Ten 49ers to watch in exhibition opener vs. Ravens
Harbowl No. 3
On Thursday night in Baltimore, Jim and John Harbaugh will face off against each other as NFL head coaches for the third time. Although it's just an exhibition game, it's an important showcase for many players on both teams. Let's take a close look at 10 49ers to keep your eye on...
10) Wide receiver Stevie Johnson
The 49ers acquired him in a draft-day trade to serve as the No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree. Johnson is the definite front-runner for that job, but he’ll still have to earn his place on this team.
9) Quarterback Blaine Gabbert
Colin Kaepernick will play only a series or two, so Gabbert will be next in line. The backup job is Gabbert’s to lose. It’s difficult to imagine him being seriously challenged for the job, based on his $2 million guaranteed salary. Still, he needs this time to rebuild his confidence.
8) Tight end Vance McDonald
McDonald made progress as a blocker as a rookie (that was his main duty), and he has been a lot more active as a pass target during camp. After catching just eight passes last season, he needs to pile up some catches in the exhibition season to emerge as an option in the passing game.
7) Right tackle Jonathan Martin
Starter Anthony Davis is not available as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery. Martin has not been a standout during training camp practices. He heads into the 49ers’ first exhibition game on the bubble for a roster spot.
6) Linebacker Chris Borland
While Michael Wilhoite is still in the lead to replace the injured NaVorro Bowman, Borland has time to still win the job. Borland has a nose for the football, for sure. But he has to convince defensive coordinator Vic Fangio that he can remain true to the defensive structure.
5) Wide receiver Quinton Patton
The 49ers expect a big Year 2 leap from Patton, who spent his offseason working with Colin Kaepernick. Patton has gotten off to a good start in training camp, and he needs to carry that over to the games in order to have a chance to make an impact.
4) Defensive lineman Tank Carradine
The 2013 second round pick will step on the field for the first time as a professional after missing his rookie season with a knee injury. Carradine has a chance to win a spot in the 49ers’ rotation while Justin Smith (shoulder) and Ray McDonald (biceps) continue their rehab from offseason surgeries.
3) Right guard Joe Looney
Alex Boone continues his holdout. He does not plan to report until he gets a new contract. And the 49ers do not plan to negotiate with Boone until he reports to camp. Looney’s performance will likely determine whether the 49ers feel a sense of urgency to get something done with Boone.
2) Running back Carlos Hyde
Hyde is on solid footing as the team’s backup to Frank Gore after Kendall Hunter’s season-ending knee injury. Hyde can run the football. That’s not in question. And he appears to be competent as a receiver out of the backfield, too. But Hyde must perform in blitz pickup in order to win the confidence of the coaching staff.
1) Safety Jimmie Ward
The 49ers hope to get a return on their first round investment with Ward taking over as the nickel cornerback. It’s not known how much Ravens slot receiver Steve Smith will play Thursday night, but it would be a great first test for Ward. After all, Ward has to win the job with a strong camp.