Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

5 key players to watch for during 49ers-Vikings

Rohan Chakravarthi
Aug 20, 2022 at 12:30 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers will almost assuredly rest a majority, if not all of their starters on Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings, with head coach Kyle Shanahan already ruling out quarterback Trey Lance.

With the spotlight shifted away from the top players on the roster, let's focus on five key 49ers to watch for during Saturday's preseason game.

1. RB Room

This is definitely cheating, but Saturday should give an extended look at the current outlook of the running back room, especially with Trey Sermon expected to play, according to the Athletic's Matt Barrows, providing the 49ers with nearly their entire backup unit.

Jordan Mason and JaMycal Hasty flashed last week against the Packers, with the former having six carries for 30 yards, all in the fourth quarter, and the latter rushing five times for 36 yards.

Every backup running back should see action on Saturday, which means the battle for the second running back spot will continue between Sermon, Tyrion Davis-Price, and Jeff Wilson Jr.

Sermon had a slow start on Friday, finishing with just 11 yards on six carries, while Davis-Price showcased his explosiveness on his ten-carry, 36-yard night.

Sermon should likely receive the start if he's deemed healthy enough to play, as he's been getting the bulk of the 1st-team reps at running back this week, according to Barrows, while Elijah Mitchell continues to recover from injury.

2. DB Qwuantrezz Knight

Qwuantrezz Knight has been earning some buzz this week, as defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans shared some effusive praise about the rookie during the joint practices against the Minnesota Vikings.

"Yeah, Q Knight, he's done a great job and it was fun to see for him these past two days versus these guys. We had to move him around a lot because of injuries in our backend, so he's done a great job of just being a smart player who can move around, play multiple positions and being a guy you can count on," Ryans said. "And it was fun to see him make a few plays for us. And he definitely brings some energy to our defense. He's always going to make at least one or two plays a day that sparks the energy for the defense, so it is fun to see Q Knight making plays."

After struggling initially in training camp, especially in coverage, it's a positive sign that Knight has been able to step in and produce with the injuries in the secondary.

With veteran Darqueze Dennard being released earlier this week, Knight will slot in as the second-team slot cornerback, although he may get a majority of the work if the 49ers choose to limit fifth-rounder Samuel Womack after his significant flashes in the offseason.

Additionally, Knight could see some time at safety, as Jimmie Ward and Dontae Johnson are currently nursing injuries. Knight had been playing at the position during some plays in practice, according to Ryans.

"He's playing nickel and we had him play a little safety today as well."

When addressing the injuries in the secondary earlier this week, head coach Kyle Shanahan alluded to the team signing somebody at the position, although that hasn't happened yet, meaning Knight could see significant playing time on Saturday to continue improving his stock as a potential practice-squad player.

3. OL Nick Zakelj

Why is a third-string offensive lineman who has struggled in training camp on this list?

Well, the 49ers finally made the move to playing sixth-round selection Nick Zakelj at center, which general manager John Lynch alluded to following the draft, after veteran Daniel Brunskill suffered a hamstring strain last weekend against the Packers.

Zakelj, who played tackle in college, but saw action at both guard and center at the Senior Bowl, could project to be an NFL center, given his athleticism and intelligence, which were highly touted during the draft process.

Zakelj lined up as the third-string center in practice this week at times, playing behind Jake Brendel and Dohnovan West, and should see action at the position, especially in the second half of the game.

While I still expect some form of an adjustment period, Zakelj will be a player to watch on Saturday.

4. OT Jordan Mills

The San Francisco 49ers' offensive line struggled this week against the Minnesota Vikings' starting defense, as the unit gave up four sacks on Thursday, with the right tackle spot being the biggest issue as starter Mike McGlinchey did not practice this week.

Colton McKivitz was the primary starter in his place and reportedly looked underwhelming after a fairly strong showing during training camp.

Another intriguing option during training camp: Jordan Mills, who was signed following the injury to Jaylon Moore, and has looked solid in pass protection

Mills should see extensive action, either as the second or third-string right tackle, but could even elevate to a higher spot on the depth chart if he continues to impress.

While Mills isn't as athletic as other candidates, which has been a key part of the Shanahan system with his linemen, the 31-year-old tackle might be one of the pass-protectors on the team, which is important when you have a young starting quarterback.

Mills likely won't start, but is another player to keep an eye out, and could even be a sleeper candidate to make the 53-man roster.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

1 Comment

  • MT9er
    Hmmm... 5?
    Aug 20, 2022 at 3:42 PM


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