It’s the oh-so-very-important third game of the preseason, and Kyle Shanahan wants his 49ers starters on Sunday to play the first half when the team visits the Minnesota Vikings, perhaps a little more if he doesn’t like what he sees early on.
“I’ll get a feel at halftime what we want to do in the third quarter,” the coach said.
Now that Eli Harold has been anointed the starter at strong-side linebacker, the team has few compelling roster battles. Coaches still must pick a couple of backup running backs from a group that is bunched together. The same could be said of tight ends and receivers.
Safety Jimmie Ward (hamstring) will not play after rejoining practice this week. It’s hard to see DeForest Buckner (ankle), Aaron Lynch (ankle) and Ronald Blair (groin) getting any significant work, either.
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Some other story lines:
Where’s the push? – More than anything else, Shanahan wants to be able to run the ball, something the first-team offense has had a hard time doing so far. Penalties and turnovers have interrupted the team’s flow in the first two games. Sunday will be the best opportunity before the games count to build a steady rhythm. The interior offensive line should get plenty of scrutiny. To this point, defenders have been beating linemen off the line of scrimmage and clogging the running lanes of the 49ers’ tailbacks.
Who’s No. 2? – While the 49ers insist C.J. Beathard and Matt Barkley remain neck and neck to be Brian Hoyer’s backup, it’s clear that Beathard has all the momentum. To this point in the preseason, Beathard has looked like a multi-year pro, not a wide-eyed rookie, and another calm, cool outing may sew up the competition. If that’s the case, the question becomes: Do the 49ers keep two or three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster?
Get an eyeful – Undrafted rookie Lorenzo Jerome has looked good in his first two starts at free safety and should get a third against the Vikings. One area in which he needs to be careful: Following the quarterback’s eyes. A savvy passer can use his eyes to steer the free safety in the wrong direction, something Alex Smith did to Jerome in the team’s preseason opener. Minnesota’s Sam Bradford also has plenty of experience and should be another good test and learning experience for San Francisco’s up-and-coming free safety.