The San Francisco 49ers kick off their preseason Friday against the Green Bay Packers. After 12 days of training camp, the players are still fighting for roster spots, more play time, and want to show the league what they’re made of. With that in mind, here are five players/position groups to keep an eye on Friday night.
1. Trey Lance
All eyes will be on Lance for this first preseason game. Kyle Shanahan said that some starters will play Friday, including Lance. The former third overall pick had an up-and-down camp, showing flashes of greatness throughout. This will be the first test in the Trey Lance era. Was benching Lance the correct move last season? How much has Lance improved since his week 17 start in 2021? While we might not see much of Lance during the game, fans should be focused on the few series he does play.
2. Jeff Wilson, JaMycal Hasty, and Jordan Mason
Running backs Trey Sermon, Elijah Mitchell, and Ty Davis-Price are locks to make the roster this season. These three running backs – Jeff Wilson, JaMycal Hasty, and Jordan Mason – still has something to prove. Historically, the 49ers have kept four running backs come cut day, meaning that at least one of these players won’t be a 49er come August 30.
I expect all three of these players to get snaps on Friday. Hasty and Wilson have much-needed veteran presence in this young core. While those two appear to be the favorites to make the roster, don’t count out Jordan Mason. The undrafted free agent out of Georgia Tech has shined throughout training camp, and has made a strong case to be RB4. This will be Mason’s biggest test yet, and everyone can see what he’s truly made of tonight.
3. Kick Returners
Special teams was a massive problem last season for the 49ers. New special teams coordinator Brian Schneider has a lot of work to do to improve from the 49ers’ abysmal 2021 squad.
Kick returner was a key issue last season, and the 49ers signed multiple guys this offseason to fight for that role. Players who have returned kicks in training camp include: Ray-Ray McCloud, Brandon Aiyuk, Danny Gray, Malik Turner, Marcus Johnson, and KeeSean Johnson. Both Johnsons returned kicks on Wednesday. Those players may not all get reps, but the ones who do will have to make the most of it. Ray-Ray McCloud is listed at the top of the depth chart, but I’d expect others to compete for his spot.
4. The Center Battle
Daniel Brunskill and Jake Brendel have been fighting all camp long to be the starting center. Throughout camp, Brunskill would be on the first team one day, then Brendel would take those reps the next day (FWIW, Brunskill took the first team reps on Wednesday). Kyle Shanahan stated that he wants to see how both play in game, so expect to see both players get plenty of snaps.
Center is the most crucial position on the offensive line in Shanahan’s offense. With Pro Bowler Alex Mack recently retiring, starting center will be Shanahan’s biggest decision to make come week 1.
This viewing guide is a bit offense-heavy, so let’s throw some defense in! The 49ers lost K’Waun Williams this past offseason. They utilized Williams a lot, and they’ll needs to fill his role at nickelback. Veteran Darqueze Dennard took reps towards the beginning of camp, but Samuel Womack got the nod for that role on Wednesday and took advantage of it.
Additionally, towards the beginning of camp, Dontae Johnson took snaps at nickelback. I’d expect all three players to play in the 49ers’ first preseason game. The battle at the position should continue throughout the preseason, but Friday’s game should give people a good sense of how the battle is going thus far.