San Francisco 49ers: What We Learned from the Preseason
The preseason doesn't determine how a team will do in the regular season, but it is important for multiple reasons.
For the San Francisco 49ers, the preseason was vital. The team made trades, sorted out position battles and released the official 53-man roster after watching a multitude of quality players make their case for cracking the roster in the four preseason games.
What did we learn about the roster, and what do the preseason games mean for the team?
The 49ers Are Loaded with Depth at Wide Receiver
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Wide receiver appeared to be a monumental issue entering training camp. However, the 49ers currently appear to be jam-packed with depth at the position.
Fourth-round draft pick Quinton Patton caught six passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns in his two preseason games, shredding defenses and lighting up the stat sheet. The passionate receiver has a great connection with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and he could play a big role in 2013.
Anquan Boldin is guaranteed to play a big role at wide receiver, and tight end Vernon Davis could see some snaps there as well. The physical Jon Baldwin, who was acquired in a trade with Kansas City, could complement Boldin and Davis as well. He accrued four receptions in his two preseason games with San Francisco, totaling 34 yards.
With Baldwin, Boldin, Patton, Marlon Moore—who also impressed in the preseason—and Kyle Williams at wide receiver, the 49ers don't appear to have any problems.
Boldin is an exceptional player, Baldwin can use his physicality to haul passes in, Williams consistently thrived in training camp, Moore has solid speed and impressed in the preseason and Patton can connect with Kaepernick for deep completions.
If Patton carries over his preseason performance, and if Williams, Moore or Baldwin can come through with receptions, it would greatly benefit the 49ers. Mario Manningham will return soon, and Michael Crabtree will be back—so the receiving corps will be extremely strong by the end of the season.
And thanks to some impressive performances, we know that the group will be strong in Week 1.
Michael Wilhoite Is for Real
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No, Michael Wilhoite is not going to start at middle linebacker.
The 49ers have the benefit of having two definite stars, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman at middle linebacker, but they still need depth. They have a wealth of depth, and Wilhoite is the main reason why.
During the preseason, the linebacker piled up 20 tackles, a sack and an interception. He registered an exceptional 10 tackles in Week 1 of the preseason (against the Denver Broncos), and he came through with at least three tackles in every preseason game.
When Wilhoite goes up against first-teamers and doesn't see tons of time, his numbers won't be as impressive. However, it was encouraging to see his tackling prowess on display during the preseason.
He won't overtake Willis or Bowman, but he—along with Nick Moody and Nate Stupar—will certainly provide quality depth at linebacker. Look for Wilhoite to make his presence felt, and look for him to step up in the event of an injury.
San Francisco Is Probably the NFL's Deepest Team
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Every team has to make some hard decisions on cut day, and the 49ers had a plethora of difficult choices. As a result, they let multiple talented players go.
Players like Lavelle Hawkins, MarQueis Gray and Darryl Morris were cut by the 49ers despite impressive preseason performances. In addition, multiple players who were cut by San Francisco were picked up by other teams.
For example, Ricardo Lockette, one of the players laid off in San Francisco's first round of cuts, was locked up on waivers by the Chicago Bears. So, there were multiple 49ers players who got jobs elsewhere.
That's simply because of the enormous amount of depth in San Francisco; there is an abundance of depth at every position.
For example, the team has backups Cam Johnson and Corey Lemonier, two young, dominant outside linebackers who would likely start if they were on other teams. The two combined for three sacks against the San Diego Chargers (in Week 4 of the preseason) and five sacks in their last three games, shredding second-string defenses.
With the depth the 49ers have, injuries shouldn't be too costly. If Kaepernick goes down, it would be a cause for concern, but almost every other player is replaceable.
In other words, the unreal amount of quality depth will benefit the 49ers greatly.
Kaepernick Certainly Won't Regress
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Many think Kaepernick will fall victim to a sophomore slump, but it appears as if the only thing that can stop him is an injury.
Kaepernick's skills were on display in his limited preseason action, as he carved up defenses. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns during the preseason, throwing a touchdown in each of the team's last two games.
He reminded us that he has exceptional chemistry with his receivers, as he clicked with multiple targets. The 49ers tried to avoid unleashing him on the ground, but it's still clear that defenses have to be thinking about the run at all times.
While Kaepernick isn't a conventional quarterback, he is still a great one who can protect the ball, lead the offense and move it in multiple ways. He has ample support around him, and he has the talent to orchestrate a plethora of touchdown drives and win games.
His regular-season numbers last year were solid, and his postseason numbers were marvelous. He could even improve upon his league-leading 8.32 yards per attempt mark from last year, which accurately reflected his rapid ascension to stardom. He will certainly throw for more touchdowns and keep the ball away from defenses this year, which is all he needs to do for the 49ers to accumulate wins.
However, barring injury, he will do much, much more.