Excuse Alex Smith if he appears a little bit jealous. In Norv Turner's one year with the 49ers, Smith's passer rating jumped 34 points. Now, Turner is working the same magic with Philip Rivers. Through three preseason games, Rivers has completed 34 of 49 passes (68.8%) for 435 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 117.3 passer rating.
Rivers will have another weapon in this week's line-up, as Craig Davis is back after missing last week's game following the removal of his wisdom teeth. Davis has looked sharp in spurts but needs to work on his consistency. He will likely be in the starting line-up on opening day.
The Chargers will unleash a balanced attack on the 49ers, and it will be Darren Sproles leading the rushing charge. Sproles made a handful of jaw-dropping plays in each game to date and will have the opportunity to deliver more of the same on Thursday. He and Andrew Pinnock will split carries with the first team.
When the starters step out, the competition heats up. Jeromey Clary and Cory Lekkerkerker will fight for the final spot on the offensive line. Also, Legedu Naanee and Greg Camarillo will battle for the final spot in the receiver rotation. Scott Chandler's roster spot is safe, but he is out to earn a place in the regular season passing arsenal.
Objective No. 1 for the 49ers game: plug the many leaks in the secondary. The back-four needs to prove it can stop a quarterback who has three seconds or more in the pocket. The secondary has been plagued by busted coverages and communication breakdowns, something that needs to be fixed in a hurry.
Also, no final determination has been made as to what the starting secondary will look like. All signs point to Clinton Hart and Drayton Florence holding on to their starting jobs, with Antonio Cromartie getting the nickel job and Eric Weddle the dime. However, both Cromartie and Weddle will use the 49ers game to make their final bids for starting assignments.
The front-seven faces its own daunting challenge: stopping Michael Robinson. In last year's preseason match-up, Robinson carried 12 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Robinson will see plenty of carries again this year, as Frank Gore is expected to sit out for precautionary reasons.
There are roster battles aplenty on the defensive front. Ryon Bingham, Derreck Robinson, Andre Coleman and Titus Adams will compete for the final two spots in the line rotation. Behind the big bodies up front, Brandon Siler, Nick Roach and Jyles Tucker are in a tight race for the final linebacker job.
Nate Kaeding looks to carry his hot streak into the regular season. He has connected on all eight of his field goal attempts this preseason and is aiming at a return trip to the Pro Bowl. Mike Scifres is in midseason form, too, with a net average for 40.6 yard per punt.
Although Kaeding and Scifres may be the two safest players in the league, back-up Brian Monroe has plenty to play for. He is a legitimate practice-squad candidate because of his ability to handle both kickoffs and punts during practice.
In the return game, Cromartie may get a chance to return kickoffs. If Michael Turner is not 100% in time for the opener, Cromartie will likely be the kickoff returner. Davis will get a chance to return punts in the second half, although Sproles has that gig all sewn up. Still, the more live-game touches Davis gets, the better.