Preseason football is the best and worst of times. It's a flirtatious wink that football is back, or at least, better football is just a few weeks away. Plus, it's interesting to see a journeyman or undrafted free agent come out of nowhere to create a spot on the final 53-man roster.

On the flip side, fans are stuck watching mistake-laden football, especially during the second half.

Like many other teams, the San Francisco 49ers will not play some of their star veterans tonight. But we will get to see the team stretch its legs against a new opponent, along with testing new schemes or ideas.

Here are a few things I'm watching for this evening.

Offense

Assuming head coach Kyle Shanahan limits most of the projected starters to a series or two, I'd like to see the first-team offense have its only drive result in a score. Further, it'd be great to see the starting offense tally 50 yards rushing.

As of writing this, Shanahan has not named his starting quarterback for the evening. Regardless, the Mullens-Beathard battle should be exciting. It's too hard to determine who's winning in practice, as comparing practice completion statistics has no relevance in determining who has a better handle on the offense.

What will ultimately separate Mullens and Beathard is who has improved since last year and who's still stagnant. Mullens rode a giant wave last season, looking far more comfortable behind center and making slightly faster decisions than Beathard.

Beathard, on the other hand, did not play like a second-year quarterback. He looked slow, often like his feet were standing in a swamp. Overall, it did not look like he had a greater understanding of the offense than he did as a rookie.

Assuming both quarterbacks play about a quarter, I'd like to see them finish with a combined 65% completion percentage.

With veteran guard Joshua Garnett sidelined, it opens up competition for the second team position. Once starting guards Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person head to the sideline, we'll probably see veteran Wesley Johnson and undrafted free agent Ross Reynolds on the field. If Reynolds can put together three solid performances, I believe the 49ers will say goodbye to Garnett.

I'm also looking forward to tackle Shon Coleman taking his first snaps in Kyle Shanahan's offense. Coleman hasn't seen live action since the end of the 2017 season; hopefully, he gets to play at least 30 minutes of football.

Earlier this week, running back Jerick McKinnon was removed from the physically-unable-to-perform list, adding another name to the 49ers' deep backfield.

Unfortunately, McKinnon's surgically repaired knee was causing him trouble, so he will not be playing in tonight's game. McKinnon is undergoing a platelet-rich plasma injection to speed his healing process.

McKinnon's setback allows for veteran running backs Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman to split time. Frankly, a Breida-Coleman rotation during the season sounds like a lethal combination, complemented by Raheem Mostert taking a series now and then.

Defense

I think most 49er fans are eager to see the modified defense, along with the new faces on the defensive side of the ball.

Shanahan stated at the beginning of training camp that linebacker Kwon Alexander would not play in the first preseason game. We'll also have to wait a bit longer to see rookie Nick Bosa's NFL debut, as he suffered a high-ankle sprain this week during practice.

Injuries to cornerback Jason Verrett, defensive end Dee Ford, and defensive lineman Arik Armstead will not allow the 49ers' defense to run at full throttle. Indeed, it will be hard to view the 49ers' defense through the right lens with so many missing teeth in the cogwheel.

Though we'll get a taste of the "new" wide-9 look, and how often defensive coordinator calls the front.

As Saleh note during his August 7 press conference:

When you get to that first preseason game, for the most part, you are looking at the second and third groups, the guys that are really the heart and soul of the team, the guys that make up that roster. I want to see those guys execute and compete. There's a lot of guys competing for jobs on this team, and you just want to see them play fast, execute and do things the right way that they've been doing since OTAs.

Saleh's comment is the best way to view tonight's preseason game. It's less about statistics and more about execution and competition.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.