The San Francisco 49ers sure know how to open their new stadium. Levi’s Stadium will host its first-ever football game on Sunday afternoon when the Denver Broncos take on the 49ers.
Although it is still only a preseason game, these two teams could meet two more times this season — they will meet in Denver on October 19th, and could very well play each other in the Super Bowl.
As we all know, the Broncos were last year’s AFC Champions, while the 49ers were a few yards away from being NFC Champions.
Although many of the same position battles that were present in last week’s preseason opener still apply, there are plenty of other things to keep an eye on.
For last week’s preview, click here.
Hyde and Dial were two of the most impressive 49ers against Baltimore, along with Tank Carradine. Patton played very few snaps, but Ellington led San Francisco in receiving yards. McDonald looked sharp with the first team offense hauling in Colin Kaepernick‘s only pass attempt for 17 yards. Looney seemed to struggle at times, but San Francisco doesn’t seem to be worried about him as Alex Boone has been involved in multiple trade rumors.
With the starters playing more snaps versus Denver, San Francisco’s starting lineup in week one versus Dallas should be a bit more clear. With the exception of right guard, all positions are set offensively, but there are still a few positions up for grabs on the defensive side of the ball.
After suffering a gruesome ankle injury, Ian Williams has been taken off the physically unable to perform list. It will still take some time for him to get back into game-shape and be ready; he’s been out for almost an entire year. Nonetheless, it’s good to see him back.
Williams’ imminent return gives the San Francisco 49ers even more depth on the defensive line. Depth is absolutely necessary there because it’s extremely important to keep both Ray McDonald and Justin Smith healthy for a playoff run. With the success of Dial and Carradine against the Ravens, San Francisco may be forced into some tough decisions.
Both Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie may get considerably fewer snaps than last season, and the former Olympian — Lawrence Okoye — seems to be the odd man out. Both Dobbs and Jerod-Eddie should showcase their talents against Denver and show the coaching staff they deserve consistent snaps.
Either way, it’s a good problem to have.
With NaVorro Bowman likely out until mid-season, Patrick Willis‘ running mate is also a question. The job is Michael Wilhoite‘s to lose because of the job he did when filling in for Willis last season. Chris Borland is sure making a case to play alongside Willis, but he could still use a great performance against Denver. Look for him to prove himself and try to steal the starting job from Wilhoite.
Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver are expected to start at cornerback for the 49ers, but because of minor injuries, they have missed many first-team repetitions. Instead, Perrish Cox and Chris Cook — who had an interception in the preseason opener — have filled in.
While Brock and Culliver will start week one in Dallas barring an injury, both Cox and Cook have plenty to compete for. Cox wants to be more than simply a special teams stud and Cook wants to resurrect his career after a disappointing stint in Minnesota. Watch for those two to compete at their highest level.
Jimmie Ward — the San Francisco 49ers’ first round draft pick — is also a player to watch. He was very impressive against Baltimore. He was beaten early, but was never heard from again. Little camera time is always good for a defensive back; it means the quarterback isn’t throwing your way.
On a team that plays nickel more than half of the time, Ward fits in perfectly. He should get plenty of playing time at the nickel cornerback spot.
Lastly, keep an eye on Blaine Gabbert. He struggled mightily in Baltimore and had many fans worried about the 49ers’ lack of depth behind Kaepernick.
Of course, most teams would struggle is their first-string quarterback succumbed to an injury, but knowing Gabbert is a capable backup may ease the minds of all involved.