Quarters coverage: 49ers exhibition storylines

August 27, 2011, 8:10 pm
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Matt MaioccoCSNBayArea.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers' new coaching staff continues its crash course, as it learns about the players on the team with cuts quickly approaching.
The third exhibition game Saturday night at Candlestick Park against the Houston Texans should provide Jim Harbaugh, the coordinators and the position coaches a valuable tool for evaluations. After all, the 49ers -- and all NFL teams -- must cut from a roster maximum of 90 players to the regular-season limit of 53 in just seven days.The first round of cuts comes Tuesday, as roster must be trimmed to a maximum of 80 players. On Saturday, Sept. 3, teams must reach the regular-season limit of 53 players.Here's a quarter-by-quarter look at what to expect in the 49ers' third exhibition game:First quarter
Quarterback Alex Smith will start the game, Harbaugh said. And after the team's first two possessions, rookie Colin Kaepernick will enter the game. At least that's what Harbaugh said on Thursday. It's uncertain how much, exactly, Smith will play in the final exhibition game, so this might be Smith's lastbest chance to work at game speed against angry defensive players before the Sept. 11 start of the regular season against the Seattle Seahawks. The most overt competition on offense is at center, where Adam Snyder has yet to be moved from the spot he occupied when camp opened. Snyder initially replaced David Baas, whom the New York Giants signed in free agency. The 49ers were pleased with Snyder at the spot, but they went ahead and signed veteran Jonathan Goodwin to a three-year contract. Snyder still remains atop the depth chart. Both players will see plenty of action against the Texans' first unit.MAIOCCO: Third exhibition critical for 49ers QBs
Second quarter
Is Kaepernick ready to step into an NFL regular-season game? The passing stats are one thing, but Harbaugh will be more interested to see how Kaepernick gets the 49ers in and out of the huddle. He'll be interested to see if Kaepernick makes the necessary pre-snap reads and adjustments. And, then, he'll pay particular attention to how Kaepernick reacts when Wade Phillips' defense tries to disguise coverages out of their 3-4 scheme. On the defensive side of the ball, right outside linebacker Parys Haralson is trying to hold off rookie Aldon Smith for the starting job. The 49ers selected Smith with the No. 7 overall pick, so the club is expecting immediate contributions. If Smith doesn't win the job after this game, then he might not be in the starting lineup for the first regular-season game, and that would mark a bit of an upset.Third quarter
Veteran cornerback Shawntae Spencer, who continues to nurse a left hamstring strain, has not taken part in a fully padded practice since training camp opened. Now, it seems his standing on the team is largely out of his control. Second-year player Tramaine Brock, an undrafted free agent a year ago from obscure Bellhaven, had the most consistent and injury-free camp of any of the 49ers' cornerbacks.
REWIND: Longshot Brock makes most of opporunitites
Tarell Brown missed four practices and the first exhibition game because of an injury. Since he returned, he has performed well and placed himself in the mix to open the season as a starter for the first time in his career. Pass defense is one thing. Pass offense is another. The 49ers have a lot of receivers in the mix for roster spots. Ted Ginn has the inside track for one of the backup jobs, based largely on his prowess in the return game. Others who are trying to assure themselves a spot on the 53-man roster behind Braylon Edwards, Michael Crabtree and Joshua Morgan are Kyle Williams, Lance Long, Ronald Johnson and Kevin Jurovich. Dominique Zeigler, activated on the PUP list this week, is healthy and ready to make up for lost time.Fourth quarter
Keep an eye on the running backs. Starter Frank Gore probably will not see much action in the game. So the competition will rage between rookie Kendall Hunter and second-year pro Anthony Dixon for the backup job. Hunter tore through the Raiders' second defense a week ago. He and Dixon will get a lot of action against the Texans' starters. Who runs more decisively? Who is able to provide ample pass protection and be spot-on with blitz pickups? That will determine which running back earns the trust of the coaching staff. And who is opening the best holes for the backs? Rookie Bruce Miller has seemingly done enough to earn a roster spot with his versatility. He is providing serious competition for veteran Moran Norris. But how would that play in the locker room? Norris is Gore's best friend on the team. Along the offensive line, the 49ers' first seven spots appear set with Snyder, Goodwin, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Chilo Rachal, Anthony Davis and reserve tackle Alex Boone. Rookie Daniel Kilgore probably has a roster spot locked up. Veteran Tony Wragge and Mike Person are Nos. 9 and 10.NEWS: More talks planned, 49ers' Gore frustrated
Please leave pre-game questions in the comments section below and I'll answer as many as possible prior to Saturday's night's game.