Vikings at 49ers: Who to Watch

The third preseason game usually carries the most weight for teams looking to finalize their rosters. For the 49ers, most of the starting jobs appear to be set. But there remain some interesting battles that are worth keeping an eye on in Sunday night's game when they host the Minnesota Vikings. Inside we break down a few noteworthy competitions.

Nickel Corner

The San Francisco 49ers spent the majority of the time in nickel with three corners on the field in 2012. That trend should continue, as teams will look to spread the defense out and look for mismatches in space. Nnamdi Asomugha and Tramaine Brock have been competing for the job as third cornerback since Chris Culliver tore his ACL in the beginning of training camp.

Vic Fangio said one of the players has emerged as the front-runner for now, but he wouldn't divulge which one. Brock has seen the early snaps with the first team in the first two exhibition games, but that might not be an indicator of how the competition is going.

Asomugha has played well in the first two games, allowing just one catch in coverage on three targets. To this point, he's played in 28 snaps while Brock has played 42. Brock has allowed two receptions in on four targets for 18 yards.

With the third preseason game being the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for the regular season, there's a good chance the favorite for the spot will get time with the first unit. Carlos Rogers said he expects starters to play more than they had during the first two games. Rogers and Tarell Brown have both only played in eight snaps combined.

Asomugha and Brock are very different corners, which the 49ers could use to their advantage by trying to utilize matchups. Brown has seen time at nickel in practice for the first time in three seasons and could be used against smaller, quicker slot receivers (see: Austin, Tavon). If a team has a taller, more physical receiver on the outside, Asomugha might be the better matchup. For more athletic receivers, Brock would be the choice.

Perrish Cox shouldn't be overlooked. He's been one of the defenses' best players in the preseason going against second and third stringers. The Bronco's former fifth-round pick in 2010 backed up Rogers in the slot in his one season in San Francisco, but has a background playing on the outside. He'll likely break camp as the team's fifth corner and is valuable considering his versatility to play both inside and out. Cox could see a lot of playing time should a corner suffer an injury.

Backup Quarterback

The 49ers brought in Seneca Wallace this week to compete for the backup quarterback job after Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien have played poorly to this point. Acquiring Wallace doesn't bode well for McCoy, who's making $1.5 this season, a number far too high for a third-stringer. The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported San Francisco was trying to trade him Sunday morning. If they can't find any takers, his release seems likely.

The 49ers weren't going to keep five quarterbacks around, anyway. McCoy is making more than Tolzien and B.J. Daniels combined, making him the easiest player to let go.

Sunday could go a long way toward figuring out who will land the No. 3 job and who will be released or sent to the practice squad. Tolzien is entering his third year with the team and is the most familiar with the offense. The 49ers elected to keep Tolzien last season over Josh Johnson and might not be willing to make the same mistake twice. If Daniels has another strong performance against the Vikings, it could go a long way toward earning a spot on the 53-man roster. And given his ability to play multiple positions, he could be a useful player to keep active on game day.

Both Tolzien and Daniels are eligible for the practice squad.

Free Safety

Fangio said Eric Reid is likely to start Sunday for the first time as pro. Craig Dahl has gotten the node in the first two exhibition tilts while Reid has played in 86 snaps as a backup.

Reid has played well to this point, although the defense hasn't been tested deep with him on the field. Getting time against the Vikings first-string offense could change that as the first-round pick prepares for a potential Week 1 start against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. To this point, quarterbacks have not passed to a player Reid has covered.

Reid has made five tackles in his two games, but his best play might have come against Alex Smith and the Chiefs when he blitzed and forced an incompletion on third-and-three from the 49ers' 4 yard-line.

Receiver

What was once the most difficult position to handicap, the 49ers appear to have a grasp on who will round out the receiving corps when the regular season starts. Opposite Anquan Boldin, the team appears comfortable with Marlon Moore and Kyle Williams. It would take a disastrous two games for newcomer Jon Baldwin to not make the roster and Quinton Patton is a near lock to make it, although he will probably not be active on game days to start year. Patton has been fully cleared to play and will likely make his 49ers debut against Minnesota.

But an injury could change things and open the door for Austin Collie, Lavelle Hawkins, Chad Hall, Kassim Osgood or Chuck Jacobs. Ricardo Lockette was released this week to make room for Wallace.

Of the remaining five, Osgood could have the best chance to make the team given his special teams production. Since Moore started the first preseason game, he hasn't gotten any reps at gunner in punt coverage; where Osgood excels.

Collie is a player to watch Sunday as he continues to get back to full speed after last season's patella injury. He won't contribute on special teams like Osgood, but he's the only receiver on the team with any track record outside Boldin and could be valuable in the slot.

*Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used in this story.*


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