The San Francisco 49ers are set to take on the San Diego Chargers in the penultimate tune up for the 2014 season on Sunday. Here are five things to watch for:
1) The wide receiver rotation: When the 49ers traded for Stevie Johnson during the draft the assumption by many was that he was destined to be the number three receiver in 2014. During his press conference on Wednesday offensive coordinator Greg Roman was asked if that would be the case, and his response was, "We don't put numbers on them."
This is nothing new. Roman and Jim Harbaugh have stated that they don't see receivers as #1, #2, #3 or as an X, Z or F.
We know Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin will be the primary receivers, but how they fit in after that is still up for interpretation. Brandon Lloyd got into the game against the Broncos on the first drive, and we saw Stevie Johnson in the slot on the second drive with Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton coming in later.
With this being the preseason game that is usually used as a final dress rehearsal we should get a better idea of how the receiver rotation is setting up.
2) Return of the defensive line: The 49ers starting defensive line has yet to take a snap in the preseason. Justin Smith, Ian Williams and Ray McDonald have been nursing various injuries throughout training camp, but it appears they may see their first action on Sunday afternoon.
The return of Smith, Williams and McDonald could also help give a better look at how the battle between Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland for the starting spot alongside Patrick Willis is shaping up. To this point it has been a bit difficult to read, and the poor play of the backup defensive lineman has had a lot to do with it.
3) Backup quarterback: To say the 49ers backup quarterbacks have struggled in the preseason is putting it mildly. After Sunday's game Jim Harbaugh said that the quarterback who doesn't turn the ball over will be the backup. This came after each turned the ball over.
Blaine Gabbert is the favorite to hold down the backup role. This is primarily based on the fact the 49ers used a trade to bring him in and also because his salary of over $2 million is fully guaranteed whether he is on the team or not. Gabbert struggled with his accuracy in Baltimore and although he was a bit better on Sunday his lone downfield pass resulted in an interception.
Josh Johnson throws a very pretty ball and looks smooth, but his results aren't all that much better than Gabbert's. On his second snap Sunday, Johnson had his foot stepped on by the center and then fumbled the ball away as he tried to make a play. Johnson is a guy the 49ers coaches are very familiar with, having cut him following training camp in 2012. It will likely take a big performance against the Chargers if he is to have any chance of unseating Gabbert.
4) Phil Dawson: The 49ers depend on their kicker perhaps more than any other team in the NFL, so to see him miss both opportunities in his first game at Levi's Stadium should be cause for a little concern. Not time to hit the panic button quite yet, but definitely something to keep an eye on.
5) The field: The turf at Levi's Stadium showed quite a bit of wear and tear during the opening game on Sunday, and it got worse as the week went on. After seeing his players struggling to keep their feet during an open practice session on Wednesday, Jim Harbaugh sent the team back to it's regular practice fields.
49ers management then made the decision to replace a large section of the turf in the middle of the field from goal line to goal line. It is not unusual for teams to replace their turf throughout the season, for example the Rose Bowl changed it's turf between the Rose Bowl game and BCS National Championship game in January, but for a team to replace it after a single game in a brand new stadium is.
As it turns out 5 wasn't enough to watch for this week so we have a couple bonus things for you!
6) LaMichael James: During his press conference today, Jim Harbaugh said that he expects James to see some action on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if he takes over the punt return duties from Bruce Ellington and exactly how he slots into the running back rotation.
7) Cornerback battle: It looks as though Kenneth Acker and Darryl Morris may be locked into a battle for the final cornerback spot on the roster. Acker had a fantastic outing last week against Denver and another solid outing could really put pressure on Morris to retain his spot on the 53-man roster.
Be sure to log into the 49erswebzone Sunday at 12:45 as I will be providing a live blog with information and analysis on the game from The Tool Shed.