Training camp has ended, the fourth pre-season game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi’s Stadium is in the books, offensively the roster has begun taking shape. Players who figured they’d be with the team when training camp began are finding themselves on the outside looking in. Niners Live dives deep, as we did defensively to kick off camp with, “49ers: Here’s My List of Defensive Casualties; Who Will Not Make the Cut,” and break down who will be the starters, backups, and those still destined to find themselves missing out on calling themselves San Francisco 49ers.
QUARTERBACKS (Keep 2)
The quarterback room will be getting a little lighter than expected in the coming days with both Nick Mullens and Matt Barkley, both let go when the team cuts down to a 53-man roster. Mullens was brought in to be a camp arm. Barkley, on the other hand, was signed to be the backup to starter Brian Hoyer, as was his role last season in Chicago. Unfortunately for Barkley, no one explained that to rookie Beathard, who has come in and established himself as a viable option should something happen to Hoyer.
According to Kyle Shanahan, Beathard forced himself into the “Battle of Who Wants It More,” by playing well and picking up the offense during off-season workouts. On July 25, Niners Live broke down the competition for the backup quarterback job to open camp. Beathard followed up a strong off-season by playing well through training camp, showing he wanted it more in games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. He led the comeback against the Chiefs that included two touchdowns and going 9-11 with 101 yards and then continued his efficient play against the Broncos in a 7-12, 110 yards, and one touchdown effort.
Beathard came back down to earth after being named the second man up for the second consecutive week, and showed some rookie mistakes against the Minnesota Vikings in week three. Still, he finished the game an efficient 7-13 passing, 159 yards, with a touchdown, an interception, and a 91.5 quarterback rating.
At this point, Beathard has played so well he will not make it through waivers, therefore, he cannot be placed on the practice squad. The question now becomes; does Shanahan feel like Beathard has played well enough to win a game if something happens to Hoyer? If he does, the team can release Barkley and re-sign him if something does happen to Hoyer, to provide a veteran presence behind Beathard who knows the system and personnel on offense.
RUNNING BACKS (Keep 4)
Coming into camp, the popular talk was that of Carlos Hyde being traded or the surprise cut of 2017. Well Hyde must have heard that, as he came to camp slimmed down and with something to prove. Hyde has used this camp to establish himself as the feature back in this offense.
On a Niners Live side note: Don’t sleep on Raheem Mostert forcing himself on to the 53 man roster.
Tim Hightower was signed this off-season to provide competition for Hyde and to help tutor the running back room in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Hightower has been able to uphold the tutoring part, but an early injury in camp put him out of the competition, opening the door for rookies Joe Williams and undrafted free agent Matt Breida to show what they can do in this offense, and it has been nice.
Breida has shown he can provide an effective mix of speed and power as evidenced by him being named Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) Flex Player of the week for the first pre-season game against the Kansas City Chiefs. PFF said of Brieda, “His six missed tackles forced were the most of any running back this week, and all of which were on attempts run between the guards, and out of his 40 yards rushing, 25 came after contact.”
That kind of power mixed with Williams’ speed will provide the kind of 1-2 punch the team can count on behind Hyde. Williams has been used during games and has shown he can move the ball and pickup blitzes in the passing game. Look for him to continue to battle for opportunities through the season.
Kyle Juszczyk is the Offensive Weapon the team was looking for when they signed him. Juszczyk showed why he was made the prize pickup of free agency. So far, we have seen him line up in the backfield as a lead blocker and pass catcher. At tight end, “Juice” gives the team the ability to only keep three tight ends. He also has lined up out wide as a wide receiver, and not just for show, being the first read while running a pass route that carried him over 10 yards down field.
NINERS LIVE NOTE: Recently Niners Live brought you a look at the training camp battle of the running backs with, “Training Camp Battles the Plot Thickens, Running Backs”.
TIGHT ENDS (Keep 3)
General Manager John Lynch didn’t shy away when asked during the draft if Vance McDonald was on the trading block. Lynch also didn’t shy away when asked if McDonald has responded well since those attempts fell through. That strong play didn’t keep the team from trading him to the Pittsburg Steelers. With fifth round draft pick George Kittle playing well since joining the team, McDonald became expendable. Free agent signee and previous Shanahan blocking specialist, Logan Paulsen, has done as advertised and played well at the point of attack in the running game, securing his place on the roster. Kittle showed up and played as he had through the off-season while lining up with the first team. Kittle has shown that his time in a zone-based offense at Iowa was well spent, as he has not only shown well-receiving passes, but also as an above average blocker in the run game.
Recently, quarterback Brian Hoyer praised Kittle, McDonald, and third-year tight end Blake Bell as the best pass catchers in the tight end room, while also praising their blocking abilities. Bell has shown up more than Garrett Celek and appears to have fought his way onto this team.
OFFENSIVE LINE (Keep 8)
- Joe Staley (Left Tackle)
- Zane Beatles (Left Guard)
- Daniel Kilgore (Center)
- Brandon Fusco (Right Guard)
- Trenton Brown (Right Tackle)
- Erik Magnuson (Interior Backup)
- John Theus (Swing Tackle)
- Joshua Garnett (Potentially season ending injured reserve )
There are players here who we have known all through the off-season would be counted on to open running lanes and keep the team’s quarterbacks clean, such as tackles Joe Staley and Trent Brown. A few players here have fought and took a job this season. Center Daniel Kilgore was one of those players. General Manager John Lynch brought in former Pro Bowl Center Jeremy Zuttah from the Baltimore Ravens to compete against Kilgore and the other interior linemen for a starting spot on the interior line. Strong play from Kilgore and the others sent Zuttah packing back to Baltimore, as they picked him back up after his mid-camp release.
Recent team transactions: 49ers Acquire OL Laken Tomlinson (via the team’s website).
Heading into the final pre-season game, strong pass blocking has been evident throughout the line. What’s needed, is for the first-string unit to continue improving their work in the run game as they began doing against the Vikings. Through the first two exhibitions, the team has had one game over 100 total yards on the ground, and one game where they had only 37 yards rushing. But the run game did pick up against the Vikings.
Undrafted free agent Erik Magnuson has been playing well enough to move from the third team to present a legitimate challenge for a starting role as the team’s right guard. And though Magnuson’s accent has been fantastic, earning a spot on Pro Football Focus Team of the Week for his efforts during the first week of the pre-season, his strong play pushed Fusco and Beatles to step up their games to keep their jobs on the starting line.
A starter last year and former first round draft pick, Joshua Garnett, known for his strong run blocking is expected back in the early weeks of the season. His return to the left guard position should add some aggressiveness to the running game.
Wide Receivers: (Keep 7)
- Pierre Garcon
- Marquise Goodwin
- Jeremy Kerley
- Trent Taylor
- Aldrick Robinson
- Victor Bolden
- Aaron Burbridge
Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, and Jeremy Kerley figure to be the top three pass catchers on the team. Trent Taylor and Aldrick Robinson have played well enough to find themselves in the rotation. Victor Bolden and Aaron Burbridge have shown special teams value that will allow them to dress on game days.
For being a first year General Manager, John Lynch has turned over 57% of the roster and brought in competition at every position group. It was clear early in the free agency period that previous experience in Shanahan’s offense was important, but, as time went on we learned that previous experience assured no one of a job in the 2017 season.
To erase the memories of the disastrous 2016 season that saw this offense contribute to a 2-14 record, strong play is going to be mandatory week in and week out. The complexities of the offense are going to require focus from all members regardless of their starting status.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author, Edward Erving Staff Writer @NinersLive.net and Content Creator, Editor, Sequoia Sims