Editor's note: This is the third part in a series that spotlights five 49ers players to watch in the team's final exhibition game Thursday, 7 p.m. (KCBW-TV), vs. the San Diego Chargers at Candlestick Park.
No. 5 -- WR Nathan PalmerNo. 4 -- CB Tramaine Brock
No. 3 -- WR Chris Owusu
Yes, it's a big game for Nathan Palmer (see Five 49ers to watch: 5. Nathan Palmer). This might also be the last time we see first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins for a while.But the young wide receiver with the most to gain Thursday night is Chris Owusu. He is trying to create separation from his concussion history, which scared off 32 teams from selecting him in the draft.He did a good job in training camp, but his opportunities within a crowded group of 49ers wideouts have been few and far between.Owusu has been privately pining for an opportunity to return kickoffs. Even coach Jim Harbaugh did not have an explanation recently why one of the top return men in Pac-12 history was not even listed on the 49ers depth chart as a kick returner.Finally, Owusu found himself back deep against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. But in the mile-high air, every kickoff in the game resulted in a touchback. So, perhaps, Owusu will get his opportunity to return kickoffs Thursday night against the Chargers."I try to let them know that I want to contribute in any way I can on special teams and part of what I can help the team with is returning kicks," Owusu told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think I do that well. It's great to go out there and get an opportunity to do that."Owusu is in an interesting position. If he gets extended action at receiver and shows big-play ability in the return game, he could attract attention from teams that passed on him during the draft.Even if he clears waivers, Owusu might find that the 49ers are not his only practice-squad option.The 49ers have a lot of depth at wide receiver, so it might not be a slam dunk that Owusu would accept their offer to return on the practice squad. After all, some other team might offer him a better opportunity.
INDIANAPOLIS – Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn believes the 49ers’ offense and defense have capable people charge.
Quinn, speaking Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, has worked on the same staffs with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who will run the team’s offense, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.
Saleh, who served as Jacksonville’s linebackers coach the past three season, spent one season on the Seattle staff when Quinn was defensive coordinator.
“He has a really good and rock-solid understanding of the principles of playing three-deep and man-to-man,” Quinn said of Saleh. “He’s an excellent teacher. And, I think, as a coordinator that’s a really important thing, especially when you’re first putting the whole thing together so everyone has a real clear understanding and they’re all on the same page. So I think he’ll do a fantastic job.”
Shanahan did not hire an assistant to serve under the title of offensive coordinator. Instead, he will assume those duties with the 49ers while also overseeing the entire operation as head coach. Shanahan has been an NFL offensive coordinator for eight seasons, including the past two under Quinn with the Falcons.
“He is one of the few coaches who has a full understanding – run game, offensive line, quarterback play, receiver play,” Quinn said of Shanahan. “You could put him into any spot on the offense, and he’ll be able to coach that position. That’s a rare trait. There are some guys who are sto strong in one area. It might be in the run game or so strong in the pass game. But he has a really clear understanding how to do the whole thing.
“I never like to see anybody leave the staff, but what I can appreciate is a guy taking a risk to say, ‘Hey, I want to give this a shot and go battle for it.’ So I’m excited for him and the opportunity he has there.”
INDIANAPOLIS – Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will become a free agent for the first time in his six-year NFL career.
Kaepernick’s new agents, Jeff Nalley and Sean Kiernan, informed all 32 teams on Tuesday that he will, as expected, opt out of his contract to become a free agent, the NFL Network reported.
Kaepernick was scheduled to make $14.9 million in salary and bonuses for the 2017 season. If he did not opt out, the 49ers were expected to release him to avoid being on the hook for his scheduled pay.
The 49ers do not have a quarterback under contract for the upcoming season. Kaepernick is coming off his best season since 2013 – his first full season as the starter. Kaepernick completed 59.2 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Quarterback ranks as the team's top need for the upcoming season.
“Do we have some places – probably the ultimate position, quarterback – where we need to improve? Absolutely,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said on KNBR last week. “And we’re committed to doing that.”
Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Thad Lewis are also scheduled to be free agents.