The 49ers’ starters figure to be on the field longer Saturday against Denver than they were in the first two warmup games. And a handful of players seem poised to make their 2015 debuts. Here are 10 players to watch against the Broncos:
OLB Corey Lemonier, No. 96
The former third-round pick has gone from Mr. Disposable to Mr. Indispensable. Lemonier hasn’t had many flashy plays in training camp or the preseason for two straight years. But with Aldon Smith off the roster and Ahmad Brooks banished, Lemonier is one of the few experienced outside linebackers. Look for him to start on the right side.
Former third-round pick Corey Lemonier has gone from Mr. Disposable to Mr. Indispensable.
G Ian Silberman, No. 62
From sixth-round pick to starter? That’s what Silberman, perhaps the least ballyhooed of the team’s 10 draft picks this year, is trying to accomplish. Silberman lined up at the troublesome right guard spot during joint sessions this week with the Broncos. Marcus Martin, the right guard in the most recent games, is now at center.
RB Kendall Hunter, No. 32
Hunter, recovered from last summer’s ACL injury, has received most of the carries in practice this week. He figures to make his preseason debut and even get a long tuneup for the regular season. Along with Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush, he’s one of the 49ers’ top three options at running back.
ILB Michael Wilhoite, No. 57
Wilhoite, who missed the first three weeks of training camp with a calf strain, already seemed poised to start at inside linebacker. That was reinforced when Nick Moody suffered what’s believed to be a minor left knee injury in Thursday’s practice. The question is whether NaVorro Bowman will get more preseason action or whether Shayne Skov will fill in.
WR Torrey Smith, No. 82
No, he hasn’t played a lot of snaps in the preseason. But 11 players have caught passes for the 49ers this preseason, and Smith, the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition, is not one of them. The 49ers would like nothing more than one Colin Kaepernick-to-Smith connection to send a statement and build confidence before the regular season.
The 49ers would like nothing more than one Colin Kaepernick-to-Torrey Smith connection to send a statement and build confidence before the regular season.
WR Quinton Patton, No. 11
Patton had one of the highlights of Sunday’s victory over the Cowboys when he blocked a punt and gathered it for a touchdown. The play was just as impressive as Patton’s catch for a 12-yard loss was head-shaking. The 49ers hope Patton can be their No. 3 receiver, but he needs to make better decisions.
S Jimmie Ward, No. 25
Like Hunter and Wilhoite, Ward could play for the first time this preseason. He has looked fast in practice and appears to have adjusted to the protective shell he wears on one of his cleats. However, he has not been playing any nickel cornerback, a role that will be manned by Tramaine Brock and Keith Reaser at least early in the regular season.
CB Kenneth Acker, No. 20
As he did last preseason, Acker is playing his best as the regular season approaches. His rookie season last year was cut short by a stress fracture in his foot. This year, he appears to be one of the 49ers’ top five cornerbacks along with Brock, Shareece Wright, Reaser and Dontae Johnson.
TE Busta Anderson, No. 48
The team’s seventh-round pick this year is on the roster bubble. But he had a strong game Sunday against Dallas and should play a lot in Denver. The 49ers have traded two tight ends, and a third, Vance McDonald, is out with an ankle injury.
RB/PR Jarryd Hayne, No. 38
His feats in the return game have been the highlight of the 49ers’ preseason, and he’s dueling with Denver’s Ronnie Hillman for the preseason rushing title. Hillman, listed as Denver’s No. 3 tailback, leads Hayne by three yards but has three more carries.