Thursday’s preseason finale between the 49ers and Chargers will have the feel of a college all-star game.
With most of the teams’ starters cheering from the bench, the game will be filled with rookies and young free agents, most of whom will be fighting for one of the last spots on a 53-man roster, a spot on the practice squad or auditioning for the 31 other NFL teams.
The 49ers already have a good idea of who will compose their regular-season roster. But there are still some battles going on. Among them:
Running back roundup – Carlos Hyde will begin the season as the 49ers’ starting tailback and the team will hold onto fourth-round pick Joe Williams. An undrafted rookie, Matt Breida, has been consistently impressive since the spring. If Breida also makes the team, who’s left? Raheem Mostert jumped out in San Francisco’s third preseason game Sunday and he also has good value on special teams. But would the 49ers keep three youngsters behind Hyde? Veteran Tim Hightower is the choice if they opt for experience. He may be one of the few multiyear veterans who plays extensively against the Chargers.
Tight end trio or twosome? – Most teams keep three tight ends on their roster. The 49ers definitely will hang onto rookie George Kittle. After that, it’s a toss up. Free-agent acquisition Logan Paulsen probably will make the team because he is a strong blocker and offers a veteran complement to Kittle. Garrett Celek doesn’t jump out in any one facet of the game but he does everything well, including special teams. He could land the job of third tight end. Another scenario: With fullback Kyle Juszczyk lining up at tight end at times, the 49ers could hang onto only two true tight ends in 2017.
Snap judgments – Undrafted rookie Erik Magnuson played tackle for Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. The 49ers moved him to center and guard this year and he’s been steadily moving up in the pecking order. He played center on the team’s second-team offensive line against the Vikings and likely will be busy Thursday as well. He’s competing against veteran Tim Barnes to be the 49ers’ top backup at guard and center early in the season while Joshua Garnett is recovering from knee surgery. Do the 49ers gamble with an undrafted rookie at that spot or go with a known quantity in Barnes?