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San Francisco 49ers: What to Watch For in Their Next 3 Preseason Games

Baily DeeterSenior Writer IIIOctober 7, 2016

San Francisco 49ers: What to Watch For in Their Next 3 Preseason Games

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    The San Francisco 49ers have very few question marks, but they aren't perfect.

    Three preseason games remain, and in those games, position battles will be sorted out and roster spots will be awarded. Some players have impressed so far, but others still need to make their case for starting or cracking the 53-man roster.

    Which players and which position battles should you pay attention to?

The Secondary Battles

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    The 49ers have a star-studded team, but that adjective doesn't apply to the secondary.

    There are a plethora of vacant positions in the secondary, starting at free safety. Dashon Goldson's departure opened up a gaping hole, one that the 49ers attempted to fill by drafting safety Eric Reid. Reid impressed with a solid six-tackle showing last Thursday against the Denver Broncos, and he should lock up one spot in the secondary.

    However, if he underwhelms the team in the final three preseason games, C.J. Spillman or Craig Dahl could seize the starting free safety job. Spillman electrified Candlestick Park with some nice plays Thursday, and Dahl, who started on Thursday, is an obvious candidate as well.

    If Dahl outplays Reid, he could start in Week 1. Reid has the edge due to his draft status and solid Thursday performance, but the battle is still worth watching.

    While it is significant, it isn't the most prominent position battle in the secondary. That honor belongs to the cornerback battle, one in which there are plenty of serviceable candidates. Tarell Brown will likely assume one of the starting cornerback spots, but the nickelback role (which Brown could step into at times) and the second and third cornerback jobs are all up for grabs.

    Nnamdi Asomugha, Perrish Cox, Carlos Rogers, Eric Wright and Tramaine Brock could all fill those holes. Brock, Cox and Asomugha impressed against Denver, and Rogers and Wright are proven corners. Asomugha also has a glistening track record.

    The 49ers don't have much to worry about in terms of production, as they have two exciting, young corners and three experienced corners. However, they do have to worry about sorting out the position battle, which will go down to the wire.

    Every cornerback has something to prove, and they only have three games to prove themselves.

    In fact, almost every player in the secondary has something to prove, as only one position (strong safety, where Donte Whitner plays) is solidified. In other words, there will be lots of chaos in the secondary as the preseason wraps up.

A.J. Jenkins' Performance and the Wide Receiver Competition

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    An ample amount of people thought A.J. Jenkins would break out in his second year. When Michael Crabtree went down with an Achilles injury, the door opened for Jenkins.

    Unfortunately for Jenkins, he hasn't burst through that door.

    He struggled against the Broncos, catching just one pass, fumbling and failing to prevent an interception. He was targeted three times and received a fair share of playing time, but he failed to come through. As a result, he is treading water in the team's receiver competition.

    According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, Jenkins' reps are diminishing. He won't get as many chances to prove himself in practice, so he will have to do so in the games.

    And he will also have to do that in a paucity of time.

    The unheralded Marlon Moore started over him on Thursday, and he caught a 12-yard pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Moore has clearly outplayed Jenkins in training camp, and he could even start over Jenkins in the regular season.

    While Moore isn't a flashy, big-name receiver, he deserves the starting gig. He isn't the only one, as the 49ers have a wealth of depth at receiver. They lack big names, but they don't lack players who could start over Jenkins.

    With notables like Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Austin Collie and Mario Manningham on the roster and Moore performing well, Jenkins needs to step up to receive a desirable amount of playing time. He has the potential to do so and become a star, but if he can't realize his full potential this preseason, he could be relegated to a bench role or even left off the roster.

    In other words, the 2012 first-round pick is in a dire situation worth paying attention to.

Vance McDonald, Eric Reid and San Francisco's Rookies

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    Rookies always strive to make good first impressions, and the preseason is a great way for them to do that.

    Reid and tight end Vance McDonald have both done that, and the team's other rookies haven't struggled either. Against Denver, McDonald led the team with four catches for 62 yards, and while he dropped three passes as well, his elusiveness was on display.

    McDonald impressed by breaking tackles after making catches, and Reid impressed by making tackles. Third-round pick Corey Lemonier didn't light up the stat sheet, but he showed off some impressive moves and got after Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler.

    Lemonier has a chance to make an immediate impact, and he could reel in a substantial amount of regular-season reps with a good preseason performance. He will play in the preseason, and he will be interesting to watch.

    McDonald, who, according to Niners Nation, won't play Friday, and Reid will be as well, but there isn't much to watch for from San Francisco's other draft picks. Prominent fourth-round picks Quinton Patton and Marcus Lattimore are both sidelined with injuries, and the 49ers didn't draft any notables in the later rounds.

    However, undrafted free agent and Olympic discus thrower Lawrence Okoye has garnered some attention. The versatile Okoye is too raw to make an impact this season, but he has the athletic ability to become a star down the road. The preseason will give the 49ers an idea of what he can do and how long he will take to tap into his potential.

    Reid and McDonald have already tapped into their potential, and they will unleash it in the next few games. Lemonier and Okoye aren't as polished, but their performances are still major storylines.

    In other words, the entire draft class' performance is a gripping storyline.

The Wide Receiver Battle, and How the Receivers Connect with Kaepernick

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    Kaepernick and the first-string offense excelled against Denver, and it is poised to do a lot more this season. However, it still needs to gel and display good chemistry.

    Kaepernick has only started 10 games, and he has a multitude of new targets to throw to. Because of that, chemistry between him and his pass-catchers still needs to be developed.

    While he has rock-solid chemistry with Davis and Boldin (who combined to catch three of Kaepernick's four passes), the chemistry between Kaepernick and some other receivers isn't great. The 49ers recently signed two potential starters, Collie and Lavelle Hawkins, and they have an astounding 11 receivers who have never caught a regular-season pass from Kaepernick.

    The chemistry between Kaepernick and the influx of new wideouts is a storyline, and the same goes with the chemistry between him and Manningham. As Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee noted, there is no timetable for Manningham's return. If he returns in the preseason, he will receive boatloads of attention.

    Even if he doesn't, he should return early in the regular season. Manningham will likely start at one outside receiver spot, but the 49ers will still need to fill the other. Boldin performs best in the slot, so the 49ers will need to find another serviceable outside receiver to allow him to play there.

    And if those receivers don't develop good chemistry with Kaepernick, it will plague the 49ers.

    There are plenty of serviceable receivers on San Francisco's roster, and if one or two can emerge from the pack and develop a connection with Kaepernick, it would allow the offense to avenge Crabtree's loss.

    The receiver battle is the most significant, and it will be a huge storyline throughout the preseason. Some will make their presence felt and make the roster, and others will be sent packing.

    But one thing is for sure: all of them will put up a great fight worth keeping a close eye on in the preseason's final three games.

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