The 49ers have an awful lot of talent to display, and the competition is high.
Whether it is at outside linebacker, cornerback, wide receiver or offensive line, there are plenty of storylines in play that will receive a serious kick by the time Friday night's game ends. With the rookies, UDFAs and new acquisitions via free agency, there will be a handful of new faces wearing red and gold, and this will be their first outing in front of their respective fanbase.
Before fans go ahead and give praise to a player, they must consider and constantly pay attention to the level of competition. For instance, if A.J. Jenkins catches a ball against a UDFA wide receiver trying out at cornerback, then it's not all that spectacular.
With dozens of players auditioning for a job, I'll walk you through seven 49ers players to watch this preseason, starting Friday.
49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick is on top of a big list of players to watch this preseason.
First and foremost, he is the potential future of San Francisco's franchise at quarterback, which is huge. Secondly, as someone who has yet to start an NFL game, he was a high-profile passer in college who was recently selected in the 2011 draft not long after the first round ended.
As a passer, Kaepernick is super athletic, having set NCAA records at the University of Nevada. What we also like about him is that under a new regime, Kaepernick was hand-picked by QB guru Jim Harbaugh with the organization's second choice, after Aldon Smith.
Kaepernick was taken high in an extremely talented draft class by the 49ers that saw production up until their seventh round.
The second-year passer recently spoke to the media in a press conference in Santa Clara. When he was asked about his approach, Kaepernick seemed eager, insisting upon showing everyone he's ready to be a starter.
And while he is the potential future franchise quarterback, it's Alex Smith's team in 2012.
The staff is well aware of Kaepernick's presence, and they're sure to be monitoring his progress closely. I believe, without direct mention, they recognized Kaepernick's presence when they brought Alex Smith back on a peculiar three-year contract.
Kaepernick should value the preseason because it's his first go at real competition with a full offseason in place. He, unfortunately, was drafted in a shortened-league year and did not have the benefit of a full offseason as a rookie. It will be interesting to see the progress he made from preseason to preseason.
What to Watch For
- Mechanics: any development in his throwing motion, his release
- Accuracy: leading receivers, overthrowing or under-throwing receivers
- Pocket Presence: awareness, feeling pressure, footwork
- Vision: being able to read coverages, anticipation, seeing things before they happen, throwing receivers open
Acquired as an undrafted free agent in 2011, Demarcus Dobbs is developing into one of the more versatile players in San Francisco.
Dobbs is a defensive player first, having played defensive line at the University of Georgia.
In Santa Clara, the 49ers' all-purpose second-year man has been sacking quarterbacks and catching touchdowns. Dobbs is evolving into a three-way player, getting reps on offense, defense and special teams.
Asked Vic Fangio if he's worried about losing DT Demarcus Dobbs to offense, Vic said Dobbs is a viable option at TE & remains in D's plans.— Taylor Price (@TaylorPrice49) August 8, 2012
What to Watch For
- Blocking: run-blocking and pass protection
- Burst: explosiveness off the line, run after catch
- Agility: route-running, cuts, creating separation
- Catch: hands, catch-in-traffic, ball awareness
This offseason, San Francisco made drastic upgrades to their receiving corps after a tumultuous performance from the group in the 2011 season.
Headlining the new acquisitions is none other than future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss. Moss, 35, is looking to make a comeback and end his career on a high note. As someone who has undergone a lot of criticism and made mistakes, Moss is looking to change the general perception of himself.
Since signing with the team in March, the 6'4" speedster receiver appears driven and rejuvenated. He spoke to the media in a press conference where he exuded positivity and personal growth—it was very encouraging.
Moss has a selfless approach to game. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Now that I'm matured physically and mentally, my philosophy is...I want to know what I can do to make the NFL better. And if that's coming out here teaching the young guys and showing my professionalism and being a leader on and off the field, that's what I want to do because I think that if we get that type of mind-set, it'll make it a better league. I like what I can do for the league, not what the league can do for me.
Being a veteran and presumed starter come Week 1, odds say Moss won't be on the field for too long. Given the potential rewards this signing could yield, a lot of fans are chomping at the bit to see Moss in action again—to see if he's all there physically, because mentally, he's focused.
What to Watch For
- Speed: quickness off the line, top speed
- Routes: what routes they have him run, average depth of routes, fluidity in and out of breaks
- Chemistry/System: signs of a rapport with Alex Smith, flow within the offense
This offseason, the 49ers acquired the 6'5", 265-pound running back after the New York Giants lacked aggressiveness in retaining his contract.
This enormous battery-ram of a running back has shed weight and is reportedly 10 pounds lighter. By dropping his playing weight, Jacobs intends to play faster—and by adding speed, he can increase force.
He is notoriously dangerous when he's picked up a head of steam. A former two-time 1,000-yard rusher, Jacobs looks to be a complementary back with the 49ers in 2012. In an offseason when the 49ers were looking to upgrade their offense—particularly situationally—they went out and acquired Jacobs on a low-risk, high-reward deal.
As a runner, receiver and pass-blocker, Jacobs should help the 49ers in situations like third down and in the red zone.
To all the fans out there both giants and niners thanks for all the support y'all rock big time.— Brandon Jacobs (@gatorboy45) August 7, 2012
What to Watch For
- Leverage: pad level, playing low
- Runs Called: interior, north and south runs, staying inside
- Speed: if he is playing faster, lighter, acceleration and top speed
The San Francisco 49ers acquired one of the most high-profile players in all of college football when they drafted LaMichael James in Round 2 of the 2012 NFL draft.
James brings a lot of quality attributes to the 49ers offense, and they will be valued. At 5'8", James packs a punch, bringing great top speed, quickness and incredible agility as a runner. From a playmaking standpoint, James is a home-run hitter with monster potential.
He has an uncanny ability to change direction and make defenders look foolish in space. From top speed he can make a stop on a dime, cut and accelerate to full speed again. And above all else, he is a smart player who is extremely passionate about the game.
Based on his statistical productivity at the college level alone, we can expect him to excel as a backseat role player in the NFL.
I love being apart apart of @49ers family 1 heartbeat "team over me"— LaMichael James (@LaMichaelJames) August 4, 2012
What to Watch For
- Runs Called: ability running inside and outside the tackles, speed to the edge
- Catch: hands/receiving skills, if he is used as an option out the backfield, YAC
- S/T: if he is used on special teams as a returner
Cox is a former starting cornerback for the Denver Broncos, drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL draft. He's talented and still relatively new to the league, so he hasn't been in it long enough to form any bad habits. He is a gifted but raw athlete at the corner position, and is now in a place to succeed with this coaching staff.
Cox will be reunited in San Francisco with Ed Donatell, who was his secondary coach in Denver.
There is little doubt that Donatell in some way or another influenced the Cox signing and maybe why he got a two-year deal instead of one. In 15 games (nine starts) with Denver, Cox record 58 tackles, 14 pass deflections, an interception and two forced fumbles.
He remains a high-ceiling corner who has been out of football for a year with some off-the-field issues but is looking to return in a big way.
As a former starter, he is coming to a team where, at best, he'll be the entrenched No. 3 corner. It's understood that more often than not, Cox will be working out of the nickel and subbing in.
He was a tremendous cornerback at Oklahoma State University, as both a cover corner and a return man. At age 25, if Cox performs well, he could earn a deal to stay with the team or at least up his market value for when his contract expires.
Morning world, a day before the day, lets get it #49ers— Perrish Cox (@pcox16) August 9, 2012
What to Watch For
- Awareness: route recognition, anticipating/reading quarterback
- Athleticism: ability covering quicker slot receivers, endurance, return skills
- Tackling: tackling proficiency and technique, aggressiveness
The San Francisco 49ers might have a diamond in the rough at wide receiver, but most analysts and commentators can't say for sure because only a select few have seen him make plays in training camp.
UDFA wideout Nathan Palmer has been making serious waves at 49ers training camp, and on a regular basis. The rumor mill in Santa Clara says he has continued to impress day-to-day, and at a position group that is brimming with talent.
A bit about Palmer from San Francisco Chronicle and 49ers beat reporter Eric Branch:
A slot receiver in college, Palmer had 47 catches for 695 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior in a spread offense that emphasized the run—NIU had 595 rushing attempts and threw 408 passes. In a nod to his speed, Palmer averaged 9.5 yards on 21 carries during his career.
The coaches have been thrilled with his ability and instincts as a wide receiver. 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman had this to say in a 49ers press conference (h/t 49ers.com):
I like his demeanor, athleticism, quickness, balance and ball skills, attention to detail, knowing what to do, making instinctive adjustments that you can't coach—or you can talk about coaching but not everybody gets.He's gone a great job. Day-in and day-out his stock is going up.
Forget the practice squad, the Niners are going to try and retain him on the final 53-man roster. Be sure to keep an eye on Nathan Palmer.
What to Watch For
- Playmaking: average yards per catch, deep threat ability, speed
- Route-Running: creating separation, burst off the line, smooth breaks
This will be my final endorsement for Kourtnei Brown before the preseason kicks off.
The former Clemson defender was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent. The 49ers added a handful of potential outside rushers in the draft, and their top defender, Darius Fleming (acquired in 2012), suffered a torn ACL and will miss his rookie season.
This has opened a window for a lot of players at the linebacker position, particularly those with pass-rush ability.
Brown stands out as the most physically gifted, standing tall at 6'6" with a great wingspan.
None of the added outside linebackers have been stealing headlines; there is no clear front-runner. Brown's main competition will be the seventh-round pick out of Virginia, Cam Johnson. However, this job is wide open, so it is up to someone to seize it.
This job will be earned outright, but look for Brown as a sleeper to come out and steal it with his preseason performance.
Here is a breakdown courtesy of Pro Football Weekly:
Positives: Very good overall length—arm and body. Fluid mover with loose hips and elasticity. Good athlete. Solid work habits.
Negatives: Green instincts. Only one year of production. Has been slowed by knee, ankle and groin injuries in limited opportunities. Lacks functional strength.
Summary: Put himself on the radar with a standout performance against North Carolina and flashed enough potential as a senior to warrant a chance as a developmental pass-rusher.
What to Watch For
- Technique: use of hands, balance, footwork
- Speed: burst, quickness off the line, ability as edge-rusher
- Tackle: handling the run and pass, if he is a presence around the ball