Chargers vs. 49ers: What to Watch for in Preseason Week 4

Tyson Langland@TysonNFLNFC West Lead WriterAugust 29, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers drops back to pass against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on December 16, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos made quick work of the 49ers first-team defense last week.

Failure was quickly pointed in the direction of the defensive secondary as Carlos Rogers and Tramaine Brock had equally rough days in coverage. Rogers and Brock both gave up first quarter touchdowns to Eric Decker who is quietly emerging as Manning's favorite pass-catcher.

The poor play didn't stop there as Brock was continuously picked on throughout the night. It marked the second week in a row where he was torched; last week Lester Jean of the Texans managed to get the best of him more than once.

However, this is a new week as the San Diego Chargers roll into town for Week 4 of the preseason. In accordance to the rest of the league, the 49ers starters will not last long during Thursday night's contest. 

Young players looking to make the cut will dominate the game, so let's take a look at what to watch for as this will be the last audition before final cuts on Friday.


Anthony Dixon

When you have a backfield that boasts the talents of Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James, is it safe to assume they will be the only four that make the roster? 

It's hard to believe anyone but those four will make the cut at running back, but Anthony Dixon has had an outstanding preseason that hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has not shied away from giving Dixon credit where credit is due: "I think that him working and not worrying, that we've seen him do, we've seen the evidence and how that pays off and he's doing a heck of a job."

If you're not familiar with Dixon's production during the preseason, he has ran for a 116 yards and one touchdown behind the teams backup offensive line. No easy task as some of the players blocking for him won't even be on the final 53-man roster after Friday.

On this play you can see Dixon prove to be an asset as a fullback or halfback. Despite his large stature, it's evident that he has the burst through the hole required to be an NFL-caliber running back. It would be wise for San Francisco to keep Dixon on the active roster as they head into the regular season.


Chris Owusu

All preseason long wide receiver Chris Owusu has been battling fellow wideout Nathan Palmer for a spot on either the active roster or the practice squad. Owusu started strong in Week 1 of the preseason, catching three balls on three targets.

However, the last couple of weeks have not been as kind, in terms of both production and playing time. He only caught one pass on three targets against the Texans and in Denver he didn't see a single pass come his way. 

Luckily for him, it sounds like he will see plenty of playing time on Thursday night. All of his production has come when quarterback Scott Tolzien is in the game, so it will be essential for those two to get it going early if either want a shot at remaining with the 49ers after tomorrow's game. 

On this play Owusu runs a nice eight-yard hitch route that allows him to pick up a total of 14 on the play. He displayed the ability to catch the ball out in front of him and turn upfield for an additional six yards.


Scott Tolzien

It will be truly interesting to see how many quarterbacks the 49ers end up keeping as they go into the season. I've seen anywhere from two to four depending on the news outlet. The well respected Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee believes they will only keep two quarterbacks, but I find that hard to believe.  

Keeping Tolzien over Josh Johnson would be the best decision as he has shown more ability in limited action. There are plenty of teams hungry for a No. 3 quarterback who they can develop, so there is no way he would pass through waivers unclaimed. 

It would be ideal for the 49ers if they could stash him on the practice squad, however, I don't see that happening with his improved play overall. Johnson was thought to have the leg-up when he was signed back in March, yet his performance hasn't lived up to the expectations of the coaching staff.

One of Tolzien's best attributes is his smarts and ability to read a defense. Against Minnesota, one of his most impressive throws was on a simple 11-yard crossing route to tight end Garrett Celek. The timing of the throw was impeccable and he couldn't have made a better read.