The San Francisco 49ers open their 2014 preseason slate Thursday night in Baltimore. There has been a lot of discussion this offseason about potential changes to the 49ers offensive scheme. Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman tend to hold their cards close to the vest, and because of that I wouldn't expect to see much different during week 1 of the preseason.
With that as a backdrop, here are five things to watch for tomorrow night.
1) The Offensive Line:
Winning football starts up front, and three-fifths of the starting offensive line will be different than the group that started the NFC Championship Game last January in Seattle. Jonathan Goodwin (FA), Alex Boone (holdout), and Anthony Davis (injury) are not available. In their place the right side of the line has consisted of Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney and Jonathan Martin. Kilgore and Looney have a total of 0 combined regular season starts between them, while Martin struggled at left tackle during his time in Miami and needs to earn a spot on the roster.
2) The Defensive Line:
Just like with the offensive line, the defensive line will look a lot different tomorrow night. All three starters from last season will be missing. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have missed almost every practice in training camp and starting nose tackle Glenn Dorsey may have been lost for the season with a torn biceps. Expect to see a lot of 2013 draft picks Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial. Both have been drawing rave reviews throughout camp and will see their first extensive action in 49ers uniforms after missing almost all of last season.
3) The Battle In The Middle:
With All-Pro middle linebacker Navarro Bowman out for at least the first half of the season the battle for his starting spot is between Michael Wilhoite and 2014 third round draft pick Chris Borland. Wilhoite is likely to have a slight advantage having started 2 games in place of Patrick Willis last season, but Borland has been impressive in the early stages of camp. This may be the best position battle throughout the preseason.
4) Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde:
By almost all reports second round draft pick Carlos Hyde has been very impressive in camp. The only negatives so far have to do with the fact he is from the Big 10, did you know backs from that conference don't do well in the pros, and a rough day early on with a few dropped passes. Fortunately it appears that he has put those issues behind him. A strong performance in pass protection, combined with a few nice runs could go a long way to cementing his position as the heir apparent to Frank Gore.
5) Old McDonald Had a Farm:
But on his farm does he have more catches? Vance McDonald, a 2013 second round draft pick, is coming off a somewhat disappointing rookie campaign that saw him haul in only 9 passes. To be fair, he was only targeted 20 times in 19 games. Reports are a bit mixed on his performance through camp so far as the coaching staff seems to be forcing the ball in his direction to get him up to speed.
With Garrett Celek out as the result of a disc issue with his back, Derek Carrier and undrafted free agent Asante Cleveland are both making strong pushes to make the final roster as well.
Be sure to follow Jack on Twitter @JackHammerNFL