49ers at Chargers: Who to Watch

As the regular season nears, the 49ers likely have a good idea of what the 53-man roster will look like come Saturday. Inside we detail the few questions that remain heading into Thursday night's preseason finale in San Diego.

The San Francisco 49ers will likely rest a majority of their starters Thursday night against the Chargers as they prepare for the Packers Week 1. Only a few jobs remain open and the game will go a long way toward deciding which of 22 players getting cut are worth keeping on the practice squad.

Outside Linebacker

Trading Parys Haralson shook up the situation at outside linebacker which could bode well for Cam Johnson.

The team's lack of depth in 2012 might have contributed to the 49ers relying so heavily on an injured Aldon Smith - who played much of the year with a torn labrum. There's far more depth at the position a year later, thanks to the additions of rookie Corey Lemonier and free agent Dan Skuta.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio praised Johnson this week for his vast improvement in his second season after getting drafted in the seventh round last year and playing on the practice squad. Johnson is practice-squad eligible again, but might not pass through waivers should San Francisco go that route.

After struggling in the first preseason game against the Broncos, Johnson's play improved against the Chiefs, registering a sack and hurrying the quarterback twice. He's seen his snaps decrease in each game, going from 39 to 30, to just 14 Sunday against Minnesota.

With Haralson gone, his reps on defense and special teams should increase. The team is more likely to keep four outside linebackers than five, putting Johnson right on the bubble.

Cornerback

San Francisco's top-five corners look like in stone. But there's still questions about who will be the team's third corner.

Fangio said Tramaine Brock was dealing with an injury that might have given Nnamdi Asomugha the jump against the Vikings. But Asomugha also suffered a minor injury Sunday, which could mean Brock gets more snaps Thursday. Regardless of the injuries, it appears Asomugha has the lead at this point, but the competition is ongoing.

One of the better battles in training camp has been at between two rookies: seventh-round pick Marcus Cooper and the undrafted Darryl Mooris. The two are fighting to stick around on the practice squad, or even be the sixth corner on the 53.

The 49ers have more invested in Cooper by using a pick to get him, but Morris has impressed in training camp and possesses as much speed as any player on the roster. Speed is always at a premium on the outside, but so is size. That's where Cooper has the advantage.

Morris has only seen 11 snaps during the preseason so far, but he'll likely see a big increase in San Diego. Cooper has been on the field for 60 plays and has his best showing Sunday night against the Vikings.

There are only eight spots available on the practice squad, so Trent Baalke is unlikely to keep more than one corner around.

Offensive Tackle

Kenny Wiggins, Carter Bykowski and Patrick Omammeh haven't had stellar preseasons, but San Francisco would like to have a tackle on the practice squad.

Wiggins is the most ready to play should the team need him in an emergency. Bykowski could have the most upside, but is a long way from being playable in a regular season game. Omameh, an undrafted rookie, is somewhere in between.

Omameh has received the second-most snaps (139) of any linemen this preseason. Only Joe Looney (142) has gotten more.

Wiggins is the only one of three yet to allow a sack, but his back-to-back penalties in Sunday's game got him taken out in favor of Bykowski.

Tight End

Gerrett Celek has struggled in his three exhibition games, which could put his roster spot in question leaving the door open for undrafted rookie MarQueis Gray.

The former quarterback and receiver at Minnesota has taken well to his new position, but is still raw and must improve his blocking if he wants to make the roster.

During Baalke's tenure, the 49ers have traditionally kept a tight end around that's excelled in blocking. If Celek continues to struggle there, the team could look to acquire one from outside the organization when cuts are made Saturday around the league.

Otherwise, they could keep Gray and use Demarcus Dobbs and/or Will Tukuafu as their blocking options as they have in the past. At the very least, Gray looks like a good candidate for the practice squad.

Wide Receiver

Quinton Patton made a splash in his first preseason game Sunday with four catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. Thursday will give him another opportunity to familiarize himself with the offense as he hopes to make an impact in his rookie season.

Austin Collie hasn't seen many reps with the first team, but still has an outside chance at earning a roster spot. He's one of San Francisco's only receivers with a track record and could be a valuable option in the slot once he's fully recovered from his patella injury. He's been a full go in practice and in games, but hasn't been 100 percent.

The 49ers could go with six wide receivers on the 53-man roster depending how things shake out. For now, Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore, Jon Baldwin, and Patton are the favorites to land jobs. Kassim Osgood, Collie, Lavelle Hawkins, Chad Hall and Chuck Jacobs are all still fighting to enter the picture.

Patton and Jacobs are the only wideouts eligible for the practice squad.

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


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