Yes, there are other story lines in Santa Clara aside from the Levi’s Stadium grass and Jarryd Hayne. Here are 10 49ers to watch – OK, Hayne is one of them – Sunday against the Cowboys.
CB Keith Reaser, No. 27
He was one of the 49ers’ first-string cornerbacks – opposite Tramaine Brock – during practice last week, and coaches want to see what he can do against some of Dallas’ best players. Reaser may be the team’s fastest cornerback. But he was injured as a rookie last season and simply needs more playing time. He should get it vs. the Cowboys.
TE Vance McDonald, No. 89
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The 49ers traded Derek Carrier to Washington on Friday. And Vernon Davis is signed only through this season. The 49ers seem to be putting a lot of faith in McDonald, a second-round pick in 2013. He has been very productive in practice lately but has been an unreliable receiver his first two seasons.
WR Quinton Patton, No. 11
The 49ers clearly want Patton to seize the role of No. 3 wide receiver now that Jerome Simpson is suspended for the first six games. They don’t have much choice. Aside from starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, the only other wideout on the roster with playing experience is Bruce Ellington, and he has been out with an injury the last two weeks.
OLB Aaron Lynch, No. 59
A fifth-round pick last year, Lynch tied for the team lead in sacks with six and was a savior at the unstable outside linebacker spot. He dealt with a back injury in the spring and didn’t return to teamwide practices until Tuesday. As soon as he gets in playing shape – he’s about 270 pounds and wants to drop another 5 pounds – he will be the unquestioned starter opposite Ahmad Brooks.
RB/PR Jarryd Hayne, No. 38
Warning to all the Aussies: Hayne may not see as many snaps at running back as he did last week because the 49ers are eager to see other young runners like Mike Davis and Kendall Gaskins. But Hayne should get just as many opportunities in the return game, where he showed the explosiveness and speed that made him a household name Down Under.
G/C Marcus Martin, No. 66
He’ll make his second straight start at guard. Martin has been the shakiest member of the 49ers’ starting five offensive linemen but has improved over time. Coaches aren’t ready to settle on a definitive group of starters yet but could soon, especially if Martin plays well against Dallas.
G Brandon Thomas, No. 60
If Martin loses his starting spot at right guard, it will be because of Thomas, who like Martin was a third-round pick last year. In the spring, Thomas still was recovering from the ACL injury that wiped out his rookie season. But he has made noticeable strides in recent weeks. Pro Football Focus gave him and fellow guard Andrew Tiller the highest grades of any 49ers lineman last week against the Texans.
DL Arik Armstead, No. 69
Glenn Dorsey likely won’t play after sitting out a week of practice because of a minor injury. That means Tony Jerod-Eddie will start at left defensive end, and Armstead, this year’s first-round pick, will enter with the second-team defense. The rookie essentially got an A-for-effort grade from coaches after the first exhibition game. They liked his hustle and smarts but not the way he wore down.
S Jaquiski Tartt, No. 29
The 49ers love Tartt’s rugged style, which the rookie showed when he darted through the Texans’ offensive line for a tackle in the backfield. He also looked strong on special teams and promises to be a stalwart there. Look for him to team with Craig Dahl and perhaps L.J. McCray, another safety and special-teams ace, in the second and third quarters.
WR DeAndrew White, No. 18
He seemed a little overeager to prove his worth in Houston, his hometown, and had a forgettable game. Still, he continues to be the most impressive rookie receiver in practice and should get one or two opportunities as a return man against the Cowboys. Look for him to settle down and step up today.