and the preseason games will determine who gets the spots on the roster and the snaps on game day.
Below includes detailed analyses of what to watch for by position. Also be sure to check out Dylan DeSimone's breakdowns of the running back, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and special teams groups.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo scored on 31 of 54 possessions in limited games last season, according to Al Sacco of 49ers Webzone. The starting offense won’t be on the field long, but will Garoppolo continue that success and punch the ball into the end zone? As much as the 49ers scored last season, getting touchdowns in the red zone was still an issue. A touchdown drive by QB1 to start preseason would go a long ways in easing the fans minds.
C.J. Beathard looks to be the long-term back up. He was labeled a tough guy for continuing to peel himself off the ground after the pounding he took in his starts. One thing to look for is if Beathard can be more decisive and quicker processing plays, to the point where he's getting the ball out of his hand and cutting down on those crushing blows.
Marquise Goodwin is once again the star of training camp and Pierre Garçon is well, Pierre Garçon. The 49ers are locked in and ready to go at the starting X and Z positions. Behind them is where things get interesting. Second-year players Trent Taylor and Kendrick Bourne will look to hold off rookie second-round pick Dante Pettis from taking snaps away from them. There are definitely targets up for grabs and a strong start to preseason for one of these receivers can sort this whole thing out.
George Kittle finished the 2017 season strong and is looking to have a breakout season for the 49ers. The second-year tight end has the size and speed to be a true TE1. Look for Kyle Shanahan to dial up plays that isolate Kittle on Cowboy linebackers.
Veteran Garrett Celek looks to be the other tight end, but there's a good battle going on for that third spot. Cole Hikutini and Wes Saxton are two guys to look for late in the game. And remember, Hikutini was a priority UDFA for the 49ers just a year ago, one they outbid the New Orleans Saints for. If he plays well, it could be his for the taking.
All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is sitting out of this first preseason game with an apparent hamstring injury. Starting opposite Ahkello Witherspoon will be fifth-year defensive back Jimmie Ward. Ward has been up and down in training camp, as well as sidelined with lingering injuries, so a strong start against the Cowboys would be huge for his confidence, as well as that of the coaching staff if Sherman isn’t ready to go by Week 1.
[CROCKER: Richard Sherman, the 49ers and the value of veteran leadership]
The injury bug didn’t stop with Sherman, either. K’Waun Williams rolled his ankle in Sunday’s practice, so rookie rookie D.J. Reed, who has been running with the second group at safety, will be forced into a starting slot role this Sunday. Reed has flashed in coverage picking off several passes in training camp. The feisty corner will have his hands full guarding Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley.
Rookie Tarvarius Moore, who is making the switch from safety to cornerback, will have his first in-game action playing his new position. He has picked off a couple of passes in training camp, including a beautiful diving interception playing the flats. The 49ers drafted Moore in the third round and hope he can be Sherman’s successor.
Free safety Adrian Colbert looks like the potential star of the group, and will be roaming Thursday in his deep third. It'll be interesting to see if Reed gets action at safety, too.
Chanceller James was a training camp standout in 2017, but suffered a torn ACL in the first pre season game against the Chiefs. Watch out for James and Florida rookie Marcell Harris late in the Cowboys game. Starting in this first preseason game, the two young strong safeties will compete to back up Jaquiski Tartt and make the 53-man roster.
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