5 burning questions for 49ers’ preseason week 1

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa works against offensive guard Aaron Banks takes part in drills at an NFL football training camp in Santa Clara, Calif., Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

The 49ers kick off their 2021 preseason slate on Saturday night when the Kansas City Chiefs visit Santa Clara. Here are five burning questions to keep an eye on throughout the game: 

1. How will the revamped offensive line perform?

The 49ers invested heavily in their offensive line during the offseason. After struggling throughout 2020 with inconsistency in the middle, San Francisco made the move to add Alex Mack during free agency. The addition of the veteran center should help provide a boost to this group. Mack has experience in Kyle Shanahan’s system which will help with getting the correct assignments called out at the line of scrimmage.

With Mack in the fold, Daniel Brunskill has been able to focus primarily on the right guard position which should pay dividends. After bouncing back and forth between center and guard a season ago, Brunskill has been able to settle in at right guard during training camp.

The starting offense is only expected to play about one series. When the second team hits the field fans will be able to get their first look at the second-round draft pick, Aaron Banks, at right guard and fifth-round draft pick Jaylon Moore at left tackle in addition to the 2020 fifth-round draft pick Colton McKivitz at left guard.

At 6’5” and 338 pounds, Banks is not the size of the prototypical guard in Kyle Shanahan’s offense but has shown the ability that made him a standout at Notre Dame, where he was simply dominant as a pass protector. In addition to his pass blocking, Banks has done a very good job of opening holes in the run game throughout training camp.
Moore is competing with Shon Coleman for the swing tackle role and appears to be the front runner. Moore and McKivitz both have the ability to play guard and tackle. That type of versatility is needed for a group that will likely carry only eight onto the final 53-man roster.

Banks, Moore and McKivitz should face a very stiff test, especially early on. It is expected that the young group will face most of the starting Chiefs’ defense through the first quarter.

2. How is the third wide receiver position shaking out?

Mohamed Sanu has been the front runner for the third wide receiver position during the early part of training camp. The veteran impressed coaches and teammates by coming into camp in excellent shape.

The primary competition to Sanu may be Trent Sherfield. The former Arizona Cardinals special teams ace has turned heads since the pads came on. Sherfield has shown the ability to make plays at all levels of the field, including a number of contested catches over the middle.

The other receivers to keep an eye on Saturday night will be Jauan Jennings, River Cracraft and Richie James. Jennings has been impressive since rejoining the team after starting camp on the reserve/Covid-19 list. Cracraft is often overlooked, but has routinely been receiving snaps with the first team offense and has made a number of big plays in recent practices. James on the other hand has been struggling to catch the ball thus far in camp.

Kyle Shanahan has ruled Jalen Hurd out.

3. Is the defensive line as good as advertised?

The defensive line has been the biggest story throughout the early stages of training camp. There are easily more than ten players talented enough to make the roster, setting up some tough decisions for the 49ers coaching staff and front office.

Having looked dominant facing their own team, going up against the Kansas City front should provide a good litmus test for the strength of this unit.

Nick Bosa and Dee Ford along with Samson Ebukam have already been ruled out for Saturday’s contest. It is also unlikely that Javon Kinlaw and Arden Key will play, both have been nursing injuries.

With many of the starters out, role players such as Jordan Willis, Maurice Hurst, Zach Kerr, Kevin Givens and Ryan Yarbrough will get plenty of opportunities to show if they have what it takes.

4. Can the secondary depth hold up?

While the starters have shown to be very good, one area of concern for the 49ers early in training camp has been the depth of the secondary.

Former undrafted free agent Jared Mayden and 2021 sixth round draft pick Talanoa Hufanga are currently backing up starting safeties Jimmy Ward and Tavon Wilson. On the outside, the 49ers have another rookie, Ambry Thomas backing up Emmanuel Moseley and Dontae Johnson playing behind Jason Verrett. Out of this group, only Johnson has ever played a snap during a regular season game in the NFL.

5. What will the running back rotation be?

Raheem Mostert will be the starter and rookie Trey Sermon will be the primary backup. Beyond that, the running back room is a little bit of a mystery. Free-agent acquisition Wayne Gallman would seem like a natural to fill the third spot, but rookie Elijah Mitchell has made big play after big play on a regular basis during camp. Don’t forget about JaMycal Hasty either. The second year back appears to have put on some muscle and has been impressive over the last few days. How this group settles in will be a fun battle to watch.

Bonus Question: How is the quarterback competition going?

You didn’t think I had gone crazy and forgot about the quarterbacks, did you?

Here is what we know as of right now. Jimmy Garoppolo will be playing with the starting unit and is expected to play only one series; however, this may change if that ends up being a three and out.

Trey Lance will then come on with the entire second unit. Kyle Shanahan stated yesterday that Lance will finish out the first half, and may play a bit into the third quarter. This is all dependent on the number of snaps the offense gets in the first half. The goal is for Lance to finish the game with around 30 total.

The second half? That’s anyone’s guess. Neither Josh Rosen nor Nate Sudfeld have been able to create any separation from the other as both have been inconsistent. This battle, while seemingly inconsequential could prove to be very important. If Trey Lance proves to be capable of giving the 49ers the best chance of winning, Rosen or Sudfeld could find themselves as the backup quarterback this season.

Jack Hammer is a lifelong 49ers fan who shares insights on the team, and leads discussions on all football and team topics. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackHammer_NFL and subscribe to his YouTube Channel, YouTube.com/c/JackHammer49.

This article has 13 Comments

  1. 6. How will Ryans’ defensive schematics differ from Saleh’s?

    Sudfeld will send Rosen to doing inflatable hot tub commercials.

  2. Watching Fields on da Bears, he pressed a bit early trying to make something happen. Will Trey make that mistake tonight?
    Inspiring minds want to know…..

  3. Ok I think its pretty simple, Jimmy G needs to start the season at QB1. Lance should be ready to step in after the bye if needed. We put the ball on the ground too much tonight that needs to be cleaned up. Jack are you going to be online during games this year?

  4. My grades for the Niners first preseason game:

    QB: Jimmy started, and was his usual dink and dunk self. Same Jimmy he’s always been (post knee injury), so he gets a C. Trey struggled because Kyle hates preparing for preseason games. Fortunately, Trey didn’t get hurt, and I consider that a win because Kyle failed to protect his young QB. If the WR’s didn’t let Trey down, and Kyle had actually bothered to put his young QB in a position to succeed, he likely would have, because he’s a really talented QB. But his Head Coach failed him, so I can only give Trey a B-/C+.

    RB: Solid, if unspectacular. Hasty shined in the second half, so that bumps the overall grade up to another B-.

    OL: What a sham! If the 49ers suffer injuries to their starters along their OL, I am not sure they have enough depth to survive, and that’s a real shame! Grade F!

    WR: Way too many drops tonight! If Richie James Jr. is still on the team come preseason week 2, he should consider himself lucky. Jauan Jennings plays hard, and Sherfield is surprisingly good, so I give them a B-, despite the drops.

    DL: Deep, and talented. However they were merely average tonight, missing all of those starters, so I give them a C+.

    LB: We know Fred Warner is the best MIKE in the NFL, and the Niners appear to have a fantastic backup for him as well, in Jonas Griffith. This is another talented and deep group, IMO, and they played pretty well tonight, worthy of a B+.

    Safety: Hufanga is one of the smartest young Safeties I’ve ever seen. He’s said to be one of the hardest workers on the team, and it shows. Tartt may have played his last snap, so Tavon Wilson will need to continue to play like a savvy veteran, and when healthy, Jimmie Ward is one of the best FS in the league. Tonight the group was a solid B+, in large part thanks to Hufanga!

    CB: Meh. We’ll see. If Verrett and Williams can stay healthy (knock on wood), they have a chance to be pretty darn good, especially if the Niners pass rush does it’s job. Tonight they graded out decently with a B-.

    Special Teams: Awful! Simba Webster was the lone special teamer who actually looked like an NFL player tonight, and that’s not good enough. Grade is D-.

    Coaching: Ryans coached well, but Coach Shanahan failed Trey Lance tonight, IMO, and Hightower’s Special Teams were so bad, he has to be considered on the hot seat. Aside from Ryan’s, the coaching tonight was a letdown tonight, and barely worthy of a passing D+ grade.

    1. You are really into Shanahan now. Can you be specific about what you are upset about. As for the O line, I agree they played poorly but the O line is always the last group to gel. They will get better and I noticed that Rosen only had 1 sack to Lance’s 4 sacks so maybe Lance needs to speed up his decisions.
      Overall it was entertaining, and I enjoyed seeing both Lance and Rosen play. Lance’s arm is even more impressive than I previously thought.

      1. >>Lance’s arm is even more impressive than I previously thought.


        As I posted elsewhere, on that 80 yd TD play I’ve never seen a wobbler with that much velocity on it.

      2. Besides the TD pas I was highly underimpressed with Lance, especially after all the hype. It looks like he has one highlight in him and then misses easy targets. He looked scared actually and his stats prove it; 5-14, 128 yards, 1 TD, 4 sacks. Yes it is his debut but nothing to get excited about .
        4 sacks are not entirely on him but he was heralded as ” the one that can get away with his quick feet”
        5-14 IS on him. He missed easy targets, made bad decisions and was shaken up after his first hit.
        Let’s hope it gets better but right now he looks young and inexperienced.

    2. Kyle didn’t protect his young QB. Only called a couple plays designed to get Trey outside the pocket, and when he did, the kid delivered. Most of the plays Kyle called were longer developing plays that kept Trey inside the pocket, despite the fact that the Chiefs were collapsing the pocket on every play. The Chiefs didn’t respect the run while Trey was in there, because Kyle failed to establish it, and refused to play to Trey’s strength, and the results were Steve Spagnolo having his DL pin their ears back and rush the QB with reckless abondon. Trey was on track to be sacked 11 times (if he had played 4 QTRS) and there isn’t a QB in the league that would have played well under those conditions. It was as if Kyle wanted his young QB to struggle, because any QB will struggle being asked to operate from a quickly collapsing pocket on nearly every play! And sure enough, he got rattled, like any QB would (being sacked 11 times in one game), including Brady .

      Epic fail for Kyle’s playcalling, in terms of Trey’s development! He deserved an F as far as I am concerned!. He’s lucky he didn’t get his prized draft pick’s head knocked off!

      1. I think Shanahan has proven himself again and again and is rightfully considered one of the top coaches in the NFL. Trey will hopefully become highly successful, but he is clearly not ready yet.

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