The San Francisco 49ers kick off the preseason on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Raiders at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Most of the starters will not participate following heavy work during joint practices with the Raiders on Thursday and Friday; however, there are still plenty of storylines heading into the contest.
Here is what to look for Sunday afternoon against the Raiders.
Trey Lance and Sam Darnold have spent training camp embroiled in a competition to be the backup to Brock Purdy.
Darnold held the lead after the first few practices, however that’s changed over the last couple weeks. Lance spent the offseason working with Jeff Christensen to improve his mechanics. That work has paid off as Lance has strung together a series of strong practices.
As a result, 49ers head coach has named Lance the starter for Sunday. The expectation is he will play the first half and Darnold will get the second half.
San Francisco traded up to select the former Penn State safety with the 87th overall selection in the 2023 NFL draft.
Known for his playmaking ability in college, Brown had not made very many plays on the ball throughout the offseason program and training camp. He finally broke through with an interception of Darnold during Tuesday’s session.
Despite the lack of big plays, Brown has been in position to make several stops against the run around the line of scrimmage. Brown’s teammates have talked about his physical style of play. With tackling not allowed during practices, Sunday will be the first opportunity to see this on full display in a 49ers uniform.
Jordan Mason & Ty Davis-Price
Christian McCaffrey is the unquestioned starting running back for San Francisco. This coupled with the fact Elijah Mitchell can’t stay healthy means we should see a heavy dose of Mason and Davis-Price on Sunday.
Last season Mason went from undrafted free agent to the back Kyle Shanahan turned to at the end of games. The second year back has been solid throughout camp while showing improvement in the passing game.
As for Davis-Price, the 2022 third round pick looks like a different player. Already a powerful rusher, a full offseason in an NFL strength and conditioning program has helped Davis-Price add muscle. He also has shown improved vision. Instead of running up the backs of his offensive linemen Davis-Price looks to be seeing the hole better which has allowed him to use his explosiveness.
Nick Bosa has yet to show up to camp as his agent and the 49ers continue to work out a new contract for the 2022 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The team is also looking to replace Samson Ebukam, Charles Omenihu and Jordan Willis after losing the three to free agency.
Drake Jackson is expected to replace Ebukam as the starter opposite Bosa. He is currently dealing with a hamstring injury and will not play on Sunday.
San Francisco added Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant during free agency to fill the void left by the other two departures.
A former first round pick of the Raiders, Ferrell has demonstrated an ability to set the edge in the run game. Now we need to see if he can get after the passer as well.
This is also the case for Bryant. The former Detroit Lion has looked explosive during camp when healthy. Now we need to see how it translates to games.
Colton McKivitz has stepped in at right tackle to replace Mike McGlinchey who went to Denver in free agency. While this is a positive development for the starting group it has left San Francisco with a hole at swing tackle.
The competition here is between Jaylon Moore and free agent addition Matt Pryor. Moore has missed several practices as a result of a knee injury and will not play against the Raiders.
Moore’s injury puts the spotlight on Pryor who to this point has been focusing on right tackle. A solid game from the veteran could go a long way in tightening up the competition for a roster spot.
Rookie Tight Ends
The 49ers looked to upgrade at tight end behind George Kittle with the selections of Cameron Latu and Brayden Willis during the draft.
Latu has looked solid as a blocker and route runner during camp. However, the third round selection has struggled with drops.
Meanwhile, Willis has done a good job of holding onto the ball while working to improve as a blocker. During Friday’s practice, he got open down the middle for a big reception from Brock Purdy.
If these two can step up it may mean the end of the line for Charlie Woerner and Ross Dwelley in San Francisco.
Wide Receiver competition
Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings and Danny Gray are virtual locks to make the 49ers roster.
Ray-Ray McCloud would have been included as well if not for a fractured wrist suffered during Tuesday’s practice in Santa Clara. This leaves at least one roster spot open for rookie Ronnie Bell, Willie Snead, Tay Martin, or Chris Conley.
Bell has been coming on recently after a quiet start to training camp as have veteran Willie Snead while Martin and Conley have been steady throughout. All four will provide solid targets for Lance and Darnold on Sunday.
The 49ers are loaded at linebacker. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are among the best in the business and the depth behind them will be tough to sort through.
In addition to veterans Oren Burks, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, and Curtis Robinson the 49ers have Marcelino McCrary-Ball along with draft picks Dee Winters and Jalen Graham.
With San Francisco likely to carry just five or six, it would not be a surprise to see one or two of these players be traded before the cutdown to 53. That’s how good this group is.
Ambry Thomas and D’Shawn Jamison
The 49ers top three cornerbacks during training camp have been Charvarius Ward, Deommodore Lenoir and Samuel Womack. This likely leaves one spot on the roster at the position.
Thomas had a down year last season after starting down the stretch for San Francisco as a rookie. He has been given a long look during camp. Despite often being in position to make a play, Thomas has struggled to win at the catch point.
San Francisco added Jamison as an undrafted free agent. The former Texas Longhorn has earned praise from teammates and the coaching staff for his strong play during camp. Jamison is a physical corner who also can return kicks.
San Francisco raised some eyebrows when they selected a kicker in the third round of the draft. The former Michigan Wolverine has been impressive in camp. During Tuesday’s practice in Santa Clara, he hit twice from 60 yards out.
Another area to watch when to comes to Moody is his ability to force touchbacks on kickoffs. Forcing opposing offenses to consistently start from their own 25 would provide the defense better starting field position. This could in turn help the offense the same way.