To say the San Francisco 49ers have had a rough preseason would easily be an understatement.
Between the two straight embarrassing blowout losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos – the latter being a 34-0 clunker to open the brand-new Levi’s Stadium – and the embarrassing sod issues that have plagued the $1.2-billion Santa Clara venue in recent days, only one word can describe how the Niners have started 2014.
On the bright side, the 49ers’ new home venue will have been re-sodded at the time of this post, and there are still two weeks left in a preseason that essentially doesn’t matter very much for the team’s best players.
And while the Red and Gold can be excused for a preseason where they’ve been outscored 57-3, on the basis that all of the team’s quality starters have not seen anything close to significant time, that likely won’t be the case coming into this Sunday. After all, the third preseason contest has always been used as the NFL’s “dress rehearsal” game.
So, we will see QB Colin Kaepernick and Company on the field for, likely, at least a half, to iron out whatever kinks they may have with the offense. We will see how the team will cope with the continued holdout of OG Alex Boone. We will see how RB and return specialist LaMichael James comes back from a dislocated right elbow. And we will see if Jim Harbaugh’s faith in backup QB Blaine Gabbert is truly misplaced.
On the other side of the ball, we might see 1st-round pick Jimmie Ward handle duties at strong safety and free safety – SS Antoine Bethea will be held out for precautionary reasons, as a result of the concussion he sustained vs. Denver. Linebacker will also be a point of focus, as the team continues to prepare for the absences of NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith – Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland are reportedly in a “dead-heat” for Bowman’s spot.
San Francisco will get a reprieve with the San Diego Chargers, and their 29th-ranked pass defense from 2013, coming to town on Sunday. Coming off their own blowout loss to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, the Chargers look to bounce back against a 49ers defense seemingly saving its heavy ammo for the regular season. They also have the built-in excuse of minimally using their starters, but that didn’t stop head coach Mike McCoy from being upset at the poor play at CenturyLink Field.
The contest also marks a sort of homecoming for two key personnel on the Chargers. Head coach Mike McCoy grew up rooting for the 49ers in nearby Novato, California, and while this will not be the first time he will go up against his hometown team as head coach – his Chargers lost to the 49ers at Qualcomm Stadium in the 2013 preseason, 6-41 – it will mark his first game against the 49ers in the Bay Area.
Meanwhile, first-round CB Jason Verrett will see his first preseason action against the 49ers. As I have pointed out in the past, he grew up in my current hometown – Fairfield, California – and I made it no secret that I wanted his hometown team to draft him in April. We will see what kind of impact he can make – and possibly see what the Niners will be missing – with his time on the field on Sunday.
With both teams likely to play their starters for a significant amount of time on Sunday, it will serve as a possible preview for December 20, when the two teams return for a matchup at Levi’s Stadium – only then, the final score will count.