Maiocco's 10 49ers to watch vs. Texans
Playing for a job
The 49ers play their final game of the exhibition season Thursday night when they take the field against the Houston Texans. Really, how many spots are still open for the regular season? The honest answer: Very few – if any. Nonetheless, here are 10 players to watch and how their performances could impact their futures...
10. CB Chris Cook
Cook, who had a less-than spectacular four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after entering the league as a second-round draft pick, has done a nice job since coming to the 49ers. But he remains a backup behind Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver. He continues to fight for a spot on the team that features talented youngsters Dontae Johnson, Kenneth Acker and Darryl Morris. Cook can’t afford a slip-up now.
9. OL Adam Snyder
Rookie Marcus Martin will not be able to contribute for at least a couple of months due to his knee injury. So that places a lot of importance on Snyder to serve as a backup at center and both guard positions. Snyder will likely get an opportunity at center as the 49ers scramble to find a backup for starter Daniel Kilgore.
8. DL Lawrence Okoye
He is back healthy after sustaining an ankle sprain in the exhibition opener. Okoye still does not look fluid and comfortable along the defensive line. Obviously, he will not make the 49ers’ 53-man roster. The 49ers have not showcased him on special teams, either. They’ve already invested a lot of time and energy, so he is probably worth keeping around for a full season on the practice squad.
7. WR Bruce Ellington
The fourth-round draft pick will definitely be on the 49ers’ 53-man roster. That is not in question. Now, Ellington is competing for one of the coveted 46 spots reserved for players who win the right to suit up for games in the regular season. His best hope is to establish himself on kickoff and/or punt returns. He does not have much experience handling punts, and it shows at times. He needs prove to the coaches that he is a reliable option.
6. LT Carter Bykowski
The seventh-round pick in 2013 has played very well in his second training camp with the team. In fact, Pro Football Focus rates him as the team’s most productive lineman in the exhibition season. In 117 snaps, Bykowski has surrendered one sack and one quarterback hurry. He is fighting for a spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster. If he does not make it, another team might swoop him and claim him.
5. QB Blaine Gabbert
For the first time in the exhibition season, Gabbert did something in the last game to strengthen his argument to be the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback. If he can carry that over and produce another solid performance, it could have an impact on the team’s decision with Josh Johnson. If the 49ers are not completely sold on Gabbert, they could keep Johnson around as an insurance policy against a disaster at the quarterback position.
4. ILB Shayne Skov
The undrafted rookie from Stanford did not distinguish himself on defense and was never really a candidate to replace injured NaVorro Bowman. He will probably at least have a spot on the practice squad. The reason he did not get drafted was because of a lack of speed. If he can run down the field and make plays in the kicking game, there could be a job for him out there.
3. WR Stevie Johnson
Coach Jim Harbaugh said he “feels good” about Johnson’s spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster. But it remains unknown how Johnson fits in, and whether he will open the season as the team’s No. 3 wide receiver. Johnson did not flash much during training camp, as he and quarterback Colin Kaepernick have not always appeared to be on the same page. It would serve Johnson well to make some plays on Thursday – even if it’s with the backup unit.
2. OLB Aaron Lynch
As the 49ers await word on a possible suspension for Aldon Smith, Lynch can insert himself into the conversation for a role in the regular season. Lynch put together a dominant performance against the Chargers reserves. The 49ers are not asking him to do much on defense. But if he shows he can rush the passer, he could provide some juice to the defense in a limited role while Smith is out.
1. RB Glenn Winston
The undrafted rookie with the troubled past made the most of his opportunity against the San Diego Chargers. Frank Gore probably will not touch the ball, and the 49ers have every reason to protect backup Carlos Hyde, too. That means Winston could see a lot of playing time in the second half as he looks to nail down a job as a practice-squad player.