5 Key Players to Watch in San Francisco 49ers' 3rd Preseason Game
The San Francisco 49ers enter Week 3 of the preseason with a few questions left to be answered. Up to this point the starters have not seen a lot of action in exhibition play, especially on offense, and some playing time is still up for grabs at a few critical backup positions.
Traditionally speaking, the third preseason game has been considered the most important, serving as a dress rehearsal for the beginning of the regular season. The starters get more playing time than usual and one last chance to really work out the kinks in live-game action before the regular season.
So who's going to step up and earn their positioning entering the regular season? How will the starters look after being held under wraps for most of the last two weeks?
With those questions in mind, here are five players worth watching as the 49ers enter the showcase game on Sunday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings.
QB Colin Kaepernick
Kaepernick doesn't have much to earn or gain through this game, and you could even argue that the 49ers have more to lose by allowing him to play. Coach Jim Harbaugh certainly seems to buy into that theory based on Kaepernick's playing time so far, as well as the appearance of a black no-contact jersey in practice on Wednesday.
ESPN's Ron Jaworski made waves this week by saying that Kaepernick could be "one of the greatest quarterbacks ever" when it's all said and done. While only time will tell on that lofty praise, we haven't seen much at all of the 49ers' star quarterback in 2013.
In fact, Kaepernick has thrown only six passes in two drives over the first two games. A line of 5-of-6 for 35 yards isn't going to scare anybody, but with wide receiver Michael Crabtree likely out for the majority of the season, we don't really know who's going to step up in his absence.
It's no secret that Crabtree was Kaepernick's go-to-guy in his first season at the helm. And while you'd like to see how Kaepernick is coming along with the rest of the receiving corps, the 49ers cannot afford a freak injury.
Judging by the way the backup QBs have played thus far and the signing of veteran QB Seneca Wallace, maybe we don't want to see much of Kap after all.
FS Eric Reid
Eric Reid has played pretty well this preseason, and he might finally get his chance to make a statement against the Vikings. Word out of camp is that Reid will see more time with the first-string defense to get a read on his potential for the regular season.
Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio told The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows that Reid will "probably" start this Sunday night. For Reid, this game offers a great chance to prove his worth as Dashon Goldson's potential replacement in 2013.
A rookie has never started for the 49ers defense under Fangio, but if Reid does start as indicated, he will face a playoff-caliber team with several offensive weapons. The Vikings will trot out MVP running back Adrian Peterson along with new wide receivers Greg Jennings and rookie Cordarrelle Patterson more than enough to test the young safety.
With that type of competition, a good effort from Reid could go a long way toward ensuring he takes the field with the starters in Week 1.
WR Kyle Williams
It's been a long road back for Williams after a late-season injury last year, and he has yet to see the field this preseason despite taking part in most of camp. Based on this tweet that Williams sent out before the second preseason game at Kansas City, he should be in action for a long-awaited return on Sunday night.
With Michael Crabtree shelved for at least the time being, Williams is the longest-tenured active 49ers receiver entering Week 1 and also should have an inside track at significant playing time this season. Most eyes will be on the newly acquired Jon Baldwin, but Williams is the wide receiver worth watching.
Baldwin will be taking the field with less than a week in San Francisco's system, so expectations should be low for his output. Williams, on the other hand, knows the system and has a prior rapport with Colin Kaepernick, which makes him more likely to see starting snaps early in the regular season.
If Williams can stay healthy, he has the potential for a breakout season in 2013. He has the speed to be a dangerous weapon and has shown flashes in the past. He'll probably never have a better opportunity to show it than he does entering this season.
CB Nnamdi Asomugha
Reports earlier this month indicated that Asomugha was in danger of missing the cut completely, but strong preseason play has put him in competition for the third cornerback job. With Chris Culliver lost for the season earlier in training camp, Asomugha and Tramaine Brock are the leading candidates to take over.
According to The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows, Brock was given the early edge for the job, but Asomugha has quickly closed the gap in the last two weeks. With that in mind, this represents a great opportunity to put himself ahead for good.
Asomugha has plenty of monetary incentive to earn extra snaps this season, and this week's game should allow him to put some separation between Brock and Perrish Cox. Another good outing could lock up a fair share of playing time on passing downs this season.
RB Kendall Hunter
According to Taylor Price of 49ers.com, Hunter is expected to return this week after a November 25th Achilles injury ended his 2012 season. Hunter has reportedly looked good in practices and drills, but it remains to be seen how much he will be used in his first game back.
Running back LaMichael James has been hit or miss for most of the preseason, showing some great flashes as a runner but struggling on other carries and additionally in pass protection. James played reasonably well as a rookie after Hunter went down last season and represents his biggest competition to be Frank Gore's primary backup.
If Hunter can show the skills he did while averaging 5.2 yards per carry last season, he should have no problem easing back into the lineup. Having more options also makes the 49ers ground attack more threatening overall, which will greatly benefit an offense with injury-plagued passing options.
No matter how much he plays, however, one thing remains certain: It'll be very exciting to see No. 32 back in action in red and gold.