The San Francisco 49ers wrap up the 2016 NFL preseason with a road contest against the San Diego Chargers. While most starters won’t play, which players should beg our attention. Niner Noise looks at five to watch this Thursday.
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Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dres Anderson (17) celebrates a touchdown against the Denver Broncos during the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The 49ers beat the Broncos 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports
The regular season is nearly upon us, and the San Francisco 49ers have one last order of on-field business before Week 1 kicks off.
San Francisco ends its preseason with one more exhibition bout against the San Diego Chargers. The game kicks off at 10 p.m. ET at Qualcomm Stadium.
The fourth game of a preseason rarely looks anything like a regular-season games. Starters almost never play, and the snaps are almost always reserved for players vying to climb the depth chart or merely hold onto a roster spot.
As such, Thursday’s contest may look a little ugly and disjointed. But that’s OK. There is still a good deal of evaluation to be had.
For San Francisco, this game will provide the last opponent-versus-opponent look head coach Chip Kelly and the Niners brass will get prior to the regular season. And with a number of roster spots to be had, a primarily young 49ers team will look to make the most of the opportunity.
So let’s look at five of these players likely to see a bit more time and break down why we should pay attention to them in San Diego.
Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) is sacked by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Marcus Rush (44) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The 49ers defeated the Broncos 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Linebacker Marcus Rush
Linebacker Marcus Rush has been one of the better storylines for the 49ers this preseason.
He is currently tied for second in the NFL with four preseason sacks. That doesn’t mean anything, aside from helping his roster chances, but it’s a good sign to see nonetheless.
Rush is still on the roster bubble. But after his strong performances against the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers in preseason Weeks 2 and 3, respectively, one has to consider him a strong chance to make the 53-man group.
Oct 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Corey Lemonier (96) during the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Linebacker Corey Lemonier
On the flip side of fellow linebacker Marcus Rush is disappointing pass-rusher Corey Lemonier.
Lemonier’s stock has plummeted ever since the 49ers drafted him in Round 3 of the 2013 NFL Draft. Since that point, Lemonier has accumulated a mere 27 tackles and one sack over three pro seasons.
Not exactly inspiring.
Lemonier is a bit better than Rush against the run, at least according to Ryan Sakamoto of NinerFans.com. But the former’s efforts have relegated him to the bottom of San Francisco’s depth chart.
To Lemonier’s credit, he did record four quarterback hurries on seven pass-rushes last week against the Packers, according to Pro Football Focus’ Jeff Deeney, but these were mostly against second- and third-team units.
Corey Lemonier picked up four hurries in just seven pass rushes last night. #49ers
Aug 14, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Braxton Miller (13) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Tank Carradine (95) and cornerback Keith Reaser (27) in the third quarter at Levi
EDGE Tank Carradine
Back to the positives.
Another 49ers good story from the preseason is edge-rusher Tank Carradine. It’s clear the effort to make the former Florida State star a standard 3-4 defensive end wasn’t going to work. So switching Carradine back to a pass-rusher only made sense.
Carradine has two sacks this preseason and has also drawn a number of holding penalties.
Tank Carradine is all over the place tonight. Fun to watch his transformation. #49ers
Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dres Anderson (17) scores a touch down against Denver Broncos defensive back John Tidwell (45) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The 49ers defeated the Broncos 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Wide Receiver Dres Anderson
The season-ending hamstring injury suffered by wide receiver Bruce Ellington means the Niners have another slot open for this major question mark of a position.
And a guy who could easily seize it is second-year pro Dres Anderson.
Anderson hauled in a nice 30-yard touchdown reception against the Broncos two weeks ago, and his skill set may be the type which gives head coach Chip Kelly a nice option with which to work this season.
Aug 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) walks off the field after the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 19-12. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick
All eyes are going to be on embattled quarterback Colin Kaepernick during Thursday’s game anyway.
Cameras will assuredly be rolling if and when Kaepernick sits down to protest the national anthem. It’s a move that has already generated plenty of discussion and controversy regarding freedom of speech, patriotism, injustice and racism in this country.
That alone is a major storyline. But there’s another one to watch here.
Despite head coach Chip Kelly noting Kap was one of the two best quarterbacks on the roster — the other being Blaine Gabbert — there’s still a very real chance Kaepernick doesn’t make the 53-man group at all to start the season.
Simply put, Kaepernick was awful during his preseason debut against the Packers last week. And him missing all of OTAs and a good chunk of minicamps didn’t help things either.
Is Kaepernick rusty? Sure. But the bigger question is whether or not he’ll ever be capable of rediscovering the magic that made him one of the bigger NFL threats not so long ago. Signs aren’t pointing to this happening.