The San Francisco 49ers take on the Denver Broncos on Sunday with the winner…getting nothing, yet the loser…well nothing happens to them either. Yes, the result of the actual game may not matter, but here are still some aspects of the game that do.
Backing up Kaep: Its been a rocky week for Blaine Gabbert. After his Niners debut gave fans nightmares of a Colin Kaepernick injury derailing the entire season, the spotlight will be shinning bright over the fourth-year pro when he enters Sunday's affair against the Broncos at some point in the game. Gabbert over threw, got under and missed timed several passes against the Baltimore Ravens in the first pre-season game of the year for the Niners, resulting in a ugly stat sheet of 20 yards passing while completing only three of 11 pass attempts and a interception. You know it's bad when his final incomplete pass actually raised his QB Rating (which also brings into question the process of the stat, but that's for a different day entirely). All of which resulted in Gabbert hearing boos from fans who caught a glimpse of the Niners open practice on Friday. With Sunday's exhibition serving as Levi's Stadium's debut, Gabbert could once again hear it from the Niner faithful if he doesn't perform well. Veteran QB Josh Johnson spent time on the 49ers roster last season and is once again fighting for a spot on the team this year. Johnson completed six of eight passes for 68 yards, while rushing for 15 on two carries. He could see a boost in snaps if he plays well again.
More push on the line: The Niners defensive line put very little pressure on the Ravens and constantly looked slow off the snap. Yes the line lacked depth due to injuries and precautionary reasons, but if the Niners find themselves looking at the bench during the regular season, there may be more than just a few worried faces in Bay Area. The D-line however will get a boost from the return of nose tackle Ian Williams. With Glenn Dorsey out indefinitely, Williams automatically gets a shot to reclaim (if not completely fed) the position he lost when he suffered a season ending injury last season due to a broken left fibula. Word has it that Williams has seen no ill effects from the injury in practice so far, however, he will be tested against an offensive line that kept Peyton Manning upright during a record setting season. On the offensive side, Joe Looney had a tough day as Alex Boone's primary replacement in game one, but Head Coach Jim Harbaugh said that most of the mistakes were "correctable" and that he'd like to see them fixed up by game two. We'll see if they did.
Last line of defense: While "The Sheriff" will be getting a few series in to keep his arm loose, don't expect to see too much of the reigning MVP. With that said, Manning has several toys (including a new one in Emmanuel Sanders, who replaces red zone threat Eric Decker) at his disposal and keeping them sharp and ready for the season will be a priority. Rookie Jimmie Ward could see much more time than he did against a more conservative offense in Baltimore. No team passed the ball more than Denver last season, so if Ward and Chris Cook want to leave a lasting impression on the nickel corner position, Sunday could be a good time to do so.
Encore for Carlos Hyde: The rookie drew a lot of praise during and after his NFL debut as Hyde rushed for 39 yards on just 5 carries. Hyde displayed patient running and even showed off some pass blocking skills. All the buzz surrounding the backup running back prompted several writers and radio talk shows to speak out confidently that he will be the successor to Frank Gore once the Niners' all-time leading rusher's tenure comes to an end. Well, who knows when that really may be or if Hyde is indeed the guy, but the biggest thing working against the former BIG-TEN back is…it was one exhibition game. Hyde must prove that he can adjust along with the league. Each team will have different looks and schemes in their pass rush and run defense. With the making of a big, bruising back, Hyde could very well become a bit of a vulture for Gore this year in short yardage and goal line situations. Those opportunities did not come up in the first game, nor did the rookie tailback show us his pass catching abilities, so there is still much to see out of the former Buckeye.
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