Five key players to keep an eye on during today’s 49ers preseason opener vs. the Ravens in Baltimore:
• Carlos Hyde, RB, No. 28: Frank Gore could make a quick cameo to start the game. Or he could sit out like he did last season. Either way, Hyde, a second-round pick, will get plenty of carries and will be in the spotlight. He’s looked good in practice the last two weeks, albeit against defenses that weren’t allowed to tackle or hit him. The Ravens won’t give him that courtesy.
• Jimmie Ward, DB, No. 25: The first-round draft pick could play at two spots – nickel cornerback and free safety. Ward has been everything the 49ers hoped when they took him with the 30th pick in May. He’s quick and always around the ball. And one of his best attributes – his willingness to hit ball carriers – should be on display in Baltimore.
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He’s taken every first-team snap at right guard since the spring – while Alex Boone has held out for a better contract – and Looney has looked solid at every step. He likely will play a little more than longtime starters such as Joe Staley and Mike Iupati. Looney’s performance will play a key role in what the 49ers do with Boone.
•Chris Culliver, CB, No. 29:
Culliver’s last game was against the Ravens, and it was his worst NFL performance. How he defends the deep ball, a weakness in 2011 and 2012 and especially in the Super Bowl, remains a question mark. He’s come back from an ACL injury a year ago but missed some recent practices. It’s unknown whether he’ll play against Baltimore.
•Jonathan Martin, RT, No. 71:
Martin may not be at full strength after mononucleosis sidelined him in the spring. He’s been pushed around – badly at times – by some of the 49ers’ defensive ends, and the Ravens’ pass rushers will give him plenty to handle, too. He’ll start at right tackle in place of Anthony Davis (shoulder). With Boone missing, Martin is the top backup at both tackle spots and he could see action at left tackle after Staley exits the game.