In the NFL preseason, it's always good to note some players to watch before the game, otherwise it's easy to lose interest by halftime.
San Francisco has some new additions, as well as returning players transitioning into new roles, and each will be interesting to observe for their own reasons.
Colin Kaepernick, QB
Reason: Unless there are some sort of drastic circumstances, Kaepernick won't be the starter this year—but he might be someday.
For Kaepernick, real game-time reps are few and far between, so it will be interesting to see him perform in the face of competition. Also, it will be good to gauge his mechanics and progress from his rookie preseason to his second time around.
LaMichael James, RB
Reason: People are dying to see James operate against NFL-level competition and that first opportunity will come in the first preseason game. James had an outstanding college career that a lot of people expect to continue into the pros.
In the NCAA, he was known for his speed and game-breaking ability, but he is yet to play a down as a pro. The coaching staff will be sure to get James plenty of preseason touches.
Aldon Smith, LB
Reason: If all goes well, Aldon Smith will be transitioning from a situational player in his rookie year to a starter in his second. However, with this promotion comes the added responsibility and overall knowledge of the position.
As a pass-rush specialist in 2011, Smith must become more versatile in his duties, adapting to play the run and particularly zone coverages.
He found success early on and projects to be a solid football player, especially as such a physically-gifted athlete. Smith should draw the attention of viewers who are interested in seeing the progression in his overall game.
Chris Culliver, CB
Reason: Culliver should be the future of the 49ers at cornerback someday, when Carlos Rogers has left the game of football or Tarell Brown has moved on to another team, whichever comes first.
Culliver was one of San Francisco's rookies in 2011 to see significant game time and show serious potential for the future.
I would hope and expect Rogers to sit out the preseason, allowing Culliver to see significant reps and go against first-team offenses.
He has the size, speed, physicality and ball skills to be a Pro Bowl cornerback, but whether or not he can make it happen is yet to be seen. His progress will be one of the more captivating story lines for the 49ers this season.
Demarcus Dobbs, DL
Reason: Dobbs is one of the more intriguing backups on the 49ers roster. In 2011, Dobbs was one of the undrafted free agents to make Harbaugh's squad—and behind a starting defensive line group that is arguably the league's best, that is quite an accomplishment.
Dobbs is a big, physical specimen that is still learning the ropes but could one day have a prominent role in San Francisco's defense.
Perrish Cox, CB
Reason: Another player that should draw interest is newly signed cornerback Perrish Cox. At one time, Cox was a starter in this league, playing for the Denver Broncos and coach Ed Donatell —now 49ers secondary coach.
Cox should receive a solid amount of reps in the preseason, and since he spent some time away from football, it will be good to see how he does finding his rhythm.
If Cox works out and he lives up to his potential, San Francisco could have the one of the deepest cornerback groups in the NFL.
Alex Boone, RG
Reason: For obvious reasons, Boone is a player to watch closely in the preseason. The front office made a relatively quick decision, entrusting him as a capable starting guard for San Francisco.
It will be re-assuring to see Boone not having any Chilo Rachal-esque miscues in preseason competition. At near 6'8, we'll also want to look for Boone playing lower, gaining leverage on his opponent.
Kyle Williams, WR
Reason: Kyle Williams began this offseason strong, looking sharp at minicamp and OTA's. Williams is a talented wide receiver and, after a heartbreaking end to the season, is looking to come back better than before.
He may have the quickest feet of the 49ers' receivers and has pretty solid pass-catching ability.
Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree might not see significant reps in the preseason, so Williams should be the guy to watch, and I wouldn't be surprised if he lead the preseason in receiving.
And if you think that doesn't mean anything, Aldon Smith led it last year in sacks and Kendall Hunter led it last year in rushing.
Brandon Jacobs, RB
Reason: As one of the 49ers' new additions, the spotlight will be on him just to see how he's acclimated. Jacobs is a powerful runner, but was hoping to lower his playing weight this offseason to increase his top speed.
It will be interesting to look for any style changes, however minor. Also, does he look good enough to push out a young two-way player like Dixon?
Randy Moss, WR
Reason: Moss' preseason could go one of two ways. (1) Moss sees time because he and Harbaugh think it couldn't hurt to get him re-acclimated to the speed of the game. (2) Moss sees very little time and perhaps does not even suit up for all—if any—preseason games because Harbaugh knows he doesn't need it.
If it turns out to be option No. 1, then Moss is a player to watch, especially if Alex Smith is in at QB.
While everything we've heard about Moss until has been glowing, we have yet to see this 35-year-old suit up against anything resembling competition. It will be nice to guage his speed, desire and overall, whether that dominance is still there.
Trenton Robinson, S
Reason: Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke displayed a methodical but successful prowess in their first draft together, finding success even with late-rounders.
Robinson was a sixth-rounder in this past 2012 NFL draft; maybe undersized for his position at 5'9, but has good coverage skills. It will be interesting to see how he flocks to the ball in preseason, especially with uncertainty and lack of depth at the safety position.
Steve Young and Jerry Rice took part in an interesting segment on ESPN, discussing the the 49ers' offseason and upcoming 2012 season. For their insight, click here. Their discussion involves players to watch, specifically Randy Moss and Alex Smith.